Apartheid Israel is escalating the violence it has been inflicting on Palestinians for more than seven decades. Since the start of April, Israel has killed over 23 Palestinians, arrested and injured hundreds more. It has extended its attack on Jerusalem, invading almost daily even the holy sites of the city. While Israel is collectively punishing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and fortifying its apartheid Wall, it is bombing those besieged in the Gaza Strip.
Already in January, Israel’s Foreign Minister Lapid and other Israeli leaders have alerted that 2022 may be the year the United Nations recognizes its policies against the Palestinian people as apartheid. To avoid this scenario, some Israeli pundits recommended resuming façade negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Yet, the Israeli government has clearly chosen another path: escalating exactly those inhumane acts and policies that constitute the crime against humanity that is apartheid.
There are a number of reasons behind this choice.
First, the current escalation of violence serves the political agenda of Naftali Bennett, who heads Israel’s far-right government, as it satisfies the demands of Israel’s settler-colonial society.
Second, Israel is racing against the clock to annex more Palestinian land across Historic Palestine. In addition to 25 illegal settlements and 10 settler outposts constructed last year, the Israeli occupation erected another two settler outposts during the first 3 months of 2022. At the beginning of 2022, the Israeli authorities approved the construction of 3557 new settlement units to expand illegal settlements in Jerusalem. It is aggressively targeting lands of Palestinian third-class citizens of Israel in the Naqab desert as well.
Third, suppressing Palestinian resistance – the inevitable response to the denial of our basic rights and the colonization of our lands – through overwhelming force in order to deter any further action, creates hopelessness and finally submission is the essence of Israel’s military doctrines since its foundation. The attempt to fragment Palestinians by using differentiated forms of dispossession and repression against them, is a core part of this military and political logic. Israeli politics seems unable to understand its evident failure.
Not only does our struggle continue, since last May’s Unity Intifada Palestinians mobilize in coordination beyond the Walls, the sieges and the different ID cards Israel imposes on us.
Unable to react otherwise, Israel repeats the scenes of brutality meted out against Palestinians in previous years – yet concentrated in ever shorter frequencies.
Palestinians hold tight to Jerusalem’s keys
Since the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan, Israel has renewed the violence and abusive measures it inflicted on Palestinians last year in a failed attempt to take over the Damascus Gate and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
On Friday, April 15, Israeli occupation forces broke into Al-Aqsa Mosque and started firing tear gas, rubber coated and live bullets at Palestinians who were performing the dawn prayers. During that raid, more than 170 Palestinians were injured, some were in critical conditions. Over 400 others were arrested.
Since then, Israeli occupation forces have been brutally raiding Al-Aqsa Mosque on a daily basis assaulting Palestinians while escorting Jewish settlers, who storm Al-Aqsa Mosque in large numbers.
Days ahead of the Jewish Passover, which has coincided this year with Ramadan, bigoted settler groups backed by high Israeli echelons announced they wanted to sacrifice a lamb on Al-Aqsa esplanade. This represents a symbolic reconstruction of the rituals in the so-called Temple Mount. If it were to take place, this would mark a new phase in the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque and promote the plan to divide it between Muslims and Jewish settlers, similar to the current situation of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
Israel’s aim is not spiritual but political: undermining Palestinian claims of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including over the very Mosque of Al-Aqsa.
As Israel is trying to change the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem in favor of Jewish settlers, appearing as an omnipotent apartheid system is essential to advance its plans.
According to Al-Qastal, a Palestinian news network based in Jerusalem, within 5 days since April 15, about 3670 Israeli settlers invaded Al-Aqsa Mosque. On Wednesday, April 20, the annual Flag March organized by settlers took place. Thousands of settlers marched towards the Damascus Gate, one of the gates leading to the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque in an attempt to invade the holy sites there.
Yet, the strategy of repression and overwhelming force didn’t work. Palestinians gathered in large numbers in the Damascus Gate Plaza and managed to oust the settlers from the area despite Israeli police brutality. Senior Christian priest, Monsignor Manuel Mussallam recently declared that Christians will defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and Muslims will defend the Church of Holy Sepulchre: “We will never hand over the keys of these holy sites at any price.”
Al Aqsa Mosque is not only a religious site, but a political and social space where Palestinians gather and transcend Israel’s imposed fragmentation on them. It is also the only public space left for Palestinians amid Israel’s tight spatial control over the city.
Israeli plans to spatially control important sites like Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulcher and the entirety of Jerusalem are translated into a vicious daily reality in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
A mile away from the Old City of Jerusalem, where these holy sites are located, Sheikh Jarrah enjoys a strategic location that, once ethnically cleansed from Palestinians, would allow Israel to tighten the grip over the Old City.
That is why more than 25 families in the neighborhood are facing a continuous onslaught on them to take over their homes.
In January 2022, the Salhiya family from Sheikh Jarrah was brutally displaced after days of resistance against Israeli occupation forces that finally demolished their home. Less than a month later in February, the Salim family faced off ruthless military violence in tandem with settlers attacks aimed at taking over the family’s home. This expulsion is currently on hold.
Palestinians living in six of Silwan’s twelve neighborhoods endure also constant demolition of and the imminent expulsion from their homes as they live a stone’s throw away from both Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre.
Jenin: Palestine’s Phoenix and Israel’s scapegoat
Lately, Israeli claims that armed groups in Jenin are the source of ‘evil’ that must be eradicated to stop Palestinian resistance everywhere have reemerged.
Israel knows well that if it attempts to deal with increasing and widely spreading Palestinian resistance across Historic Palestine, it will lose its image as the invincible power both in the settler-colonial mindset of its own society and in the eyes of the people it subjugates – the Palestinian people.
By limiting the suppression of Palestinian resistance to Jenin Refugee Camp and some surrounding villages in the Jenin district, Israel attempts to maintain this image of itself and to show Palestinians that any resistance, no matter how big or small it is, is futile.
Since the beginning of 2022, Israeli occupation forces murdered 48 Palestinians, five times more than those who were killed within the same period in 2021. Over a third are from Jenin Refugee Camp and its surrounding villages.
In addition to increased invasions of Jenin and its camp over the last two weeks, the Israeli occupation has been imposing an economic siege on the district. Just as the workers in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of Israel’s siege in 2007, many workers from Jenin are no longer allowed to go to their jobs.
The Palestinian economy is strangled by Israeli apartheid practices and Israel confiscates our land and plunders our natural resources. Many workers have therefore lost their source of livelihood inside their villages and cities.
In an effort to isolate the city, Israel has lately set up several checkpoints restricting the movement of Palestinians to and from Jenin. Moreover, Israeli authorities have imposed restrictions on the access of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the Arab American University in Jenin, where they study.
Unfortunately, being in the cross-hair of Israel is nothing new for Jenin. Exactly 20 years ago, Israel razed the refugee camp in Jenin to the ground in exactly the same attempt: presenting it as a showcase of what happens when Palestinians refuse to be dehumanized.
On April 3, 2002, Israel launched a brutal massacre in Jenin Refugee Camp and took siege of it for 15 days. Until today nobody knows the exact number of Palestinians killed during those horrific two weeks. Hundreds were injured.
Yet, Jenin literally rose like the phoenix from the ashes.
It continues to be one of the main strongholds of Palestinian resistance in the West Bank. It is the hope that makes Palestinians believe that Israeli apartheid is indeed surmountable, no matter how much it oppresses them. Israel is scapegoating Jenin to prove the opposite to its society and the Palestinian people.
Al-Naqab: Colonial violence, the JNF & resistance
In Al-Naqab desert, where the land of thousands of Palestinian third-class citizens of Israel is supposed to be used for Israeli settlement expansion, the efforts of the apartheid regime to intimidate Palestinians and deprive them of the spirit of resistance reproduce the patterns of settler violence that Palestinians in the West Bank know all too well.
In addition to colonial state violence, Palestinians are targeted by armed paramilitary groups.
On Sunday, March 21, Almog Cohen, a former Israeli police officer launched the formation of Barel Rangers, a far-right Jewish militia. The fanatic group was formed for the sole aim of intensifying violence against Palestinians in Al-Naqab. Cohen, the founder of the group, claimed that the Barel Rangers were created in response to inadequate policing in the region. The group announced that it will “undergo training in fighting terror” and “show its presence and maintain security.”
In reality they are fighting the peaceful protests of Palestinians in Al-Naqab that broke out in January against their imminent forcible expulsion from the village of Sa’wa. Saw’a is among 36 unrecognized villages in Al-Naqab, where Palestinians have been threatened by displacement for decades. The ethnic cleansing campaign is led by the Jewish National Fund under the guise of afforestation projects.
Their Walls can never be high enough
Already in 1923 one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky argued that Palestinians would only accept to live in what we now call an apartheid regime intent at displacing and dispossessing them, once they lost hope in front of overwhelming force, or what he called the “Iron Wall”.
As military aggression was not subduing Palestinians, at the height of the Second Intifada, Israel started construction of a physical wall. Almost exactly 20 years ago, in June 2002, Israeli bulldozers started leveling the land for its Apartheid Wall that rips across the West Bank. Just weeks ago, the Israeli government has allocated more than 300 million USD to close the gaps in the Wall to complete its construction.
Exactly one year ago, Israel launched another aggressive military assault on the Gaza Strip, which since 1996 is encircled by walls. The aggression that killed 260 Palestinians was appropriately called ‘Guardians of the Wall’.
This effort to ‘guard’ its walls made of cement and of military power came exactly when the walls were crumbling. The Unity Intifada saw a collective uprising, everywhere in Historic Palestine.
To make matters worse, only a few months later six Palestinian prisoners were able to breach the walls of Israel’s Gilboa jail, once declared the most guarded prison in Israel, a fortress from which no one could escape. Mahmoud Al-Arda, one of the six self-liberated prisoners explained the motive behind the prison break: “to prove that this monster is an illusion”.
Their capacity to demonstrate that Israel’s ongoing ‘Iron Wall’ doctrine is futile inspired a nation.
Last year the world was watching and Palestinians were even to a certain extent able to breach the walls of silence of Western mainstream media. Today, media coverage is compliant with the interests of the Western powers that entrench Israeli apartheid. At the very moment mainstream media is glorifying Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion, they are portraying Palestinians resisting the Israeli occupation as villains.
Yet, on the ground the walls keep crumbling. The burning desire of Palestinians to live in dignity, freedom and justice is much mightier than the walls of oppression that systematically seek to render us as an abject ‘other’, invisible, absent, silent and non-existent.
Palestinians who are rising up in Al-Naqab, Nazareth, Haifa, Om El-Fahm, the West Bank, including Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and in the refugee camps prove that Israeli apartheid and its walls are indeed, surmountable.
In the streets, on the Wall and in Israel’s colonial dungeons, Palestinians are writing and rightening the story that we tell and is told about our struggle: a struggle for self-determination and against apartheid and settler colonialism.