First Tel Aviv Anti-War Demonstration Reveals the Limits on Protest in Today’s Israel
The first anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv since October 7 offered an important look at the current state of the protest movement in Israel, as well as how the government will seek to repress it.
By Yoav Haifawi / Mondoweiss
Since October 7, Israeli police have implemented full dictatorship from the river to the sea. This has included preventing any anti-war protest within the Green Line and filling the prisons with ‘freedom-of-expression’ prisoners. Today, November 18, after a month and 11 days of massive bloodshed, there was the first anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv. I joined the protest mostly because I felt obliged to support the call for immediate ceasefire and call for an “all for all” captives and prisoners’ exchange. But I also wanted to assess what this demonstration teaches us about the current policies of the repressive Israeli regime and about the protest movement. Court ruling allows demonstration
Hadash (“The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality,” organized around the Israeli Communist Party) applied for a license to demonstrate in Tel Aviv against the war and for a prisoners’ exchange. Their initial application was refused by the police, which suggested they hold a meeting in a closed venue instead. Then Hadash, with the help of ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel), appealed to the Bagatz (Hebrew acronym for “High Court of Justice”), which finally forced the police to allow the demonstration.
As I reported before, the same Bagatz, headed by the same judge, Yitzhak Amit, opposed a previous appeal by Hadash to hold anti-war demonstrations in Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm. In their new appeal, in order to receive the license, the applicants explained the differences between the previous demonstration that was denied and this new request: “Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm are not the center of Tel Aviv, a demonstration against the war in Gaza is not a demonstration that calls for the return of the captives, the north and beach districts are not the Tel Aviv district, and the appeal there was rejected for its specific circumstances… the verdict in this case strengthen the duty of the police to enable the holding of the demonstration in our case, because of the distinct difference between the cases.”
On ACRI’s website you can read in Hebrew the protocol of the deliberations in the Bagatz. I must say that I was astonished by the details of the discussion and how much it reveals about the political interplay.
Judge Amit himself asked the police, “Was there any big demonstration from this side till now?”
The commander of Tel Aviv police, Peretz Amar, answered: “No, they have behaved well, they did not even request one.”
Then Judge Amit explained: “They claim that they have a feeling, and the police should make extra effort. This side of the political map did not yet have its day. Because we disallowed the demonstration in Sakhnin, we heard about your lack of personnel, etc. Because of that… we must give this side the feeling that it is not deprived.”
Later in the discussion, when the organizers almost despaired from the police restrictions and suggested postponing for the next week, Judge Amit stressed his point: “It is very important that the demonstration will take place, for us to remove the cloud that we don’t allow the Arab sector to demonstrate and this side of the political map.”
In the end, under pressure from the court, the organizers and the police agreed on the location of the demonstration, in a public park between Yaffa (Jaffa) and Tel Aviv, and to limit the number of participants to seven hundred. I could not avoid thinking that compensating for the silencing of two million Arabs by allowing a muted demonstration in a corner of Tel Aviv is really emblematic of the “Jewish and Democratic” state. Police limit protest message
When we arrived at the site of the demonstration, the designated section of the park was all closed by police railings. There was just a small opening, and each one willing to enter was checked by the police.
Local Call‘s report about the demonstration was titled “At an anti-war demonstration, the police forbade the waving of anti-war signs.” They went on to report what banners were refused by the police: “Massacre does not justify massacre,” “Political solution,” “Bibi should be imprisoned,” “No to Apartheid,” “Food instead of bombs,” and “Return the captives, stop the revenge.” They also tried to prevent people with t-shirts with the phrase “Looking at the occupation in the eyes” (a very mild expression) from entering, claiming that even using the word “occupation” constituted incitement, but after a long argument, they let them in. I must admit that the police censorship was not hermetic, and similar signs were later seen in the demonstration.
After more than a month of intense oppression, speaking the truth terrified everybody. Organizers pleaded with the participants not to raise any flags and not to use any slogans that might provoke the police. This meant the Palestinian flag was forbidden. A single demonstrator with an Israeli flag and a sign calling for a ceasefire walked on the margins of the demonstration, and nobody dared to talk with him. Speakers call for ceasefire, prisoner exchange
If we could demonstrate safely in Palestinian towns and villages and Arab neighborhoods in mixed cities, you would see tens of thousands coming out in solidarity with Gaza’s people. However, the police are terrorizing the Arab population, and many people believed that this demonstration in Tel Aviv would be attacked even though it was permitted. Besides, there is a real danger of lynch mobs in the Jewish areas, especially as the Ben-Gvir police distributed tens of thousands of weapons to local militias. The militia in Tel Aviv is headed by a right-wing rapper called “The Shade,” well known for organizing attacks against peace demonstrations during previous wars.
There were about five hundred brave demonstrators who dared to gather in the park. Haaretz, by the way, always under-reporting leftist protest, headlined their report “Tens demonstrated in Tel Aviv.” About 80% of the demonstrators were Jews. It was all held in Hebrew, and the content was adjusted to challenge but not break with the current awful mood in the Israeli Jewish society.
The main demands of the demonstration were immediate ceasefire and the return of all captives, POWS, and prisoners through a comprehensive exchange deal, “all for all.” These are the most essential demands in the current situation, and they made this demonstration important.
There were different positions among the speakers, but none of them confronted the current situation of daily genocide as it is. Most speakers tried to create some artificial “balancing” and parallelism between the occupation and the occupied, stressing the suffering on both sides and calling to keep civilians out of harm’s way. I do not blame them. In today’s Israel, any position hinting that the struggle against the occupation is legitimate may land you in jail.
On the positive side, there is a continuous shift in the political discourse. Many speakers, Arabs and Jews, talked about the fact that there are millions of Arabs and Jews living between the river and the sea and that the only solution is to have full human rights and equality for all.
For many decades, the Israeli “peace camp” thought that its role was to be a pressure group within the “Israeli side” to promote a “peace process” with the Palestinian side. Now, almost everybody is aware that there is no peace process and that there should be a united struggle against the single Apartheid system.
Even though the demonstration was organized by Hadash, Sami Abu Shehadeh, the leader of the National Democratic Alliance, came to take part. The organizers spontaneously added him to the list of speakers, giving a boost to the most needed unity in these hard times, overcoming painful divisions that resulted from the splits in the last Knesset elections.
Abu Shehadeh mentioned at the beginning of his speech that the location of our demonstration was on the land of the destroyed village of Manshiya; many of its descendants are now refugees in Gaza and bombed by the Israeli army.
The last speaker was Mohammad Barakeh, The head of the Follow Up Committee, the united leadership of the 1948 Palestinian public. He started his words by mentioning that his family was expelled from Saffuriya, and most of them are now refugees outside Palestine. While lamenting suffering on both sides of the conflict, he mentioned that more than a hundred thousand Palestinians lost their lives before October 7. As the illusion of a state-level political solution is fading, the narrative is returning to the basics of human existence. The fascists in the government and in the streets
Being an irredeemable optimist, and as there are not many encouraging facts on the ground just now, I try to raise morale by reminding myself how many things were even worse not so long time ago.
In 2014, while Israel was massacring people in Gaza at an unprecedented rate (vastly surpassed in the current “round”), Hadash tried to organize an Arab-Jewish anti-war demonstration in Carmel Center, in a Jewish area in Haifa. There was a nationwide fascist mobilization to prevent them, and the brave peace demonstrators were chased all around. It was sheer luck that nobody died. Some of the activists who participated in today’s protest were still terrified by that experience. At the time, I published an eyewitness testimony in my blog.
Now, the fascist mob is in the government and the media, but they did not attack us with the same numbers and the same ferocity. There were, maybe, between one to two hundred fascists demonstrating around us, and they were kept, mostly, at some distance by the police. When we finally dispersed and were supposed to go through a safe passage northward, the police disappeared and allowed the fascists, many of whom were armed, to harass and curse the demonstrators. They especially concentrated on Mohammad Barakeh and blocked his car to prevent him from driving away. But, finally, the police intervened and let him go.
"A pivotal, historic moment which requires urgent leadership on the part of the international community, especially the United States"
Until tomorrow (Monday) you can join the following petition, addressed to President Biden. [Signatures to firstname.lastname@example.org - either names or digital signatures]
Dear Mr. President,
We are a group of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, human rights defenders and development workers, working together for many years, trying to find a way forwards for both peoples, and a way out of this never-ending, but always deteriorating, hell.
We’d like to thank you for your empathy and leadership, especially following the atrocities of October 7th, which have traumatised so many. But we also know that if the current “status quo” continues, or reverts to the previous situation, levels of violence, suffering and calls for “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” revenge will only rise. The Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the inhuman siege and blockade of Gaza, nightly child arrests, home demolitions as part of forcible displacement policy, violence of settlers against Palestinians (encouraged by Min. Itamar Ben-Gvir’s instructions to the police not to act against it, and his distribution of US-manufactured weapons to those settler militias) must be stopped. Otherwise, as Mahatma Gandhi predicted, we shall all be blind and toothless. And none of us free.
We believe fighting terrorism based on fear and militarism, and without a political plan, will inevitably lead to increased terror, as we have seen so many times in the past – with definitions of terror often depending which “side” you happen to be. It also leads to further radicalisation, particularly of marginalised communities. Whereas promotion of peace is based on hope, on a better future, on healing, reconciliation, recognition of The Other, truth, accountability and justice. These are our greatest weapons against terror and violence, as can be seen with Israel’s successful peace and security agreements of the past, all of which still stand strong.
This is the urgent need of this moment: a pivotal, historic moment which requires urgent leadership on the part of the international community, especially the United States. The impunity and exceptionalism must be stopped, so that resistance to it also be curbed, even if that requires sanctions such as an arms embargo. Because the ripple effect is already impacting other nations, whether by increased anti-Semitism, polarisation, hate crimes, a breakdown in the multilateral system, disrespect for international law (especially international humanitarian law) or even cohesion among international allies.
We see the current onslaught by Israel on Gaza – with its horrendously disproportionate toll on some 10,000 civilian women and children’s lives, rising by the hundreds each day, and we know that when the massive Israeli aerial, marine and infantry bombardment ends, civilian fatality numbers will be considerably higher, as bodies are recovered from the rubble to which Gaza has been reduced.
Real security can only be achieved by peace. But we are deeply worried that the current Israeli government has no intention of cessation of fighting -- in a misguided objective to conquer Hamas, while on the ground the impact is actually to increase levels of hatred, desire for revenge and easy recruitment of future fighters amongst tens of thousands of Gazan orphans.
In addition, we fear a perverse incentive to keep the war going, to keep the government and politicians in power and away from public criticism, especially Netanyahu’s interest in delaying his corruption trial. Moreover, Mr Netanyahu has stated in closed door meetings that he has no intention of working towards Palestinian freedom or a viable Palestinian state. Indeed, only this past week, one of his closest Likud allies, Min. Miki Zohar, said on Israeli TV: “We will not give up a millimetre of the lands of the Land of Israel. Nothing that is in those lands belongs to anyone except to us.” When asked whether the State of Israel should remain in Gaza, he replied: “From a security perspective, for sure. And from a military perspective, for sure. As to the management of a civilian population of 2.5 million Palestinians [..] any reference to what we do on the day after harms the war effort, because right now the world is watching and wants us to stop the war. We should continue the war, win it and there's time [later] to talk about other things.”
We therefore call on you to support US congressional calls for a full ceasefire, so that further hostages and prisoners may be exchanged, so that our economy does not further implode as predicted, so traumas can be addressed and minimised, so dehumanisation and genocidal statements stop, so Gazans’ homes may be rebuilt and the displaced rehoused as soon as possible, instead of being forced to live in inhuman and dangerously unhealthy conditions during this coming winter. And so that we all start to focus on the future, not only the past. And take steps NOW to render that imagined, better future.
To be clear, for every day that the conflict is allowed to continue, new generations on both sides will be radicalised and brutalised and the prospects for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will recede further. We need a ceasefire now, leading to a permanent negotiated peace. The United States is in a position to lead the parties in that direction. The alternative is for Israel to live in a state of insecurity, risking repeats of October 7th, and for the Palestinians to continue to be stateless, which can only fuel further conflict.
Carrying the pain of loss on October 7, these families are pleading for peace
https://www.972mag.com/october-7-families-victims-hostages-peace/ Against overwhelming calls for revenge in Israel following Hamas' assault, relatives of victims and hostages are among the loudest advocates for a full ceasefire and a new approach with the Palestinians. By Oren Ziv and Yotam Ronen, November 22, 2023
Since the atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7, calls for revenge have echoed across the country as the Israeli army continues its bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip. Talk of “flattening” or “erasing” Gaza is commonplace in the media and on the street. One government minister suggested dropping an atomic bomb on the Strip; others have called for the expulsion of the enclave’s entire population; and just this week, another minister invoked Biblical battles between the Israelites and the Philistines to encourage the military to cut off Palestinian fighters’ foreskins.
Amid this cacophony of retribution, however, many family members of the victims of Hamas’ massacres and of the more than 240 people abducted to Gaza have been offering a different voice. Despite their individual and collective pain, many of them have pleaded with the Israeli government not to seek revenge in their names, and instead called for a cessation of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the prioritization of a deal to release the hostages.
Their efforts bore some fruit, at least momentarily. This morning, it was announced that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a four-day halt in hostilities that will come into effect tomorrow morning, Oct. 23, to allow 50 Israeli hostages to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian prisoners — all of them women and minors. For every 10 additional Israeli hostages released, Israel has said it will extend the truce for another day. Playing down hopes of a longer-term cessation, an IDF spokesperson stressed that this was an “operational pause” rather than a ceasefire, echoing other Israeli officials who indicated that the war is set to continue. Subscribe to The Landline +972's weekly newsletter
The families’ struggle will go on, too. Even in the most difficult moments of their lives, these relatives insist on reminding their society and their leaders that there are human beings on the other side of the fence. This may seem obvious, but in the political climate in Israel today, it is a message that is difficult for many to accept, and can even lead to arrest or accusations of treason. When this war eventually ends, there is no doubt that these family members will be a significant part of trying to build something new here — a land in which all Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and equality. Yonatan Zeigen
Son of Vivan Silver, 74, who was murdered in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri. Zeigen, 35, grew up on Kibbutz Be’eri and now lives in Tel Aviv. (Watch)
Two tiny Palestinian villages, supported by activists, hold on against brutal murderous settlers
The village of Wadi Tiran was given a 24 hour warning, “leave or we kill everyone”.
Wadi Tiran is a small herding community in the South Hebron Hills, occupied West Bank. On the night of 11 Novemeber, seven settlers from the illegal settler outpost of Havat Yehuda, located just above the village, arrived in Wadi Tiran, telling villages: “You have 24 hours to leave, or we will kill everyone”.
This has become the standard threat issued to herding communities across the Occupied West Bank. Fifteen of these communities have already been wiped off the map, their inhabitants succumbing to the violence and threats and fleeing in fear for the lives of their families and children.
Near Wadi Tiran there used to be the larger village of Zanuta, whose 150 residents fled their homes on 31 November under similar, persistent and violent Israeli settler threats and attacks. Though smaller, the Wadi Tiran villagers are more persistent, determined to stay on their land despite the dire threat.
24 hours after the threat was issued, settlers entered Wadi Tiran and destroyed cars, a solar panel, a tractor, and anything they could get their hands on - but did not (yet?) kill anyone.
At nightfall on November 13, the entire village gathered in one large tent, along with a handful of international and Israeli Human Rights defenders - determined to stand together at the settlers' next arrival. The Israeli police were called, told that there is serious violence accompanied by an explicit threat of murder, but completely failed to show up. Villagers and activists are thus left to stand alone, unarmed in face of settlers who are all provided with guns from Israeli army armouries.
Update: As of the afternoon of November 16, the Wadi Tiran villagers and the activists supporting them are still alive and still in the village - though there is no telling how long this situation will last.
For more information: American Human Rights Defenders on the ground can be reached at +1 727-303-5053 and +1 727-623-641.
American citizens, alert your government to the dire threat to Palestinian communities!
American Human Rights Defenders, Jimmy Dunson and Dezeray Lyn, from Tampa, Florida, are present in Wadi Tiran – deeply concerned about the continual settler attacks. Residents, along with a handful of international and Israeli human rights defenders, are gathered in a large tent, ready to face the arrival of violent murderous settlers.
If you are a US citizen, please contact your representatives and embassies and alert them:
Embassy in Jerusalem:
Ambassador: Jack Lew
Phone: (02) 630 400
Twitter: Jack Lew@USAmbIsrael
Follow @USembassyJLM and @USPalAffairs for updates.
Tel Aviv Branch Office:
Phone: (03) 519 7575
US Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem:
Phone: (02) 6227230
Suggested script for communication to Embassies and Representatives:
I am writing to demand rapid action be taken by this body to defend Human Rights in the West Bank. As violations of International Humanitarian Law continue to be committed against occupied Palestinians, world leaders who do not take every action to defend human life and dignity are complicit.
Daily incidents of violence committed by Israeli settlers against isolated and vulnerable Palestinian families in the South Hebron Hills are being documented and transmitted to the world. Daily transgressions of the rights of Palestinians to live their lives without being harassed, searched, arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, raided, shot at and humiliated by the army and settlers - who are being emboldened by the silence of the international community. These violations are being reported by Human Rights organizations across the globe. With the whole world watching, what side of history will you be on?
A night vigil with the Shi’b Al Butm villagers
Rada Daniell writes: Dear friends, I spent last night in Shi'ib Al Butn (lots of debate about the pronunciation, please use the one you used till now) and I just wrote this article. Estefania and I are now in Wadi Tiran with a couple more internationals. I will try to write another short piece and send it tonight.
Shi’b Al Butm is a village on the side of one of the South Hebron Hills. It is home to 18 Palestinian families with an illegal Israeli settlement close by, and a settler outpost sprouted by the main settlement even closer, very near the houses at the top end of the village.
When we arrived last night, the yellowish shine of the settlement lights looked too near for comfort. The white lights of the the Palestinian town of Yatta were far more distant. A modern settler road stretches along the other side of the village, cutting through the rolling hills and cutting Shi’b Al Butm off from Yatta.
Our host and his family were sitting around a massive burning log of an olive tree trunk, with tea and coffee repeatedly making the rounds. When the settlers' drone went up in the night sky, we knew that they were keeping an eye on us and reminding us of their presence.
The host and his sons told us that they would be staying awake in shifts through the night and we made a rota for us internationals to keep them company. A Los Angeles Times journalist, spending the night in the village, also joined the vigil.
During my night shift, all noises were a cause for alert. Our host and his son again and again getting up, listening hard and shining a torch to make sure that there are no unwanted visitors. Then the dogs would start barking and out host’s son would venture in the dark to see what excited them.
Luckily the night was quiet, but with several men of the house hardly sleeping a wink. The idea was that they would all catch up on their sleep after the morning prayer.
An Israeli woman activist who spends lots of time in the area, staying in different villages, told me that the setters always come from the outpost just above the village. Last time, a few days ago, they came and told the entire village population to leave or they would kill them. But the villagers were not planning to leave, nor were they going to be caught asleep.
The Israeli activist said that that was the third in the wave of attacks, since the start of the war on Gaza, with the previous ones ending in the entire contents of one home bring wrecked, flour spilled all over, flower pots smashed and a duck and chicken killed. She quoted the cynical remark of a villager: “Now that Palestinian lives don’t matter anymore, can someone at least try to protect the lives of animals?”
Kirsty: We had an excellent experience yesterday with Angelo, Jimmy's US friend. He took the updated press release and action alert and ran with it in the US, mobilizing friends and community to write to the proper political targets.
Could you put the media team in contact with you support group in the UK so that when the press release and action alerts start coming, there will be somebody in the UK who can run with it?
France calls West Bank Israeli settler violence 'policy of terror' By REUTERS, November 16, 2023
France on Thursday condemned violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, calling it a "policy of terror" aimed at displacing Palestinians and urging Israeli authorities to protect Palestinians from the violence.
Speaking to reporters, foreign ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre also said that about half the 100 tonnes of aid France had sent to Gaza had entered the enclave. She added it was not up to Israel to decide the future governance of Gaza, which she said should be part of a future Palestinian state.
I hope I will see more white roses bloom
By Dezeray Lyn, from Tampa, Florida – now in the South Hebron Hills on the West Bank
When I came to Palestine, I brought with me a compass. And when I open it, covering up what would point me north to find my way is white rose petals.
The White Rose Society was a group of people in the center of Nazi Germany who maintained their humanity amid the inhumanity around them and resisted the Holocaust.
Yesterday a group of little Palestinian children took me to a playground. We played together, prayed together, and they gave me more white rose petals.
Last night I slept in a small Palestinian community. Three days ago they were given 24 hours by violent extremists from nearby illegal settlement outposts to leave their village or all be killed. As I write this, they are still alive and still in their homes, but I don’t know how much longer this will be the case.
In the tent I stayed in, to document and intervene, there were internationals and Israelis. The Israelis I was with have chosen to oppose another shoah, another nakba. I believe them to be some of the righteous among the nations in this generation, and I am grateful to be beside them. They, from below in the valley, rather than the settlers on the hilltops, are a light unto the nations, holding onto a culture of solidarity against the odds.
Last night Wadi Tiran, where I rested my head, was not wiped off the map, but there have already been whole communities that have disappeared completely because of similar threats. And the IDF fighter jets I heard overhead every hour, reminded me that even as I try to stop ethnic cleansing, I am failing. I paid my taxes. And those U.S. tax dollars are murdering thousands of children just like the ones who gave me white rose petals.
As somebody who is inspired by all the Abrahamic faith traditions, I know that the survival, peace, freedom, and right to return of one people or faith does not have to mean the denial of the survival, peace, freedom, and right to return of other people or faith.
The Islamic mystic poet Jelaluddin Rumi says, “Wherever you go may you be the soul of that place.” One meaning of Al Aqsa, the Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s old city, is the soul. The soul of this place is in danger. And with it, the soul of humanity.
I hope I will see more white roses bloom
Facing violence and harassment, hundreds of Palestinians flee West Bank villages
A focus on the Gaza war and blurred lines between the military and settler activists have led to increased aggression against Palestinians and depopulation of several villages
By Jeremy Sharon, Times of Israel, 16 November 2023,
The savage attack by Hamas against Israel on October 7 and the atrocities the terror group committed on that day plunged Israel into war and brought about the greatest security threat to the Jewish state in half a century.
At the same time, the October 7 assault has unleashed severe backlash in the West Bank against Palestinian civilians, who have been violently attacked and harassed by extremist settlers and specially formed IDF reserve units established to provide extra security to Israeli settlements.
According to activist groups such as B’tselem and Peace Now, which oppose Israeli rule in the West Bank, as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this wave of harassment has led hundreds of Palestinians in vulnerable rural communities to abandon their homes and villages.
According to B’tselem, some 963 Palestinians have been displaced from 16 communities in the West Bank as a result of the attacks since October 7.
OCHA has recorded even higher figures for displaced Palestinians, and says 1,149 people from 15 herding communities have been displaced due to settler violence and land access restrictions.
In a recent visit to the South Hebron Hills, The Times of Israel spoke with several Palestinian residents about the attacks and visited one of the now-forsaken villages.
Incidents of harassment abound. On Sunday, two masked and armed IDF reservists arrived at the village of A-Tuwani in the southern Hebron Hills in a vehicle without license plates, and attempted to remove a Palestinian flag from the premises of a school.
After video footage of the incident was made public on social media, the two reservists were expelled from the IDF.
Numerous other reported incidents have taken place this week alone, including the vandalism of farming vehicles in the village of Wadi Tiran and the destruction of a wind turbine in Wadi Jheish.
As many as seven Palestinians have been killed by extremist settlers, although the circumstances of some of those incidents are not clear and an exact determination as to whether these individuals were killed by gunfire from settlers or Israeli security forces has not been possible.
According to the Yesh Din organization, another group opposing Israeli control of the West Bank, there have been more than 185 settler attacks against Palestinians in over 84 towns and villages around the territory since October 7.
One such incident took place in the Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills on October 28.
Speaking to The Times of Israel in Susya, Ahmad Jabra Nawaja, a shepherd and resident of the village, related how he was beaten by armed, masked men in IDF uniforms who threatened to kill him if he did not leave his land.
Nawaja said he was sleeping in an agricultural wagon on his property with his wife and two daughters because they were worried about settler violence and the possibility their homes might be set ablaze with them inside.
“We were woken up by loud shouts, and saw guns aimed at us,” Nawaja told The Times of Israel through a translator.
He said the men were armed with M-16 assault rifles and that he believed them to be settlers dressed in IDF uniforms.
These men called IDF reserve soldiers to the scene, who checked Nawaja’s ID and then told the first group of men to leave.
But later that night, at approximately 4 a.m., the men who Nawaja believes were settlers from a newly established reserve regional defense battalion came back, dragged him out of the wagon, kicked and beat him, and threatened that they would kill him if he did not raze all the structures on his property and leave the site.
“When he put the gun to my neck I was terrified. I thought he was going to shoot me, I thought it was over. My heart was beating like crazy,” Nawaja said.
He said his daughter Sara threw up and his other daughter, Siwar, got a nosebleed due to their stress and fear during the incident.
Nawaja said that such violent and threatening attacks were a new development since October 7 and that he was concerned about further such incidents.
“We have nowhere else to go. We don’t have any alternative,” he said.
A lawyer for Susya’s residents filed a complaint to the police via an online complaint system, but has yet to hear from the police.
The Police Spokesperson’s Division did not respond to requests for comment.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Division said it was unaware of this incident and could not comment.
In an earlier incident on October 16, three water cisterns used by Susya’s residents as a means of storing water were deliberately damaged by a man, believed to be a resident of a nearby illegal outpost, operating a tractor, accompanied by armed men in IDF uniforms, some of whom masked their faces with black balaclavas.
According to Nasser Nawaja, another Susya resident, the cisterns have been badly damaged and are currently unusable due to the amount of rubble the tractor pushed inside them.
Dr. Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, an attorney for Susya’s residents and co-director of the Haqel: In Defense of Human Rights organization, says she called the offices of the local District Coordination Office of the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration department during the incident to try and get the demolition halted, but to no avail.
Susya, located in Area C of the West Bank where Israel has full security and civilian control, is not connected to the main Israeli water supply system and residents are required to find other ways to source water.
The Civil Administration said in response to a query about the incident that there were no demolition orders against the cisterns, but could not comment on the actions of the men involved.
Following a request for comment, the IDF Spokespersons Unit acknowledged that there had been no legal order to destroy the cisterns.
“IDF forces that came to Susya to carry out an engineering operation in the ‘Susya’ dwelling on October 16 exceeded the boundaries of the actions that had been defined due to lack of coordination,” said the IDF.
“The claims about damage to property are known to us,” the statement continued, adding, “The incident will be investigated and lessons applied to prevent similar incidents.”
The Police Spokesperson’s Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Susya is largely located on private Palestinian land, but its residents have never received building permits for the various structures built at the site. The Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration almost never grants such permits to Palestinians in Area C, so illegal construction in the Palestinian sector is very common.
Nasser Nawaja, a Susya resident and activist for the Palestinian village, stands next to one of three water cisterns deliberately damaged by IDF personnel during an incident on October 16, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon)
Susya, home to some 35 families comprising around 350 residents, has a troubled history along with numerous other Palestinian communities in the region.
Several iterations of Susya have been demolished by enforcement personnel of the Civil Administration since 1985, and demolition orders have been in place against the current structures in the village since at least 2015, orders which were upheld by the High Court of Justice.
The demolitions have not been carried out, however, due to strong international pressure against Israel, including from the EU and the US.
Pro-settlement organizations such as Regavim describe the residents of Susya as “squatters” and have argued that historically there were never permanent Palestinian settlements in the region.
Regavim claims that the establishment of Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills is part of a broader plan adopted by the Palestinian Authority to take control of Area C, which is some 60 percent of the West Bank. Squads on duty
One of the principal concerns pointed to by organizations such as B’tselem, Peace Now, and others regarding violence against Palestinians since October 7 is the IDF’s formation of six volunteer regional defensive battalions to help protect West Bank settlements.
Following the Hamas massacres in southern Israel, numerous members of the civilian security squads that provide protection for the settlements were called up by the army for operations in Gaza or on the northern border with Lebanon.
To compensate for this loss of security manpower, new reserve regional defensive battalions were created by the IDF comprising eligible volunteers from the settlements themselves as well as men from inside sovereign Israel who have previously undergone IDF training.
Activists have said that this situation has blurred the line between settlers and the military, and enabled extremist settlers to use their military status to harass and attack Palestinians.
“There are violent settlers who, two or three months ago, were beating, attacking and harassing Palestinian communities in order to push them off their land. Now they’re recruited into the IDF, they’re in uniform with guns, and have full authority as soldiers, and they’re doing the same thing,” says Yehuda Shaul, co-director of the dovish think tank Ofek.
“That’s how we get to the reality today, where Palestinians have basically no buffer between them and violent settlers, and the settlers are operating with more impunity than usual.”
Ahmad Nawaja said specifically that he believed it was personnel from the newly formed regional defensive battalion in the Judea district of the West Bank, which covers the South Hebron Hills region, who attacked him on the night of October 28.
The individuals responsible for Sunday’s unlawful incursion into A-Tuwani, just up the road from Susya, were also from the Judea battalion.
The South Hebron Hills has long been a hotbed of extremist settler activity, and local Palestinian herding communities have long been subject to harassment.
Salah Abu Awad, 28, used to live in the tiny hamlet of Widady not far from Susya. But following a series of violent attacks and harassment, apparently by local settlers, the 20 residents of Widady decided to abandon the village on July 16 this year.
Abu Awad said he took his flock to nearby Shima, but after suffering harassment there moved on to another nearby hamlet, Radhem.
According to B’tselem, extremist settlers vandalized property at Radhem and harassed its 20 residents on five occasions from October 9 to October 19, resulting in the two families who together were the entire population of the village abandoning the site by October 21.
“We had been in Widady for generations… I have no words about how I feel. It’s not a very great feeling to [keep] having to move,” said Abu Awad stoically. He is now living in Sheheb Tariq, another small hamlet in the area.
Zanutah is another such village that has been depopulated since October 7. The village was home to some 27 families and had a population of around 250 people, but like Radhem, Susya, and others, it faced continued attacks and harassment by extremist settlers.
Between October 12 and 27, B’tselem says several incidents of assault and destruction of property, including of solar panels and water tanks critical for the village’s survival, were carried out against its residents, including one incident in which a stun grenade was allegedly thrown at residents.
Threats of violence against the residents if they did not leave the village were also allegedly made in this period, similar to the threats issued to Ahmad Nawaja in Susya.
The community in Zanutah ultimately decided to leave the village as a result, and packed up and removed all the property they could take with them by October 28.
The Times of Israel visited the depopulated village and saw the entire site abandoned. The corrugated metal sheets used to roof buildings in such villages due to the lack of building permits had been removed by the former residents, along with everything else that could be taken.
A school in Zanutah built by the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department had been vandalized, with trash and debris strewn across its small campus.
A quadcopter drone buzzed overhead during the visit and descended to just a few meters above this reporter’s head as he was touring the site.
Activists say that drones are increasingly used to harass Palestinians and their herds in the area, although it was impossible to determine who was operating this particular device.
“The war in Gaza has created a new reality where the security system in the West Bank increasingly relies on settlers within the framework of operational activities, becoming more dependent on them,” Peace Now said in a report issued on November 10.
“Ideological and violent settlers leverage the war to coerce the military for their own goals of expulsion and harm to Palestinians, even interfering with IDF activities,” in order to “strengthen their hold over Area C.”
Andrea De Domenico, head of the OCHA Occupied Palestinian Territories office, said in response that the increase in violence against Palestinians, and limits on their freedom of movement, was “more than concerning.”
Said Domenico, “It results in displacement of families and whole communities, and generates humanitarian needs. The humanitarian community is supporting them, but our assistance would be unnecessary if their fundamental rights were respected. Settlements are illegal, Palestinians have to be protected and those violating human rights must be held to account.”
The office of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the office of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as an additional minister in the Defense Ministry with responsibility for civilian affairs in the West Bank, did not respond to requests for comment.
Resources: https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/settler-violence-rises-west-bank-gaza-war https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/31/west-bank-palestinian-villages-israeli-army-settlers https://www.ochaopt.org/content/other-mass-displacement-while-eyes-are-gaza-settlers-advance-west-bank-herders https://www.unocha.org/publications/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/fact-sheet-displacement-palestinian-herders-amid-increasing-settler-violence-september-2023 https://palsolidarity.org/2023/11/white-roses/ https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yTVAQTwWQJdNYeZ8_6pFpa31K_OKSSrLKpu7PTN5Dfc/edit?usp=sharing https://docs.google.com/document/d/16Fvketsa9CoLqYvOjTFvDzcqEilUZz4JwjPB4J0OiTs/edit Here is the revised action alert: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BVSukTIph75BJIxGCcNj-f7OLX9OmwaSRsQMdf7qZm0/edit?usp=sharing Here is the revised press release: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yTVAQTwWQJdNYeZ8_6pFpa31K_OKSSrLKpu7PTN5Dfc/edit?usp=sharing https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BVSukTIph75BJIxGCcNj-f7OLX9OmwaSRsQMdf7qZm0/edit?usp=sharing https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BVSukTIph75BJIxGCcNj-f7OLX9OmwaSRsQMdf7qZm0/edit?usp=sharing https://palsolidarity.org/2023/11/leave-or-we-kill-everyone-contact-your-representatives-to-stop-the-ethnic-cleansing-in-masafer-yatta/ https://www.timesofisrael.com/facing-violence-and-harassment-hundreds-of-palestinians-flee-west-bank-villages/
Three weeks into the Gaza War - a somber and sober assessment of the situation, with some historical perspectives
by Adam Keller
In 1987, the Palestinian uprising, the First Intifada, broke out. The State of Israel was faced with the undeniable fact of of millions of Palestinians living at its side it and under its military rule - and with the need to deal with them and find a solution.
For more than ten years, Israeli public opinion was leaning towards some kind of a peaceful solution. The handshake between Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat raised many hopes. For several years, what was known as "The Peace Process" gained considerable public support.
But the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit, which was blamed on "Palestinian intransigence", was followed by the Second Intifada and suicide bombers blowing up buses in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - and the situation completely changed.
Most Israelis became convinced that peace with the Palestinians was impossible, that "there is no partner" and "no one to talk to".
For the purposes of this analysis it is irrelevant to argue whether or not the Israeli public was right getting to such conclusions. There are people (of which I am one) who believe that peace is entirely possible and that Israel does have a Palestinian partner, should it want one. The fact is that we remain in a shrinking minority.
The Labor Party, the party of Rabin and Peres which became identified as "The Party of Oslo", shrank to a small crumb. Israeli society and the political system turned in other directions.
For several years, Prime Minister Sharon proposed another solution - a unilateral withdrawal.
No need to look for a partner, no need to negotiate. We will shape our borders ourselves. We will decide from which territory we will depart and where we will stay. In particular, we will carry out a unilateral "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip.
At first, large parts of the Israeli public bought this formula. On its basis, Sharon established the Kadima (Forward) Party. Momentarily Kadima seemed bound to become Israel's next ruling party.
But at the border of the Gaza Strip, Hamas kidnapped the soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas then successfully demanded the release of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners for returning Shalit . And at the border of Lebanon - from where Israel unilaterally withdrew even earlier - three soldiers were kidnapped and the Second Lebanon War broke out. These incidents, and rocket barrages from Gaza and Lebanon, convinced the Israeli public that the unilateral withdrawal solution does not work, that an area from which the IDF withdraws becomes a ba