Opinion article by NAJLA SHAHWAN
Palestinians have been facing injustice and the denial of their basic human rights since the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the prolonged belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territory starting in 1967.
For more than 55 years, Palestinians have endured confinement, land confiscation, house demolitions, fragmentation, discriminatory law enforcement, mass incarceration, and other countless abuses, indignities and humiliations, facing an oppressive regime that threatens the right of an entire people to exist.
Israel has imposed on the Palestinians an apartheid system based on domination, military laws and a system of permits, the appropriation of natural resources like water, impunity for daily settler violence and mass imprisonment, especially of children.
On the other hand, despite a tremendous number of U.N. General Assembly and Security Council (UNSC) resolutions condemning Israeli policies, little action has been done to hold Israel and its officials accountable for the continuous well-documented violations of international – customary and humanitarian – law and to help Palestinians achieve their right to self-determination and to end the prolonged years of Israeli belligerent occupation.
What is happening is a massive disparity of power between the Israeli government and the Palestinians it occupies and targets.
Three months ago, the most far-right government in the history of Israel was sworn in by the Knesset under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Kahanist leader of Jewish Power and former convict for racist incitement, was appointed as head of the newly created Ministry of National Security, while Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the settler-based Religious Zionism party, was given major control over the administration of the occupied West Bank as finance minister.
The coalition agreement included the establishment of a National Guard led by Ben-Gvir and tasked with handling “Arab unrest,” thus anticipating even more state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians.
Since January the number of Palestinians killed surpassed last year’s data, with more than 98 deaths. This record increase in violence is characterized by daily Israeli military raids across the occupied West Bank, particularly in Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Jericho, aiming at curbing the resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance to the occupation.
“The wave of deadly violence sweeping through the occupied West Bank since the beginning of this year is the inexorable consequence of an acquisitive and repressive occupation with no end in sight, and the culture of lawlessness and impunity Israel has nurtured and enjoyed,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese said.
In the month of January alone, Israeli authorities reportedly demolished 132 Palestinian structures across 38 communities in the occupied West Bank, including 34 residential and 15 donor-funded structures. This figure represents a 135% increase, compared to the same period in 2022, and includes five punitive demolitions.
“The systematic demolition of Palestinian homes, erection of illegal Israeli settlements and systematic denial of building permits for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank amounts to 'domicide’ (the systematic or widespread violation of the right to adequate housing)," U.N. experts say.
Tensions have been steadily rising since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government took office.
In occupied Jerusalem, tensions have been aggravating since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, and in an unprecedented violation of all international laws and customs, Israeli forces have stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, firing stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinian worshippers in a violent raid at Islam’s third holiest site during the holy month of Ramadan.
Dozens of worshippers who were spending the night praying were injured and hundreds of Palestinians were arrested.
Police had smashed doors and windows to enter the mosque and deployed stun grenades and rubber bullets once inside. Footage shared on social media showed Israeli officers striking screaming Palestinian worshippers with batons inside the mosque.
Many were injured during the clashes that erupted in and around the mosque and the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances were targeted by police and were prevented from reaching the injured.
Israeli raids continued systematically and drew condemnation from across the Arab and Muslim world. Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Israeli police actions “in the strongest terms,” and called on Israel to immediately remove its forces from the mosque. Jordan has also called for an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League to discuss the development.
Ongoing settlement expansion
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government authorized construction bids for over a thousand new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, a watchdog group reported in March despite an Israeli pledge to halt settlement construction as part of efforts to curb a deadly wave of violence in the territory.
The Israel Land Authority published the tenders for the construction of 940 homes in the West Bank settlements of Efrat and Beitar Ilit, as well as 89 homes in the Gilo settlement, which lies over the 1967 line on the southern edge of occupied Jerusalem. The large settlement of Efrat sits deep in the West Bank, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Palestinians seek these lands, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, for a future independent state. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry assailed the move as a betrayal of Netanyahu’s vow to freeze settlement construction, showing “official disregard for American and international reactions.”
The anti-settlement Israeli group Peace Now publicized the construction bids. “This is yet another harmful and unnecessary construction initiative,” the group said, accusing the Israeli government of “trampling on the possibility of a future political agreement, and on our relations with the U.S. and friendly countries.”
The new affront to the Palestinians came just a week after Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Egypt’s southern resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in an effort to calm rising tensions ahead of Islam's holy month of Ramadan. After the meeting, Israel repeated a pledge made at a similar February summit in Aqaba, Jordan to temporarily freeze the approval of new settlement units in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry criticized the tender approvals as “a blatant departure and deliberate sabotage of the understandings that were reached between the Palestinian and Israeli sides under American auspices.”
In February, the Israeli government granted approval for over 7,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including in four unauthorized outposts – despite a U.N. Security Council statement sharply criticizing Israeli settlement expansion and rising opposition from Israel’s allies, including the United States.
The Israeli government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in its history, has said it aims to entrench Israeli military rule in the occupied West Bank, boost settlement construction and erase the differences for Israelis between life in the settlements and within the country’s internationally recognized borders. Netanyahu’s coalition includes ultranationalist settler leaders who live in the occupied West Bank.
The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate. Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s new hard-line government is not an anomaly nor the result of an “illiberal” or “undemocratic” drift. Rather, it is another coherent step in the settler-colonial project that has been cultivated by successive Israeli governments across the political spectrum over the decades.
On its part, Israel, emboldened by the lack of a serious international intervention, has consolidated its acquisitive and repressive long occupation.
Through the past decades, the international community, the European Union, the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been simply counting the Palestinian casualties, inadequate to effectively address the issue, offering symbolic condemnation and calling for restraint.
However, the current developments in the occupied Palestinian Territories and the number of killings growing rapidly, show clearly that the Israeli government has launched a new phase of state violence against Palestinians and that there has never been a more urgent moment than the present one for the international community to heed the wake-up call for a paradigm shift to prioritize de-occupation, justice, equality, accountability and Palestinian self-determination, over a limited vision of negative peace.
The U.N. Council members, the EU's routine expressions of concern and condemnation following each racist Israeli act toward Palestinians, have brought about no change and only gave Israel the green light to go on with its violence and continue its settler-colonial project.
On the other hand, the U.S. veto blocking U.N. resolutions against Israel and its backing of $3.8 billion in annual military funding to the Israeli government has supported its control, domination, and the disposition of Palestinian lives and lands.
An effective relaunch of a peace initiative can only stem from a reconsideration of the reality on the ground as Israel keeps pursuing its settler-colonial aims with impunity with no interest in advancing a just and fair peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
To maintain its credibility and purpose, the U.N. must acknowledge that conflicting narratives and historical facts should be resolved through the lens of legality and justice, hold Israel accountable for its ongoing Crimes Against Humanity (CAH), work effectively to oppose any form of the annexation of occupied territory, realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinians and terminate the apartheid regime Israel is enforcing upon them.
The international community as a whole has the responsibility to implement these measures and give Palestinians their rights to freedom and justice.