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Israel’s Oppression of Palestinians Doesn’t End with Ceasefires

This week, Israel has begun rounding up a new generation of Palestinian activists who led recent mass protests – a clear message from the Israeli state that resistance to apartheid will not be tolerated.

A ceasefire has been agreed in Gaza, but the attacks on Palestinian activists in Israel have yet to cease. The Israeli authorities are now rounding up a new generation of Palestinian activists within the pre-1967 borders, primarily students and those from the working class, in order to ‘deter’ them from pushing to change an unjust status quo.

On Monday, the Israeli police force announced it would start a ‘law and order’ operation up and down the country. Media reports suggested that ‘the official goal is to arrest rioters in the disturbances of the past two weeks, but in fact the police intend to ‘settle scores’ with criminal elements in the Arab sector, including senior targets.’

The report explained that the Israeli police ‘understood that deterrence was severely compromised’ but prepared a list of 500 targets – and enlisted officers, Border Control troops, reservists and Special Forces in an effort to collectively criminalise Palestinian resistance.

Israel’s security establishment has already indicated publicly that it considers the internal disturbances a greater threat than the clashes with Hamas. On 13 May, Haaretz reported that defence officials intended to end the onslaught on Gaza ‘as soon as possible, citing the threat of Jewish-Arab clashes across the country spiralling out of control.’

But the Israeli Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana has made clear that this is not a matter of dealing even-handedly with ‘terrorists from both sides’, but primarily with ‘Arab rioters attacking Jews, police officers, synagogues. The policy is to deal aggressively with terrorist rioters. There is no and will not be symmetry.’

This statement is a continuation of a longstanding discriminatory approach to policing in which Palestinians resisting oppression are clamped down on, while violent Israeli settlers get off scot free. Indeed, police have already sought to crush Palestinian citizens’ protests against the ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah, the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque, and the brutal onslaught on Gaza over the past few weeks.

According to figures published by Haaretz and Maariv, as of 17 May, Israeli police have arrested around 1,000 protesters, 850 of whom are Palestinian citizens and 20 percent of whom are minors. Only 150 Jewish Israelis were arrested, most of them from the Israeli Left. According to Haaretz, 116 indictments were pursued, all against Palestinian citizens. Zero indictments have been brought against Jewish citizens.

It is clear that despite copious evidence of organised violence from fascists and armed settlers, the Israeli state will take no serious action. These groups patrolled Palestinian cities inside Israel, taking part in televised attacks on Palestinian citizens in Bat Yam and elsewhere.

Two Palestinian citizens were killed: a settler shot and killed Musa Hassouna in Lydd, and the police shot 17-year old Muhammad Kiwan in Umm Al-Fahem while sitting in his car. The police released the settler, who shot Haasouna from a 50-metre distance but claimed that he acted in self-defence, but they arrested Kiwan’s friends.

This discrimination is systemic and decades old. During the military government under which Palestinians lived between 1948 and 1966, Israel instrumentalised criminal law to ‘create crime and delinquency’ among Palestinian citizens. The military government was imposed on Palestinian citizens for twenty years, enforced by the army until 1966 before being handed over to Israeli police.

The military rule over those who are nominally ‘citizens’ included draconian measures such as movement restrictions and ‘pass permits’, and penalised and thwarted political activism and free speech. The main goal of the military rule, however, was to facilitate the colonisation of Palestinian citizens’ lands by transferring property from their hands to those of the state and of Zionist quasi-governmental institutions.

Palestinian citizens protested against the colonial apartheid system that was imposed on them in a variety of ways that were often met with excessive police violence and collective criminalisation. The 1976 Land Day protest against land confiscation in the Galilee, as an example, remains a landmark event during which the police and army killed six protesters and arrested scores of others. Land Day has since become an annual day of resistance among Palestinians everywhere.

Another milestone was the October 2000 protests against Israel’s oppressive measures during the Second Intifada and the outrage over the killing of Muhammad Al-Durra. Israeli police snipers killed 13 protesters, and despite riots by Jewish mobs, out of the 1,000 citizens arrested, 660 were Palestinian citizens. 79 percent of all indictments were reserved to 248 Palestinian citizens.

In 2014, Israeli police arrested 1,500 Palestinian citizens who were protesting the brutal murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and the ‘Protective Edge’ onslaught on Gaza. At the time, Adalah—the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel—complained that police dispersed demonstrations illegally, conducted illegal arrests, imposed restrictive conditions to prevent demonstrations, used secret material in ‘Facebook arrests’, and arrested children.

A later detailed report by Adalah stated that Israel ‘exploited the detention process and used it unlawfully as a means to punish and intimidate protestors and to prevent prospective protestors from taking part in lawful protests to exercise their right to publicly criticise government policy.’

A year later, similar patterns were observed. In the October 2015 protests, the police arrested scores of Palestinian citizens. Adalah stated that the Israeli police were ‘acting above the law, taking brutal measures to suppress legitimate protest of Palestinian citizens of Israel.’ The measures detailed included arbitrary arrests of minors, ‘preventive arrests’ of activists to thwart demonstrations, arrests of activists’ family members to exert pressure them, and physical violence against protestors.

As this longstanding history of criminalisation indicates, the police treat Palestinian citizens as enemies rather than as members of a state who can legitimately exercise their rights to free speech, protest, and association. The Or Commission of Inquiry, established after October 2000, had urged the police to abandon this enmity, but 63 Palestinian citizens have been killed by security forces (and in a few cases, by civilians) between October 2000 and today.

This enmity is an expression of the colonial project that seeks to remove indigenous Palestinians and deny their right to their homeland. Its purpose is to thwart self-determination by suppressing protest and the drive to organise for liberation.

Israeli police practices and statements make clear that they see their raison d’etre in these terms. For example, on 6 September 2000, shortly prior to the October 2000 protests, the Israeli police conducted a ‘war game’ training exercise, which stated,

We are hosted and hosting all of you in the Centre for Police Education, and before 52 years, this area, which we are [on] now, was conquered by Division 7 and the Golani Division… 52 years later, we are almost dealing with the same issues.

More recently, on 5 February 2021, Shimon Lavie, Head of the Northern Police Command, stated in an interview to Yediot Aharonot, shortly after his officers killed a twenty-year-old student Ahmad Hijazi, a bystander in Tamra in the Galilee: ‘we occupied the Galilee in 1948 but we did not completely impose our sovereignty.’

This enmity is integral to the Zionist project of settler colonialism. On 5 January 1962, David Ben-Gurion acknowledged this relation of enmity between the state and its citizens, the coloniser and the colonised. Defending the continued imposition of the military government on the Palestinian minority, he explained,

Even a guerrilla uprising is possible. Whoever thinks that the Arabs here [inside Israel] are incapable of doing what the Arabs did in Algiers… does not know what he is talking about.

Israel’s latest round of arrests is a continuation of this pattern in order to maintain the colonial status quo. It is an effort to silence dissent and bring the recent Palestinian uprising to heel by exacting a heavy cost through suppression and intimidation of young students and working-class activists.

However, committed organisers and lawyer groups inside ’48 are working hard to ensure these protestors are properly represented legally and supported by their community. Palestinian society is standing by those who rose against Israeli institutionalised subjugation, and international solidarity must do the same to hold Israel accountable and bring its colonial dispossession to an end.