Israel’s rampage at close range
The world is focused on Israel's offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, with escalating air strikes and a massing of infantry units along the border for a threatened invasion in the wake of the discovery of the bodies of three teenaged settlers. But Israel's use of violence and terror against Palestinians continues in the West Bank and Israel itself.
Shafeka Hashah, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine at New York University, has been staying with her family in the old city of Ramallah in the West Bank. Her cousin Niveen has been in Palestine since 2000 and lives in the village of Deir Dibwan, about five miles from Ramallah. They were interviewed byabout conditions where they live since Israel began intensifying its war on Palestinians nearly four weeks ago.
CAN YOU describe what life was like during the 18 days between the beginning of Israel's crackdown on June 12 and the discovery of the bodies of the three settler youth at the end of the month?
Niveen: Every day, hundreds were arrested, and there were clashes everywhere, random invasions of homes. Even the police station was invaded.
The streets didn't feel safe to walk on, especially at night. And even after the boys were found, the settlers have been committing brutal crimes, kidnapping young children, running them over, even burning them alive. This isn't anything new, but it has increased in a short time since the kidnapping.
Shafeka: I live at most a 10-minute walk from the center of Ramallah, where a man was killed and where the Palestinians fought against their own police force for being the right hand to the Israeli military. In the days after the kidnappings, we heard gunshots every night, and Ramallah was constantly invaded.
Anytime a martyr from Qalandia, Ramallah or the refugee camps died, Ramallah would shut down entirely, and there would be a mass funeral procession in the streets. Ramallah then quieted down after the bodies were found, but hearing the stories of what is going on in Jerusalem and Nablas is horrifying.
Honestly, I think it is just that Ramallah is not as deeply surrounded by settlements, so they are too cowardly to do things so terrible around here--not that I'm complaining.
What is great, though, is that people are finally talking about how they hate the Palestinian Authority (PA), especially following PA President Mahmoud Abbas's speech about how all lives are equal (which is true)--without ever making mention of an occupation, or settlers or those problems, as though people are just horrible, and nothing could have spurred them to kidnap three settlers--if, that is, it was Palestinians who did it at all. I personally don't believe so, but my circle does not share these beliefs.
HAS THERE been a unified response--in the 18 days or since--from the new Palestinian unity government, following the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in April?
Niveen: I don't think there has been a unified response. Fatah has just been condemning these crimes while Gaza has been accused of the kidnapping of the three settlers. Israel has been bombing Gaza, killing 11 citizens in one day.
Shafeka: I don't really think I'd call it a unified response. The PA is saying that if Hamas did it, we will cut ties. Honestly, I think the most unity came out of after the murder of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. In the eyes of the people, Abbas barely even made a stir about the collective punishment policies during Operation Brother's Keeper [the name Israel gave to its effort to locate the kidnapped boys].
WHAT HAS the response from ordinary Palestinians been to Israel? What has their response been to Fatah and Hamas?
Niveen: Palestinians all over the Middle East have been protesting against Israel by showing their anger at these brutal attacks, leading to clashes between the IOF [Israel Occupation Force] and the Palestinians. The anger of Palestinians has increased, and a large number of Palestinians have been injured and imprisoned. The Palestinians' major focus has been on Israel and less on Fatah/Hamas.
Shafeka: I would agree that the people haven't really talked about the unity government much, or at least not in my observations, but they have been talking about the PA being a friend of Israel's occupation.
For instance, when I went back to Deir Dibwan, we were talking with an older relative. She is not an activist, but an older woman who stays in the village, and she was fully aware of the PA's complicity with the IOF. She even said to us to not go talking about it too loudly, because she didn't fear our arrests by the IOF, but by the PA, which I think is telling.
ISRAEL HAS scapegoated Hamas for the abduction and killing of the three teenaged settlers, attempting to vilify them in order to justify its ongoing attacks. Has this worked among the people you speak to?
Niveen: Israel's bombing of Gaza--without proof that Hamas had anything to do with the kidnappings--proves what an unjust state Israel is. And Israel is continuing to prove this to the whole world with the passing of each day of its offensive.
Shafeka: I don't think this has worked at all. The people are more concerned with the huge escalation of violence than with Hamas or Fatah.
HAVE YOU had discussions about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement with people that you've met there since you arrived? What have those been like?
Niveen: Yes. Honestly, the problem is implementation. When Israeli products are cheaper to buy for businessmen, and these are people who need to feed their families, it's hard to just say, "Stop selling these products."
Shafeka: I agree with Niveen. Something I have noticed is that every time there is a Ramallah-area martyr, it is the youth--not the PA--who have all the businesses close. I personally--and from my discussions, others as well--find this very ineffective. This does nothing against Israel. It merely hurts these businesspeople and anyone who spent money to get into the city in order to purchase goods.
It would be ideal if Palestinians had products comparable to Israeli ones that businesses could sell. Then people could pressure the businesses to boycott the products. In the large supermarkets, the Israeli products are separated out, but it is hard sometimes to do even that.
For instance, there is a brand of water we were purchasing, and it seemed Palestinian because it only had Arabic written on it. Turns out it is just savvy Israeli business strategy to not use Hebrew so people don't know it's Israeli.
Also, I've heard stories of Palestinian sellers who aren't able to bring their products to the West Bank or who must pay high taxes on them. Israel makes it so that West Bank Palestinians have to buy Israeli products. This just shows how the occupation is so completely necessary for the economy.
Also, I want to point out that Palestinians can shop in settlement malls or go to the Dead Sea via a settlement entrance for a fee. While there are many people who will never do this, some do. I've had very serious discussions with people about this, and it is hard to argue with what they say.
Ramallah vendors sell Forever21 clothing for sky-high prices because of how heavily imports are taxed. But you can go to the settlement mall and buy three times the amount of clothing from an actual Forever21, and if you have a limited budget, sometimes you take the moral hit.
Regarding the Dead Sea, there is a Palestinian side, but it is honestly pretty dirty because there is no money for a sanitation department. So when it is 100 degrees outside, and you want to go to a beach, people pay the fee to go to the nice beach. And who am I to say, "No, you are not allowed to have nice things"?
IN WHAT ways have Palestinians resisted Israeli aggression these past few weeks? In what ways have they been unable to?
Niveen: Palestinians have been showing their anger by protesting. But Palestinians' limited access to resources has limited their resistance to protests and clashes with Israeli forces. The Palestinians fight back with rocks while the opposition faces them with tanks, M-16s, bullets, bombs and so on.
Shafeka: Resistance takes the form of protests and "clashes" (I don't like that word). Israel has closed roads--for instance, the road we take to go from Deir Dibwan to Ramallah has been rerouted so it doesn't pass right by Beiteel settlement.
The people are honestly very unified in their struggles and are trying. I think they finally feel as though they are getting mainstream media coverage, which I feel is uplifting. And even if that reporting is often terrible, it seems we are getting humanized in the media for once.
After the six settler extremists murdered a Palestinian teen in Jerusalem by lighting him on fire, it was the same response. Israel closed off the roads to get to his funeral. I heard a story that in his town, settlers kept attacking until the young men cut all the electricity to the light poles, so the settlers got scared and fled.
It is great though to see everyone in the streets. During the funeral, there were masses of women there, which was great. You really have a sense of true solidarity.
And even before Operation Brother's Keeper, every eating establishment shut down one day in solidarity with the hunger strikers. During the graduation at Birzeit University, there was a moment of silence, and everyone held up signs saying, "Water and salt." They also gave an honorary diploma to a Birzeit student who had recently been shot by either a settler or a soldier while herding sheep.