Why Israel is angry

Police block Highway 1 to Jerusalem in a bid to prevent muslim worshippers to reach East Jerusalem during Ramadan (Ohad Zwigenberg)

Jalal Abukhater

Al-Jazeera  /  June 2, 2021

The success of Palestinian activism in Jerusalem angered the Israeli authorities, who launched a violent campaign to suppress it.

We are witnessing a new dawn for the Palestinian national movement. Today, we are the most optimistic and hopeful we have ever been in the past two decades. With Jerusalem at the centre of this resurgent national spirit, the Palestinian movement once again stands united in resisting the Israeli occupation, apartheid, political persecution and colonial violence.

The protest action that began in Jerusalem engulfed the entire nation. We were one in rejecting the forced evictions and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, the infringements on religious rights of Christian and Muslim Palestinians and the brutal bombardment of Gaza. On May 18, Palestinians across historic Palestine closed their businesses and lifted the Palestinian flag, joining an historic general strike against Israeli colonialism

Palestinians were not deterred by the barbaric bombing of civilians in Gaza, nor by the Israeli lynch mobs which attacked Palestinian citizens of Israel, nor by Israel’s increasingly violent policies targeting Palestinians in the occupied territories.

This unity has terrified the Israeli state. After the ceasefire announced between Israel and the Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza, it launched a revenge campaign, targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel. The campaign, dubbed “law and order”, aimed to intimidate and terrorize into silence and submission the Palestinians who dared to take to the streets in a show of national solidarity.

Adalah, a human rights organization and legal centre based in Israel, called the mass arrests by Israeli police a “militarized war against Palestinian citizens of Israel”, adding that the police intended to “intimidate and to exact revenge – ‘to settle the score’ in the police’s own words, as punishment for their political positions and activities”.

Predictably, there was no security campaign to restore “law and order” in Israeli communities that went on a rampage, attacking Palestinians, their homes and businesses. In fact, the Israeli police picked up where the lynch mobs left off, ramping up the racist, colonial violence against Palestinians.

In occupied Jerusalem, Israeli police subjected to “stop and search” and violently assaulted and arrested Palestinian youths. Palestinians were even detained for “giving police the finger” and in some cases, the complicit Israeli courts approved police requests to extend detention as further punishment.

Since the beginning of May, the Israeli authorities have issued 155 administrative detention orders against Palestinians from occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. This means 155 more Palestinians are now arbitrarily jailed for a minimum of six months without charges, with the total of administrative detainees in Israeli jails now reaching 500.

The raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque, which triggered the escalation in the first place, did not cease either. Less than three days after announcing a ceasefire with the Palestinian factions in Gaza, Israeli forces stormed the premises of the mosque again, attacking worshippers, forcing many out while arresting youth who protested. Their aim was to clear the way for extremist Jewish activists to enter Al-Aqsa, in a move of showing Israeli dominance over the Muslim holy site.

The Israeli wrath was also unleashed on to Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where forced evictions of Palestinians shocked the world and put the international media spotlight on the issue of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem. Since the end of Ramadan in mid-May, the Israeli police have imposed a blockade on the neighbourhood, denying entry to all Palestinians who are not its residents. Jewish settlers are of course free to come and go even if they do not reside in Sheikh Jarrah.

The increased aggression of the Israeli police was apparent on May 18, when I and other Jerusalemites headed to Sheikh Jarrah to show solidarity with the Palestinian families. They were violent for no reason, spraying foul-smelling skunk water and shooting rubber bullets, sponge-tipped bullets and stun grenades.

The following day, 16-year-old Jana Kiswani, a resident of the neighbourhood, was shot with a sponge-tipped bullet in her back, as she stood at the front door of her yard. She suffered fractures in her spine and severe bruising in her lungs.

The violence we saw in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few weeks is not coincidental. The Israeli authorities are angry that the local youth-led grassroots organizing under the hashtag, #SaveSheikhJarrah, has now grown into a massive movement, capturing the attention of millions of people around the world. The Israeli ire was apparent not only in the violence they unleashed on the neighbourhood but also in their decision to whitewash murals that Palestinian residents had painted on the walls of their own houses and to threaten them with fines if the murals return. Needless to say, the murals reappeared the next morning.

Although the Israeli court postponed the hearing on the eviction of seven Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah to June, it is clear that the Israeli authorities have no intention of slowing down the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the rest of historic Palestine.

Palestinians in Silwan, the Jerusalemite town my family originally comes from, also continue to face the same threats of evictions and home demolitions based on the same “legal” grounds the Israeli courts have deployed in Sheikh Jarrah. Some 100 Palestinians from 18 households in Silwan are fighting for their right to remain in their homes. The fact that – as Amnesty International and other organizations have pointed out – forced evictions amount to war crimes has not dissuaded the Israeli government from pushing forward with this brutal plan to maintain “a solid Jewish majority in the city”, as laid out officially in the Jerusalem municipality’s master plan.

Its ethnic cleansing campaign is aided by settler organizations, such as Ateret Cohanim and Nahalat Shimon International, which are registered in the United States as non-profits and are able to fundraise tax-free to help evict native Palestinians from their land. In this battle, Palestinians have only themselves and international grassroots solidarity to rely on. And yet, they keep going even when their oppressor feels the most emboldened.

Despite the continuing Israeli repression of the Palestinian protests and activism, the spirit of the Palestinian national movement is alive, well and thriving, with Jerusalem at its heart. The youth of this city and all of historic Palestine radiate courage and their energy is contagious. They are capturing the hearts and minds of people around the world, opening their eyes to the Israeli crimes and apartheid, and delivering one moral defeat after another to the Israeli regime.

Our voice is powerful. We are united, we feel dignified, and are proudly and unashamedly saying “we are Palestinians and we are here to stay!”

Jalal Abukhater, a Jerusalemite, holds an MA in International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee.