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Ending Oppression To End Violence: Gaza In Context

There are many calls made for de-escalation of violence by both Israelis and Palestinians. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) joins our voice with those who say that violence and killing must end. Military escalation in Gaza, particularly a ground offensive, must also be avoided.

However, calling for an end to current violence is not enough. To truly make a difference, we must all work to see the situation clearly, identify the root causes of the violence, and work to transform the systems that are perpetuating injustice and death.

Collective punishment

Following the June 11 kidnapping of three Israeli youth, Israel launched a campaign of collective punishment in the occupied Palestinian territory, a campaign where an entire population faced retaliation for the acts of individuals. In the West Bank, the Israeli military carried out raids in Palestinian cities and villages, detained at least 800 Palestinians without charge, destroyed homes, closed universities, restricted movement, and killed and injured a number of Palestinians. Israel also carried out bombing attacks against Gaza, while Palestinian factions fired periodic rockets into Israel.

During the second week of July, attacks on the 1.7 million Palestinian civilians living in Gaza have escalated, resulting in increasing deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. Israeli forces are also being mobilized for a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

Israel has claimed that its attack on Gaza is a response to Palestinian rockets that have been fired into Israel from Gaza. Rockets are a genuine safety concern and threaten Israeli civilians.   Israel also claims that its strikes have been carried out against military targets only, but this claim is false. Civilian targets have been bombed, including the homes of Hamas and other political activists and their relatives, which are located in densely populated neighborhoods.

This violence must end.

Attacks on Palestinian unity

It is now clear that these Israeli military operations are being carried out as collective punishment and to weaken Hamas, undermine the Palestinian reconciliation process, and forestall any changes in the Palestinian status quo.

While the Israeli government said that its operations in the West Bank were carried out to find the three missing teenagers, it has emerged that the Israeli authorities had evidence within 24 hours of the abduction indicating both the suspects and that the three teenagers had been killed. Despite this information, military actions were justified as attempts to “find the youth” and identify their kidnappers.

Hamas was also publicly blamed for the abduction by the Israeli government, although Israeli intelligence officials have now said that Hamas leadership was not involved in the kidnapping. Hamas has also repeatedly denied any involvement in the kidnapping. Despite this, Israel used the kidnapping as an excuse for rounding up Hamas political activists in the West Bank. The Israeli government has demanded that the Palestinian Authority end its reconciliation with Hamas and allow Israel free reign to act against Hamas.

Actions by Israel to undermine unity between the Palestinian parties  undermine Palestinians’  efforts to realize their rights.

Racism and incitement                                                 

Equally concerning are the recent public racist incitement and attacks on Palestinians within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

After the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found, Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, publicly called for revenge and the spilling of Palestinian blood. These calls were picked up by the Israeli public and within 24 hours, one Palestinian, 16 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, had been kidnapped by six Israelis and burned alive.

Palestinians in both Israel and the West Bank have been assaulted and beaten by groups of Israelis.  Rallies to demand revenge have been held across Israel with participants chanting “death to the Arabs.”  Settlers in the West Bank have gathered at major intersections in the West Bank to threaten and attack Palestinian drivers, have stoned Palestinian cars, and have attacked Palestinian villages and property. In Jerusalem, roadblocks have been set up by Jewish Israeli citizens where Palestinians, identified by their national ID cards, were threatened and assaulted. Groups of armed Israeli settlers have roamed through East Jerusalem neighborhoods damaging property and attacking Palestinians. Israeli police have colluded in these attacks and have taken almost no steps to rein in violence by Jewish Israelis. At the same time, Israeli police have responded to Palestinian protests against Israeli violence with excessive force – severely beating Palestinians at the scene, including some not involved in protests.

This all follows growing acceptance of racism towards Palestinians within Jewish-Israeli society, which has dismayed AFSC and its Israeli and Palestinian partners over the last several years.

While the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir has been condemned by Israeli government officials, the broader violence and incitement against Palestinians has not been challenged by the government.  Rather, it has received support from within official circles of power, creating an atmosphere of extreme fear among Palestinians.

Moving forward

To create lasting peace with justice, we must recognize that each act of violence, intimidation, or persecution is part of a longer narrative. For instance, the firing of Palestinian rockets cannot be divorced from the broader context of Palestinian dispossession, occupation, and seven years of siege in Gaza. No attack will end the rocket launches for long or create lasting security.

How do we move toward creating real security for Israelis and Palestinians? First, examine and address the roots of the conflict. The situation started with the history of European/Jewish settler colonialism that displaced and dispossessed Palestinians in 1948 and before. It continued through an ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories and violations of international law.  And now, it permeates Israeli and Palestinian institutions, culture, and daily life through systems of power that privilege the rights of Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians.

It is important to call for an end to current violence and obstacles to peace, such as settlement construction, home demolitions, and individual acts of violence. It is also essential for Israelis and those supporting them to confront the deeper issues of injustice and discrimination done to Palestinians. Only then will a just and lasting peace based on equality, freedom, and justice be achieved for both Palestinians and Israelis.

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