Ben-Gvir’s war on Jerusalem has begun

Mariam Barghouti & Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  February 18, 2023

Events in Jerusalem over the past few days show that Itamar Ben-Gvir’s declared war on East Jerusalem has already begun, as Israeli authorities crack down on Palestinians across the city.

Last week, three Israelis were killed after a Palestinian from east Jerusalem rammed his car into a bus stop in the illegal Jewish settlement of Ramot Alon. 

The car-ramming in Jerusalem was the latest in a series of “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians in the occupied city, including a shooting in the Neve Ya’acov Jewish settlement that killed seven Israelis on January 27, one day after Israeli forces shot and killed 9 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp. 

The Israeli government’s response to each incident have been almost identical: immediate calls for collective punishment of the family of the Palestinian who carried out the attack through mass arrests and punitive home demolitions. The government has also called for the deportation of the families of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks against Israelis, and the loosening of gun regulations to make it easier for Israelis to carry weapons. 

In the wake of the car ramming in Ramot Alon, Israeli ultranationalist and far right lawmaker Ben-Gvir – now minister of National Security – has called for the Israeli police, over whom he has control in his capacity as National Security Minister, to “bring back order in East Jerusalem”.

Ben-Gvir’s proposed crackdown on East Jerusalem included calls for shutting down entire neighborhoods, erecting flying checkpoints, instituting stops and searches of all Palestinians coming in and out of certain neighborhoods, and expediting home demolitions in East Jerusalem. 

Though there have been reports of a rift between Ben-Gvir and Israeli Police Chief Kobi Shabtai over when and how the police are supposed to act on Ben-Gvir’s sweeping orders, events in Jerusalem over the past few days have indicated that, whether or not there is an agreement on a governmental level, Ben-Gvir’s declared war on East Jerusalem is already afoot. 

Israeli police and border police forces have been documented harassing and attacking Palestinians unprovoked in neighborhoods across the city. Several instances have been documented of children being stopped and searched on their way to school, Palestinian bystanders and shopkeepers being attacked by police officers, and in one case, a Palestinian man was arbitrarily and indiscriminately shot at by Israeli forces while he was driving. 

In the meantime, Israeli forces have stepped up the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, under the pretext that they lack Israeli-issued building permits. 

Harassment and assault of civilians

Over the past few days a number of reports have come out documenting the collective punishment and harassment of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. 

Many of the incidents took place in and around the Shu’afat area, after Israeli forces shot and injured a Palestinian teenager in the Shu’afat refugee camp, after he allegedly attempted to stab a soldier at the checkpoint outside the camp. During the alleged stabbing attempt, an Israeli border police officer shot and killed a fellow officer. 

In the days and hours since the soldier was killed by a fellow officer, Israeli forces enforced mass closures of the checkpoint and random stops and searches of residents, raided the refugee camp, and harassed and assaulted Palestinians in the area. 

In a video that went viral on social media, a Palestinian boy was beaten by Israeli border police  at a checkpoint outside the Shu’afat military checkpoint after officers ordered him to strip off his clothes in a random search. 

In other cases documented on social media, Israeli border police forces were seen assaulting a woman bystander in the Shu’afat refugee camp, assaulting children and preventing them from crossing through a military checkpoint on their way to school, and stopping and searching children and their backpacks in the Old City of East Jerusalem. 

In another instance, a Palestinian man was injured with live ammunition after Israeli officers riddled his car with bullets, claiming he attempted to ram them with his vehicle. Palestinian media and eyewitnesses reported that the man was simply passing through an area where soldiers were conducting a raid, and that he was shot at without cause. 

Last year, before assuming his post as Minister, Ben-Gvir called for relaxed shooting regulations against those that “hate Israel.”

Home demolitions escalate as families of detainees are targeted

On Friday, February 17, six Palestinian homeowners were informed of plans by the Jerusalem municipality to destroy their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, where Hussein Qaraqe, the Palestinian who carried out the car ramming in Ramot Alon, resided.  

According to Wafa News Agency, the buildings were not newly constructed, some of them reaching 25 years old. Earlier in the week, another Palestinian man from Issawiya was forced to demolish a two-room extension of his home, while two other homes were demolished in the Jabal al-Mukaber neighborhood. 

Al Jazeera reported that since the start of the year, Israeli forces have demolished at least 47 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem, and that by February 7, at least 60 Palestinians were made homeless due to the demolitions. 

According to Mondoweiss analysis of OCHA’s data on demolition, between 2018 and 2021 there has been a 156% increase in the displacement of Palestinians across the West Bank and Jerusalem. In that same period, there was a 99% increase in the displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem alone.

In addition to this, on Thursday Israeli forces ransacked the homes of Palestinian detainees and former detainees in Jerusalem, seizing money, gold, and valuable personal possessions from families.

Israeli forces have targeted former detainees in Jerusalem in the past, where armed forces have stormed homes and forcibly taken all the money found in them. Rhe family home of Ahmad Manasra, who was tried as an adult at the age of 13, was one of those homes.

Like home demolitions, the targeting of Palestinian detainees and their families serves to drive Palestinians out of Jerusalem, according to Amjad Abu Asab, the head of the Prisoners Families Committee in Jerusalem. “The occupation aims to please settlers and the racist rightwing extreme, by invoking additional discriminatory policies against detainees,” Abu Asab said in an interview with Al-Qastal.

‘Renewed Nakba’

“The right-wing fascist Israeli government is launching an unprecedented assault on our people in Jerusalem,” Qadura Faris, director of the Palestine Prisoners association, said on Thursday, February 17.  

In an escalation of search-and-arrest campaigns, Israeli forces continue to detain Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem en masse. The highest rate of arrests is concentrated in Jerusalem. 

In January, more than 255 Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, according to the monitoring department of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, making Jerusalem the highest rate of Palestinian arrests at the hands of Israeli authorities.

In recent weeks, Israeli authorities have withheld money provided by the Palestinian Authority to the families of Palestinian political detainees in Jerusalem, which it considers payment by “hostile entities.

The Palestinian Authority has been responsible for providing salaries and monetary support to Palestinian detainees and their families in the case of imprisonment by Israel. This is largely due to the consideration that many of those detained are often main breadwinners of their families. 

“What is happening in the targeting of prisoners’ families and former political detainees,” Faris said, “is a renewed Nakba, which the occupation is implementing with the use of new technology.” 

The focus on Jerusalem continues to augment Palestinian concerns of dispossessing Jerusalem of its Palestinian community. 

Since 2021, Israeli policy-makers and military staff have been calling for the revocation of Jerusalem residency for Palestinians as a punitive measure against those who participated in the protests of the Unity Uprising in 2021.

In 2018, this power was put in the hands of the acting Minister of Interior, who has the power to revoke the permanent residence of Jerusalemites, a policy that was only enforced against Palestinians.

Israeli protests over legislation as settlements expand

On February 13, tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis gathered in Jerusalem to protest new measures in the Knesset that seek to weaken the Israeli Supreme Court, further solidifying the power of the armed Israeli forces. 

This came one day after Israel’s new government approved and legalized nine outposts in the West Bank. “It is time that the world punishes Israel for defying UN resolutions, as well as American and European policies which call for stopping settlements,” the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement. 

Last year, Israeli outposts and settlements in the West Bank were equipped by the Israeli military with tech and support.

“This rebelling against international law and international legitimacy must be followed by serious repercussions,” Shtayyeh continued, calling for boycotting Israel “as a state that is outside the law.”

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss