Q1. How would you describe the current situation on the ground?
A1. A new generation of Palestinians is marching on the footsteps of previous generations, rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid. It is another phase of the popular struggle against Israel’s state terrorism.
Tens of thousands of predominantly young Palestinians have joined demonstrations taking place across more than 65 Palestinian villages, neighborhoods and refugee camps.
It is significant that these demonstrations are taking place across historic Palestine: in the West Bank, in Gaza and by Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinian refugee communities in neighboring Arab countries are mobilizing as well. Some demonstrations have attracted more than 20,000 people.
The uprising is led by a generation of fearless young Palestinian Davids who are no longer intimidated by the brutality of the Israeli Goliath and who are asserting their right to self-determination and freedom.
Israel’s response is fierce repression based on an overwhelming use of military force and increasing executions to quell popular protests. Israel has intensified the isolation of Palestinian residential areas from Jerusalem and from one another, implementing severe new restrictions on movement. Jabal al Mukabber, a village in Jerusalem, is being sealed off by a five-meter-high cement wall. At least 12 roads around East Jerusalem have been closed and 12 new checkpoints around the city have been erected. Palestinians are often prevented from moving between major West Bank cities by ad-hoc checkpoints.
Q2. Why are tensions rising now? What has led us to this situation?
A2. Colonial oppression and resistance to it cannot be accurately described as “tensions.”
This youth-led popular uprising, supported by the entire Palestinian political spectrum, is a response to Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing, siege, racist attacks against Palestinian churches and mosques, settlement construction, home demolitions, and flagrant dehumanization. Its immediate triggers are the intensifying far-right policies of the most fanatic, racist and settler-dominated government in Israel’s history.
A report by the European Union leaked in March 2015 to the media indicated that these Israeli policies, especially in Jerusalem, had brought the reality on the ground to a ‘dangerous boiling point’ not seen since the end of the second Intifada in 2005.
Immediately after the end of its massacre in Gaza in 2014, Israel started to drastically escalate its colonial policies. In addition to the 8-year-old siege of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, the fast displacement of Palestinian communities and the expansion of illegal colonial settlements in the West Bank, especially in Jerusalem, have pushed Palestinians under Israel’s occupation into ever shrinking, racially segregated Bantustans. For example, Israel has begun its plan to forcibly remove 27,000 Palestinians living in 46 communities in Area C to three ‘relocation camps’ in townships.
In August, Israeli occupation forces demolished 145 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, displacing 208 persons. According to UN OCHA, this was the highest number of structures demolished in the West Bank during one month in five years. The same agency has reported that in 2015 to date, 554 Palestinians have been displaced by demolitions in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem (as of 12 October), and another 13 thousand Palestinian structures, mainly in Area C are still under demolition order.
Israel’s daily crimes against Palestinians in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem and the relentless messianic settlers’ desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound as a matter of state-sanctioned policy left no doubt among Palestinians that Israel has embarked on what may well be the final phase of its ongoing destruction of the status quo in Jerusalem with the explicit goal of “Judaizing” the illegally occupied city.
Q3. How is Israel reacting to Palestinian popular resistance?
A3. Israel’s police force, military and fundamentalist settler lynch mobs have savagely attacked Palestinian protestors and executed Palestinian children and youth in the street, including bystanders, with the full protection of Israel’s rubber-stamp judiciary.
According to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, 42 Palestinians were killed between October 1-19, most of whom were shot by Israeli occupation forces during protests. More than 2,000 have been injured by tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition.
A report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has detailed some of the murders carried out by the Israeli military, calling on the UN to immediately investigate them.
The Israeli military has murdered Palestinians in order to terrorise the Palestinian population. Fadi Alloun, 18, was walking home when he was killed by the Israeli police at the behest of Jewish Israeli fanatics.
New Israeli laws and a dominant culture of racism and hatred that has been nourished over decades in Israeli society by the state apparatus, have enabled Israel’s occupation forces to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian child and youth protestors in situations where there pose no serious threat.
New rules of “engagement” allow Israeli soldiers and police to shoot at protestors whenever there is a “threat to human life.” Clearly, the lives of the protestors themselves do not figure in this policy, as the Israeli establishment simply does not view them as human.
Arbitrary killings and executions against Palestinians have been widely carried out by Israeli forces and officially-sanctioned messianic Jewish militias, such as the Price Tag gangs.
Lynching young men and women simply for “looking Arab” is on the rise. As in apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South in the U.S., when the victim is Palestinian and the perpetrator is Israeli justice is never upheld.
Israeli occupation forces have been carrying out mass incarceration to repress demonstrations, arresting 850 Palestinians, including 300 children.
Encouraged to do so by the racial incitement of Israeli leaders (see here and here), large numbers of ordinary Israelis are increasingly praising and calling for attacks and killings of Palestinians (here and here). Israel as a whole has dropped its mask, revealing the true face of its hideous regime of settler-colonial oppression.
Q4. Why are Palestinians accusing Israel of “collective punishment”?
A4. Palestinian and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned the myriad, well-documented Israeli policies of repression against Palestinian civilians living under occupation as “collective punishment.” This policy has been regularly used by Israel’s occupation authorities to quash Palestinian resistance.
Last week, an Israeli government minister called for the destruction of all Palestinian homes built in occupied East Jerusalem without permits, a threat that targets nearly 40 percent of the city’s Palestinians because of restrictive zoning. While this home demolition policy, which is aimed at reducing the indigenous Palestinian population of Jerusalem, has been going on for decades, the call by key ministers in the current government to escalate the policy now is evidence of collective punishment.
Jerusalem’s gun-wielding mayor has called on Jewish-Israeli civilians to carry arms. Armed Jewish fundamentalist terror mobs chanting “Death to Arabs,” who regularly parade through the streets of occupied Jerusalem threatening the lives of Palestinian civilians, now feel vindicated and protected by the city’s mayor (who is not recognized by Palestinians as such). Other cities have banned Palestinian workers from public institutions and construction sites.
Q5. What is your position on the current violent confrontation and especially from the Palestinian side?
A5. The root cause of all this violence is Israel’s decades-old occupation and violations of international law. Those who are truly interested in seeing an end to violence ought to work to abolish Israel’s regime of oppression, as apartheid was abolished in South Africa. This way you end the initial violence of the oppressor and, consequently, the resistance of the oppressed, whether violent or not.
Incarcerating millions of Palestinians in the racially segregated Bantustans of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or in the Gaza prison camp, and denying them their basic human rights is a guaranteed recipe for resistance and collective defiance.
Q6. Shouldn’t Palestinians end violence to convince the world they truly want peace?
A6. As Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation rightly puts it:
Peace, from the perspective of Palestinians and all oppressed communities around the world, must be built on justice and can only be sustained on the basis of equal rights for all humans, irrespective of identity. Otherwise, it is not real peace, but submission to oppression as fate. The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa rejected that “peace,” and so did the civil rights movement in the US, the anti-colonial struggles from India to Algeria, the struggles against dictatorships and for democracy from Indonesia to Chile. Palestinians yearn for freedom and justice no less than any other oppressed community.
Q7. Why are Palestinians so concerned about the “status quo” in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound?
A7. Contrary to Israeli propaganda claims, this wave of Israeli repression and Palestinian resistance has nothing do to with Jewish “religious” rights. Palestinians are deeply concerned about Israel’s relentless efforts to shatter the “status quo” arrangement that was reached upon Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and that reserves the al-Aqsa mosque compound for Muslim worship, because it is seen as a step toward Israeli control and the banning of Palestinians from parts of the sanctuary and the occupied Old City.
Palestinians have good reason to be concerned, because similar Jewish settler violence at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994 culminated in a massacre of Palestinian worshippers. Instead of punishing the murderous settlers, Israel rewarded them by taking control of the mosque and dividing it into Jewish and Muslim sections, reserving certain roads for Jewish settlers only, and eventually exercising exclusive control over Hebron’s Old City – all under the pretext of security.
The current extreme-right Israeli government is trying to instigate a “religious war” by unleashing messianic Jewish groups’ terror against Christian and Muslim Palestinian holy sites and homes. This is cynically done to cover up the true nature of Israel’s regime of colonial oppression and to win back some sympathy from a world that is increasingly shunning Israel as a pariah, mainly due to the fast growth of the BDS movement.
Against this background, Palestinians have predominantly maintained the national liberation nature of their struggle and have resisted attempts to drag them into the religious conflict trap. Solidarity with Palestine remains as inclusive and anti-racist as ever.
Q8. What role should the international community be playing?
A8. At times of severe repression, as we see today in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, peace-loving citizens of the world are called upon to first and foremost end the complicity of their respective states, as well as corporations, institutions, unions, and pension funds, in maintaining Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
The most effective tools for doing so are found in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), whose impressive academic, cultural and economic impact over the last 10 years is reaching the international mainstream.
Today BDS is credited for contributing to the sharp 46% decline in foreign direct investment in Israel in 2014 and to the 24% decrease of Israeli exports to the occupied Palestinian territory. A Rand Corporation study predicts that BDS could cost Israel in the coming 10 years tens of billions of dollars.
BDS is holding Israel to account through strategic, morally-consistent and undeniably effective global campaigning. Joining the movement is the most ethically sound and effective form of support for building a just and comprehensive peace that is in harmony with international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.