Like trying to explain all the various intricacies of test cricket, it can be difficult to know where to start when talking about surges in violence between the Israeli state and the Palestinians. This most recent surge, referred to by some the Third Intifada, is no different.
It is a spate of violence that has seen 64 Palestinians killed and 2000 injured, and 9 Israelis killed and 80 injured.
Too often the media outlets ignore the historical context, hide their bias, or both. I will say now that I am very much biased, biased towards the oppressed and dispossessed Palestinians and all the Israelis caught in between, and biased against an unjust Israeli government, the illegal settlers, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the often corrupt and morally bankrupt Palestinian leadership, in the West Bank and in Gaza.
Today’s situation has evolved roughly like this. Following the end of the British mandate, Jewish forces defeated a weak Arab force and declared independence in 1948. Estimates range from 700,000 to over a million on the amount of Palestinians displaced and expelled by the conflict, while many Arabs were absorbed into Israeli society,
In 1967, following a six day war, cleverly referred to as The Six Day War, Israel seized, among other lands, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a war against Syria, Egypt and Jordan. East Jerusalem was occupied and declared Israel’s capital, an act in contravention of international law, not recognised by any in the international community.
Since then, Israel has expanded its settlement, arguably colonization, of the lands. According to Israeli human rights centre B’tselem, there are now 125 settlements in the West Bank, with a settler population of around 550,00. Until 2005, there were also settlements in the Gaza Strip. These settlements are illegal, as international law prohibits settlement of lands that you are militarily occupying.
Within the West Bank, control is shared between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli forces; the PA has the most responsibility for controlling Area A and controls civil matters in Area B, while Israel has complete control of Area C and retains security control in Area B.
Within these areas, Palestinians have little freedom of movement, requiring permits to come and go between certain checkpoints. Travelling between the West Bank and Gaza is near impossible.
Israeli control is marked by arbitrary interrogation and arrest, collective punishment and brutal repression. PA administration is not much better, with Human Rights Watch criticising them for beating protestors and stifling dissent.
International human rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and Israel based groups, like B’tselem, have extensively detailed abuses and injustices occurring in the Occupied West Bank, the centre of most of the current upsurge, and in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch documented in its 2015 World Report how Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza is leaving 80% people requiring humanitarian assistance, and 45% unemployment rate in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. This on the back of Israel’s 2014 massacre in Gaza, a third in seven years, which the rights group notes as leaving at least 2100 people dead, 1500 of whom were civilians and 500 children. Amnesty International also reported these figures, among other rights groups. There are extensive allegations of war crimes, against both sides.
Amnesty records the enforcement of a 500m buffer zone of Gaza’s land border with Israel, enforced by live fire on people who encroach. Israel continued to enforce restrictions on the square miles in which Palestinians fish, an area smaller than that set out by the 1993 Oslo Accords. Amnesty recorded that many fishermen were shot, causing injury and death.
In the West Bank, given Israel’s physical presence, the nature of the oppression is just as draconian, but only in a different way. Checkpoints are erected to inhibit freedom of movement, with people requiring specific permits and needing to present identification. Israelis in Israel are not subject to such measures, nor are the Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
As B’tselem has reported, ill-treatment of Palestinians has become commonplace. Israeli forces submit Palestinians to a ‘”small dose” of ill-treatment such as a slap, a kick, an insult, a pointless delay at checkpoints, or degrading treatment.’ This has often evolved into something more than this, with arbitrary beatings and arrests not infrequent occurrences.
Human Rights Watch noted the case of the cousin of a Palestinian burned alive by settlers last year. According to the group, undercover Israeli forces broke into the home, beat the cousin unconscious, then arrested members of the family. On another occasion, Israeli forces beat and arrest two students protesting outside Birzeit University- a video of the protest showed an undercover police officer shooting one of the students in the thigh from close range as he was dragged away.
During the current upsurge, the repression continues unabated. Amnesty has Israel carried out extrajudicial killings on Palestinians, often when they posed no imminent threat to life.
Mondoweiss, International Solidarity Movement and Electronic Intifada have all detailed instances where Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces under the precept of stabbing attacks, only to place a knife on them after they have been killed.
One seventeen year old girl was recently shot 8-10 times at a checkpoint by soldiers, on her way back from school. Eyewitnesses said that her hands were raised and was not holding a knife.
Middle East Eye reported the shooting of a Palestinian near the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron. Eyewitnesses reported that he was searched, ‘before orders were given to execute him.’
One eyewitness heard a policewoman say ‘he looks nice, shoot him.’ International Solidarity Movement reported that he was then shot by ‘m16 from 2 meters away.’
So that is where the violence comes from. From people despairing at the injustice and oppression in which they live, brutalised by their enemy. It comes from conscripted young soldiers, who only know to be hostile to Palestinians, often only following orders. It comes from politics and ideology, trading peace and security for supposed supremacy.
The conflict is much more than a political conflict, maybe be not even a political conflict. It is a human conflict exacerbated by a political process that is at best rubbish, and at worst an insidious deceit.So what now? How do you achieve peace?
I had started to write about how Israel isn’t going to give up the occupation until it is too costly, which is true- there was even a Martin Luther King quote- and that the Palestinians should take the lead, stop all the violence and just sit down. In the streets.
But that’s not going to happen. I had written that Israel should cease the occupation, oppression and apartheid, allow Palestinians the rights they are entitled to. But that’s not going to happen. There are too many things that solving the conflict depends on, too much has gone before.
If Israel would stop its arbitrary and unjust Occupation of Palestinians, If Palestinians would halt their own violence, If Israel would cease settlement building, and hold settlers to account for the crimes they’ve committed, If the Palestinian leadership wasn’t so inept, or corrupt, If a broker more honest than U.S. could be found.
None of that is very realistic though. Those are pretty big ifs.
If I was a Palestinian living in the West Bank or Gaza, I certainly might fancy throwing the odd stone at the cocky teenage soldiers who’ve been ritually humiliating me- on the way to school, on the way to work. And above all, how do you reason in a situation where both sides feel like they are fighting for their lives, their existence, and where many feel they have the god-given right to kill and cleanse? You can’t.
Don’t get me wrong, Palestinians make their own mistakes. But Israel is the oppressor and occupier, the purveyor of injustice. I just can’t see how a positive solution can be found any time soon. I will leave the final word to Peep Show protagonist Mark: ‘I’ve started to get the feeling that…everything is fucked, everything is just completely fucked.’
I am starting to get that feeling too.