Since the start of the corona crisis, Israeli settlers have ramped up attacks against Palestinians throughout the West Bank, with full state backing. The attacks have increased despite the movement restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing measures introduced to battle the pandemic. During the first three weeks of this month (through 22 April), B’Tselem documented 23 settler attacks against Palestinians. In all of March, 23 incidents were documented, 11 of them after the severe restrictions on movement and social gatherings were imposed (mid-March).
The world has ground to a halt, but the violent routine of occupation in the West Bank continues. From 1 March to 3 April 2020, Israeli forces raided 100 homes and arrested 217 Palestinians, 16 of them minors. Many of the arrests took place after 12 March, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority tightened restrictions on movement in the West Bank. Below are descriptions of violent raids in which soldiers forced their way into 12 homes, woke families up, trapped some in a room and damaged their belongings.
While millions of people in Israel and the West Bank are under lockdown, state-backed settler violence continues unabated. Settlers are attacking Palestinian shepherds in pastureland and entering villages, attacking residents and destroying their property. Despite the coronavirus crisis, the escalated violence has continued in recent weeks. On 7 March 2020, neighboring villages Burin and Madama, which suffer frequent attacks, were both attacked within one hour.
In January and February, before the corona crisis, the military blocked the entrances to five Palestinian villages in the West Bank for varying durations, collectively punishing the entire population. Blocking roads has become a routine method of oppression Israel uses against Palestinians in the West Bank. This form of collective punishment, which forces residents to live in uncertainty and frustration and waste precious time and money, is completely unjustifiable and an abuse of military force.
On Feb. and March 2020, three minors aged 8, 9 and 16 were injured by sponge rounds and one lost an eye. As part of a yearlong harassment campaign in al-‘Esawiyah, the police regularly creates friction with residents and then responds violently. Sponge rounds, which have injured thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem in recent years, can be fatal. Nevertheless, the Israel Police refuses to change its policy and avoids action against the responsible officials. As always, no one will be held accountable.
On 20 Feb. 2020, four Palestinian teens were driving when a military jeep came towards them. To avoid crashing, the driver swerved and hit a boulder. The soldiers got out, fired at the car and beat two of the boys. One was rushed to hospital and the others detained and interrogated. The military quickly declared a car-ramming attack but released the teens with no action. The fact soldiers can so easily shoot Palestinians and use false claims as justification raises questions about cases in which no witnesses are left to refute the claims.
As the whole world battles an unprecedented and paralyzing healthcare crisis, Israel’s military is devoting time and resources to harassing the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, that Israel has attempted to drive out of the area for decades. Shutting down a first-aid community initiative during a health crisis is an especially cruel example of the regular abuse inflicted on these communities, and it goes against basic human and humanitarian principles during an emergency. Unlike Israel’s policies, this pandemic does not discriminate based on nationality, ethnicity or religion. It is high time the government and military acknowledged that now, of all times, Israel is responsible for the health and wellbeing of the five million Palestinians who live under its control in the Occupied Territories.
On 23 Feb. 2020, soldiers shot two Islamic Jihad operatives near the perimeter fence in the southern Gaza Strip, killing one and wounding the other. The military claims it fired after the two tried to plant explosives near the fence. The wounded man managed to crawl away, and soldiers shot and injured two men who tried to evacuate the body, though they posed no danger to anyone. A military bulldozer then damaged the body before scooping and snatching it. This wanton, grotesque behavior defies any conceivable moral or legal principle.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip will be a massive disaster, resulting entirely from the unique conditions created by more than a decade of Israeli blockade: a failing healthcare system, extreme poverty, dependence on humanitarian aid, dysfunctional infrastructure and harsh living conditions that compromise public health – even before exposure to the new virus – combine with overcrowding to form a nightmare scenario.
On 7 Feb. 2020, during a protest by the Separation Barrier near Qaffin, Palestinian youths lit tires and threw stones and empty bottles at Israeli soldiers on the other side of the barrier. At one point, a soldier fired a live round from a jeep despite no danger to the force, striking Bader Nafleh, 19, in the neck. Experience shows that no one will be held accountable – the shooter, his commander, or those who gave the orders enabling the shooting. As long as the whitewashing policy continues, so will lethal, illegal shooting of Palestinians.
Israel’s regime of occupation is inextricably bound up in human rights violations. B’Tselem strives to end the occupation, as that is the only way forward to a future in which human rights, democracy, liberty and equality are ensured to all people, both Palestinian and Israeli, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.