No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have any sense of security; meanwhile, we have become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we are the more powerful side, so we call the shots, and we cannot go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now.
I was an Israel Defense Forces soldier in Gaza 27 years ago, during the first intifada. We patrolled the city and the villages and the refugee camps and encountered angry teenagers throwing stones at us. We responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Now those seem like the good old days.
Since then, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen stones replaced with guns and suicide bombs, then rockets and highly trained militias, and now, in the past month, kitchen knives, screwdrivers and other improvised weapons. Some of these low-tech efforts have been horrifically successful, with victims as young as 13. There is plenty to discuss about the nature and timing of the recent wave of Palestinian attacks — a desperate and humiliated answer to the election of a hostile Israeli government that emboldens extremist settlers to attack Palestinians. But as an Israeli, I am more concerned with the actions of my own society, which are getting scarier and uglier by the moment.
“In our society women are often judged. But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to accept us because we have more strength than any man. The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else.”
— Razan al-Najjar, Palestinian paramedic, killed on Jun 1, 2018
She had become a fixture at the weekly protests along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel, a young woman in a white paramedic’s uniform rushing into harm’s way to help treat the wounded.
As a volunteer emergency medical worker, she said she wanted to prove that women had a role to play in the conservative Palestinian society of Gaza.
“Being a medic is not only a job for a man,” Razan al-Najjar, 20, said in an interview at a Gaza protest camp last month. “It’s for women, too.”
An hour before dusk on Friday, the 10th week of the Palestinian protest campaign, she ran forward to aid a demonstrator for the last time.
Israeli soldiers fired two or three bullets from across the fence, according to a witness, hitting Ms. Najjar in the upper body. She was pronounced dead soon after.
As a longtime activist and journalist in Israel, including for the grass-roots news and commentary site +972 Magazine, I have been arrested for documenting and trying to prevent human rights violations in the West Bank. I have reported for years on how Israel silences dissent, even among its Jewish citizens, and how it is moving to outlaw human rights organizations it deems traitors.
The images and video of Israeli soldiers shooting live ammunition into masses of mostly unarmed Palestinians on the other side of the Gaza border fence over the past several weeks horrified observers around the world. Starting March 30, Israeli troops suppressing protests in Gaza killed 118 people and wounded more than 13,000, including 1,136 children.
The deaths and injuries, Israel Defense Forces international spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus lamented recently, have “done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story.” Now Israel’s government is moving to make sure there are no more videos of mass shootings in the future — not by ordering a stop to the shootings, but by considering a law that would ban anyone from filming or photographing any military operations “with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and Israel’s residents.”
Even if that bill never becomes law, the fact that the Knesset is contemplating it underscores the current state of freedoms in Israel: Maintaining its decades-long occupation depends on systematic suppression of dissent on both sides of the boundary fences. Just as Israel exercises varying levels of control between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, it also permits varying levels of dissent and criticism depending on who you are, what you are protesting and where.
“Cutting or attacking the fence is an offense. It has to be countered, but countered with reasonable force. There is no meter that I know of that would put the safety of the border fence at the same importance of the life of a 14-year-old.”
— Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer
Fourteen-year-old Wisal Sheikh Khalil had wire cutters out and was trying to break through Gaza’s boundary fence into Israel when she was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on Monday, according to her younger brother, who was with her at the time.
She was one of at least 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during protests this week along the fence, according to local health officials.
Israel’s sharpshooters, looking down from their nests on mounds of earth on the other side of the fence, have been permitted to use lethal force against those “endangering” the barrier, Israeli military officials say. These officials also say that Israeli soldiers have been allowed to use live ammunition to shoot “instigators” among “rioters” on the de facto border.
In both cases, the orders are to aim for the legs, they say, though Khalil was shot in the head.
Trump has empowered what’s worst in Israel, and as long as he is president, it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity. But some day, Trump will be gone.
The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America’s relationship to Israel right now. It has never been closer, but within that closeness there are seeds of potential estrangement.
On Monday, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other leading lights of the Trumpist right gathered in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a gesture widely seen as a slap in the face to Palestinians who envision East Jerusalem as their future capital.
The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.
Religions like “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, once said. He was chosen to give the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony. John Hagee, one of America’s most prominent end-times preachers, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland. He gave the closing benediction.
This mass mobilization around the core principles of Palestinian liberation — arising from civil society independently of discredited political leaderships — holds immense power to disrupt the status quo. Whether this movement, from East Jerusalem to Gaza, Israel to the West Bank, eventually bends toward justice depends on whether the international community will tolerate Israel’s capacity to deny an entire people their basic rights and rob them of a future because they are not Jewish. The past record is not encouraging, but something new has started.
“The battle against infiltration in the border areas at all times of day and night will be carried out mainly by opening fire, without giving warning, on any individual or group that cannot be identified from afar by our troops as Israeli citizens and who are, at the moment they are spotted, [infiltrating] into Israeli territory.”
This was the order issued in 1953 by Israel’s Fifth Giv’ati Brigade in response to the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who sought to return to homes and lands from which they had been expelled in 1948. For years after the war, the recently displaced braved mines and bullets from border kibbutzim and risked harsh reprisals from Israel’s army to reclaim their property. The reprisals included raids on refugee camps and villages that often killed civilians, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris and others have laid out. Still, refugees persisted in their attempts to return, and Israel persisted in viewing these attempts as “infiltration.”
Over the past six weeks, Israeli soldiers have killed some forty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them unarmed civilians, and injured more than five thousand protesters. As the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem Monday, the violence escalated alarmingly. Israeli forces shot dead at least another fifty Palestinians and injured more than 2,400, making it by far the bloodiest day yet in the current round of protests in Gaza.
Do we really imagine this so-called “March of Return” to be an existential threat to the strongest army in the Middle East? Demonstrators might be wild with rage and even psyched up by Hamas slogans, but they’re not armed and equipped to take on Israel.
The loss of life in Gaza at the ends of Israeli army snipers is not only gruesome, it’s reprehensible — because lethal force is not the only way to confront protesters.
We in America know that from our own history.
We’ve been thinking a lot about civil rights in America, recently. Last month marked 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
In the year-and-a-half since Donald Trump was elected, we’ve seen a resurgence of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic incidents, and signs of white supremacist groups moving out of the shadows and into town squares not en masse, but enough to make us realize that America remains rife with racism.