Israel targets Palestinian activists

Amira Howeidy , Wednesday 26 May 2021

They rallied, went on strike, and unified against the occupation. Now the Israeli authorities are hunting down Palestinian activists

Israel targets Palestinian activists

In the early hours of 25 May, an undercover Israeli force from the Mista’arvim unit posing as Arabs raided the town of Um Al-Sharayet in the West Bank city of Ramallah and assassinated a 23-year-old Palestinian man identified as Ahmad Jamil Al-Fahd.

The circumstances of the assassination were not immediately clear, but photographs of a single bullet hole in the backseat window of a blue MG hatchback circulating on social media were self-explanatory. Next to the car was Al-Fahd’s lifeless body lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

Local media said he had been left to bleed to death.

His friends had just dropped him off, according to Nour Odeh, a Palestinian analyst in Ramallah, who said that after the 11-day Israeli bombardment of the blockaded Gaza Strip ended on Friday, Palestinians now have to reckon with Israel’s penalisation of the dissent movement of recent weeks.

“Relative quiet does not apply to Palestinians under Israeli occupation,” she commented of Al-Fahd’s assassination. 

It was by many accounts the most chilling escalation by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against the Palestinian movement of recent weeks protesting against the occupation, settler colonialism in East Jerusalem, and in solidarity with Gaza.

Since the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza went into effect on Friday, the IOF has unleashed a campaign of mass arrests targeting Palestinian activists who were active in the movement both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories, such as Ramallah, which is under Palestinian Authority (PA) administration.

“Lawyers in Jerusalem can’t keep up with the arrests,” said Amani Khalifa, a Palestinian activist in Jerusalem who posted a plea for emergency legal help on Twitter. “If you know any lawyers willing to volunteer for help, please send me their names,” she wrote.

According to the Israeli police, more than 1,550 people, mainly minors, have been arrested since 9 May in connection with “mob violence” between Palestinians and Israelis. A spokesman said that 70 per cent of those arrested were Palestinians with Israeli identity and 30 per cent were Jewish.

Israeli forces launched a concerted campaign called “Operation Law and Order” on 23 May to arrest over 500 Palestinian citizens of Israel. A statement by the Israeli police said that thousands of police and border police officers had been deployed nationwide “to bring the rioters, criminals and all those involved in the disturbances to justice.”

“The police contend that deterrence has been severely compromised over the past two weeks,” the statement said, planning “to even the score with criminal forces in the Arab sector... a criminal bank of targets.”

Clashes between the Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem began when the former raided the mosque and cut off loudspeaker cables during the Holy month of Ramadan, interrupting the Muslim evening prayers. 

The police then attempted to evacuate the vicinity to make way for a scheduled Israeli settler parade. Because it was during Ramadan, the Al-Haram Al-Sharif religious complex had naturally attracted tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers. The police were outnumbered in the clashes, and the parade was cancelled.

These developments coincided with Israeli efforts to expel eight Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem area of Sheikh Jarrah, so that Zionist settlers can claim them.

The forced evictions were met with resistance from the families, attracting daily protests by Palestinians in the area. Met with brute force by the IOF, the violence spilled over to the rest of Occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, prompting further Palestinian clashes.

In response, the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza, Hamas, fired rockets into Israel on 9 May in support of the ongoing Palestinian protests. Israel then responded with a series of heavy airstrikes on the densely populated and besieged Gaza Strip.

The conflict, which continued for 11 days, triggered Palestinian protests and rioting inside Israel’s 1948 borders and in the Occupied Territories of 1967. Two developments particularly alarmed Israel: the upheaval among 1948 Palestinians who are Israeli citizens and Hamas’s new missiles that have longer ranges and some of which escaped its advanced Iron Dome defence system.

As residential towers, homes, medical labs and schools in Gaza were bombarded by Israel, killing 253 Palestinians, the rockets did not stop. On the Israeli side, 12 people were killed. However, neither the Al-Qassam Brigades nor Hamas were rooted out, and after twice rejecting ceasefire proposals, Israel finally agreed to an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire on Friday.

The Palestinians considered this to be a victory, and Gaza’s streets exploded in celebration.

The rockets disrupted life in much of Israel, and in the words of an opinion piece in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, they “undermined the public’s sense of security”.

In the 11 days of the conflict, every town inside Israel with a sizeable number of Palestinian citizens engaged in protests, riots and clashes with Israeli police in solidarity with Gaza and in response to settler violence. More importantly, the mobilisation of Palestinians everywhere established a connection that physically transcended the demarcation lines separating Palestinians in Israel from those in the West Bank and even in the enclave of the Gaza Strip.

This connection was echoed and culminated in the general strike observed on 14 May “from the river to the sea,” a reference to Palestinians living in the West Bank, Israel and the Mediterranean city of Gaza. Many analysts observing the global solidarity with the Palestinian question, expressed in massive demonstrations worldwide, said there had been a new readiness abroad to criticise Israel in terms of settler colonialism and apartheid.

The Palestinians say the mass arrests that have taken place within the 1948 borders are aimed to appease Zionist settlers and to silence doubts about Israel’s capabilities to retaliate or respond brutally after accusations of lethargy.

Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, described the mass arrests as a “militarised war against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

This is a war against Palestinian demonstrators, political activists and minors, and one that employs massive Israeli police forces to raid the homes of Palestinian citizens. The raids are intended to intimidate and to exact revenge on the Palestinian citizens of Israel – “to settle the score” with the Palestinians, in the Israeli police’s words – “for their political positions and activities.”

Yara Hawari, a Palestinian academic and policy analyst with the Al-Shabaka Palestinian Network, said the campaign was not just an attempt to intimidate those who had participated in the protests and strike.

“This is a declaration of war,” she declared. “It is the settler colonial project’s way of attempting to crush our people’s spirit, resistance and resilience.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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