Since 1 October ten Israelis have been killed in knife, car and gun attacks, with several dozen more injured. In response to the surge in Palestinian violence, Israeli troops or settlers have killed at least 76 Palestinians, including bystanders and unarmed protesters. Over fifteen Palestinian children are among the dead.
The immediate reasons for Palestinian attacks and protests are right-wing Israeli settler violence and the perception that Israel intends to restrict Palestinian access to a Muslim religious site in Jerusalem. The underlying reason, however, is lack of Palestinian hope and the brutal grind of continuing occupation. There is no prospect of a peace deal being negotiated with Israel’s right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the West Bank town of Hebron at least 22 Palestinian deaths have occurred. Last month thousands of Palestinians turned out for the funerals of five teenagers who had been shot by Israeli security forces. In the latest killing a 72-year-old Palestinian woman was shot by Israeli troops. The soldiers claim she attempted to drive her car into them; Palestinian witnesses say she was trying to fill her car up with petrol. On the same day three Israeli troops were injured in shooting incidents.
The military have responded by restricting Palestinian movement, using live ammunition and tear gas against stone-throwing youths, and making arrests. Hebron is divided into three areas: full Palestinian Authority administration, joint administration between Israeli military forces and PA police, and full Israeli control. 37,000 Palestinians live in Hebron. However thousands of soldiers are stationed in the H2 area of the city, under full Israeli military control, to protect the 600-strong Jewish settler population.
Hebron is the site of the al-Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the site where the Biblical prophet Abraham is believed to be buried. Many of the Israeli settlers carry government-issued weapons. Some settlers have been accused of provoking Palestinians by glorying in the might of the Israeli army, harassing Palestinians going about their everyday lives with racist chanting and graffiti (“Death to Arabs”), and destruction of property.
In a rational world, access to contested areas and religious places would be governed by agreements as equitable and fair as possible. Not so here, where the Israeli occupation confronts resistance. Unfortunately, the resistance is likely to take an increasingly fundamentalist form. The solution is for the Israeli state to conclude a peace agreement which includes the creation of a free Palestine alongside Israel. As part of that process the Israeli government will have to restrain and repress the extremist settlers and their organisations.