Where’s the West Bank ceasefire?
But aside from Hebron, invariably the tensest place in the West Bank, nowhere appears to be more on edge than Jerusalem
Every time Israeli soldiers approach any Palestinians, a loud chorus of “Allahu Akbar” confronts them. A crowd of women stands up and gives their own rousing rendition. Tensions are clearly high near the Haram al-Sharif. The afternoon before on the Mount of Olives, the potent whiff of skunk spray (a chemical that is sprayed onto Palestinian rioters that stinks, first used in Jerusalem in July) and interminable police sirens alerts our delegation of British politicians to the riots around the corner.
Signs of tension and the germs of further conflict are a permanent theme across the West Bank. Over 30 Palestinians have been killed since early June. In Hebron, a burnt out shell of an Israeli checkpoint cabin lies in the middle of the road. Soldiers in full riot gear filter out through its new replacement up the hill, seemingly relaxed after completing their mission.
Whilst Gaza was being pulverized, Israel quietly continued its theft of the West BankChris Doyle
As ever, it is not only Israeli soldiers who are a threat. Palestinians farmers complain to us that settler violence has been harsher and more frequent, sentiments more than borne out by United Nations figures. In one herding encampment east of Jerusalem, a Palestinian complains that the settlers are using a drone to monitor their activity. This particularly applies to anything that appears to be construction, defined they were told as anything above 10 centimeters. It also extends to children’s play areas - in February this year, the Israeli army confiscated swings, slides and other playground equipment donated by the Italian government. It could be their homes or schools next.
Clashes and arrests in Jerusalem
But aside from Hebron, invariably the tensest place in the West Bank, nowhere appears to be more on edge than Jerusalem. Clashes and arrests are a nightly occurrence. Over 770 Palestinians have been arrested since July 2 alone. Outside the Shua’fat refugee camp, where 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir had been torched alive in June, Israel has set up a checkpoint to monitor activities. Camp residents say that the police raid the camp nearly every day. Outside, three Jerusalem Light Rail stations had also been destroyed in the ensuing riots and a third of the train carriages were reportedly damaged. Palestinian activists have sworn that the railway line will never be safe again. Firebombs were hurled at an Israeli police station on the Mount of Olives on September 3. As doctors told us, the injuries sustained in East Jerusalem showed that the Israeli police were using non-lethal forms of crowd control, unlike in the rest of the West Bank where live ammunition has been used frequently.
Amazingly the Israeli authorities, including the Mayor of the city Nir Barakat, are saying nothing. The impression is that they do not want to challenge the myth that Jerusalem is a single united city even if the 39 per cent of the population that is Palestinians seems distinctly united against their occupier.
For whilst Gaza was being pulverized, Israel had also been quietly continuing its theft of the West Bank. New settlement areas are popping up all over Jerusalem too. A new nine-story Yeshiva has just been approved in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shaikh Jarrah. At least one major settlement plan in the south has been put on hold.
Unpublicized settlement activity
During the Gaza war, reports suggest plenty of silent unpublicized settlement activity largely in the largest settlements. To top this off, Israel indulged itself in the largest land grab in the West Bank for 30 years by declaring around 1000 acres as “state land.” It was explicitly stated that this was in response to the killing of the three Israeli teenage settlers. On this basis, following the killing of around 500 Palestinian children in Gaza, Palestinians should seizing 165,000 acres of Israeli land. But few media reports recalled that it was only in April that the outpost of Netiv Ha’avot was “legalized” meaning Israel had just taken another 984 dunums of prime Palestinian land. But it is happening on the outskirts of Jerusalem too. On August 25, twenty-five tenders for the construction of 708 new units in the settlement of Gilo were awarded. The settlements just keep growing and growing, keeping their five settler ministers content and in office. Inside Hebron, the British politicians can see the expansion of one of the settlements and the new Rajabi house settlement, the first additional one since the 1980s.
And let us not forget that Palestinians in the West Bank are under closure too. As Palestinian businessmen kept telling us, they still cannot travel or trade freely. Israel controls all the entry and exit points for people and goods.
The West Bank and Gaza are linked, but all too often the international community focuses on one, not the other. The recent escalation started in the West Bank and is far from over. As one diplomat pointed out, for the first six months of the year it has been to tell his bosses not to forget Gaza. Now it is to remind them not to forget the West Bank. The real issue is that we should forget neither. Palestinians in both areas have to be free from occupation. It is the issue of Palestine that is unresolved, not Gaza alone.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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