In Hebron, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian during stone-throwing violence. This had erupted during a funeral for another Palestinian who had died of wounds overnight following clashes at a funeral on Thursday. In other violence on Friday near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 15 Palestinians were shot and wounded by Israelis using live fire.
In Gaza, Israeli forces has shot and wounded 4 Palestinians east of the enclave after they threw stones near the fence with Israel. The Hebron area suffered the bulk of recent incidents during a surge in violence across Israel, Jerusalem and Israeli-occupied West Bank since Oct 1.The violence has been fuelled in part by a dispute over access to a site in Jerusalem holy site to both Muslims and Jews.
Jerusalem has remained tense now for almost a year.The recent tension is heightened on several factors. Key among them has been the issue of the religious site in Jerusalem known to Muslims as ''Al haram al Sharif'' or the Noble Sanctuary, and Jews as the Temple Mount.
A long running campaign by some fundamentalist Jews and their supporters for expanding their right to worship in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, supported by right-wing members of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's own cabinet, has raised the suspicion,- despite repeated Israeli denials,- that Israel intends to change the precarious status quo for the site, which has been governed under the auspices of the Jordanian monarchy since 1967.
Recent Israeli forces actions at the site scandalized the Muslim world and raised tensions. That has combined with the lack of a peace process and growing frustration in Palestinian society over the incarceration of Palestinian youths by Israeli forces for stone-throwing. In response, Netanyahu and his cabinet has loosened live fire regulations over the use of .22 calibre bullets on Palestinian demonstrators.
From the death and destruction in Israel’s latest response to Palestinians attacks, there have been plenty of brutal reminders on display of the violence that underpins racial hierarchies in Israel. But amid the headlines, one could easily forget the more sustained and entrenched forms of oppression through which hierarchies of race, citizenship, nationality, and class are produced and maintained—in Israel. Among the most significant of these is mass incarceration.
The draconian conditions imposed by Israel’s siege of Gaza have often led critics to liken the embattled strip of land to an “open-air prison,” pointing to Israel’s panoptical control of Gaza’s borders, airspace, and sea coast.
But conventional brick-and-mortar prisons continue to enjoy robust use throughout Israel-Palestine. Since its inception in 1948, in fact, the state of Israel has imprisoned approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population, including 40 percent of the male population.
Today, Israel holds over 6,500 Palestinians in its prisons and detention centers. These include over 466 Palestinians subjected to “administrative detention” (detention without trial), 27 Palestinian members of parliament, and three former ministers.
Though media coverage has rightly focused on the atrocity of the hundreds of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces, it is important to remember how precarious life is for Palestinian children even in “normal” times. Since 2000, more than 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained and nearly 2,000 children have been killed—with almost complete impunity for the Israeli soldiers and settlers involved.
Around 230 Palestinian children are currently imprisoned—50 of them under the age of 16. Human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Israeli organization B’Tselem, as well as the United Nations, have condemned Israel’s routine mistreatment of these children, many of whom were pulled from their homes in the middle of the night and have faced solitary confinement, torture, and denial of contact with their families.
Israel’s use of imprisonment as a political tool was on full display in the latest violence in Gaza. Following the disappearance of three Israeli settler teens who were subsequently found dead last June, Israel detained thousands of Palestinians, effectively using mass arrest and incarceration as a form of “collective punishment,” which is considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Of those individuals arrested, 62 had only recently been freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. Their release, along with an end to the siege of Gaza, has been among Hamas’ most strident demands during negotiations to end the conflict.
Hamas has clearly been the immediate target of Israel’s wave of arrests, in which well over 2,000 Palestinians were captured in July alone. But Israel’s broader political aim is to terrorize the entire Palestinian population and deter unity and resistance. Israel’s long-standing “emergency rule” in the occupied territories means that Palestinians are subjected to “a matrix of 1,500 military laws” that “can be changed arbitrarily, without notice, and applied retroactively, in violation of the most basic tenets” of the rule of law—this on top of at least 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In Gaza, we see yet another example of the law’s injustice. At least 250 Palestinians were arrested during Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, many of whom were charged with “belonging to an illegal organization”—which, according to the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, generally refers to Palestinian political parties, especially but not only Hamas. Others are undergoing interrogation and have been denied access to a lawyer.
At least 15 of those arrested and later released were held under the “Unlawful Combatants Law.” Providing even less protection than administrative detention orders, this law allows the detention of Gazans for an unlimited period of time without charge or trial, in violation of international human rights norms. Enacted by the Israeli Knesset in 2002, the Unlawful Combatants Law embodies some of the many practices shared between Israel and the United States, which codified its own legal definition of “unlawful combatants” who could be indefinitely detained under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
The death and destruction inflicted on the Palestinian people daily, is part of Israel’s policy of “incremental genocide,” is one reminder that incarceration and more overt forms of violence are not mutually exclusive.
The Israeli government also employs a variety of other tools to repress and dispossess the Palestinian population. These include forced evictions, land grabs and other forms of ethnic cleansing, the denial of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, significant monetary and military support for settlements, and apartheid policies and practices—including the “community-shattering” separation wall and the system of checkpoints and permits restricting the free movement of Palestinians.
As sociologist Lisa Hajjar argues, “One way a government can project the appearance of acting in accordance with the law is to produce interpretations that the law does not apply.” Israel has used such legal obfuscation and evasion, as well as the elaboration and adoption of new laws, to justify inhumane treatment and oppressive rule. It is often not violations of the law, but rather the law itself that functions as a tool of power.
Mass incarceration has a devastating impact on individuals and communities. As a form of state terror, it is designed to strike fear in whole communities and prevent the establishment of sustainable bonds, based on justice and respect, between state and society. By breaking up and isolating members of movements and pressuring individuals to collaborate, dissimulate, and betray their beliefs, it causes alienation among brothers, sisters, and comrades. And with the law often functioning in service of power rather than justice, prisons serve as the handmaiden of legal oppression.
Despite the overwhelming imbalance of power, resistance is growing—in Palestine. From prisoners’ hunger strikes to various forms of protests reclaiming public space, broad-based movements driven and led by those individuals whose rights and humanity have been denied for so long, are coalescing around effective strategies for change.
Activists are increasingly focusing in on the symptoms of incarceration as a repressive governance tool, as well as on the national security state paradigm to which it is linked—which is itself connected to a much broader system of political, racial, and economic injustice.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Reuters- An Israeli border police officer fires a tear gasr at Palestinian protesters during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 13,2015