Occupied Territories

As Israeli authorities declare “national parks” over residential areas in East Jerusalem, thousands of Palestinians living in overcrowded neighbourhoods close by the Old City are being trapped in a planning nightmare. Human-rights group accuse the officials of increasingly using such parks as a tool to grab control of Palestinian land and demolish homes, under the guise of archaeological preservation and tourism development.

It might have been a moment that jolted Israelis to their senses. Instead the video of an Israeli soldier shooting dead a young Palestinian man as he lay wounded and barely able to move has only intensified the tribal war dance of the Israeli public. This was not a killing in the fog of war; it was a cold-blooded execution – a war crime. And yet, for most Israelis the soldier is the victim of this story.

Details of the biggest massacre committed by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war have finally surfaced, decades after the documentation was locked away. Israel is still trying to silence its army’s new generation of whistleblowers, even in an age of 24-hour news and social media. But Israel must face facts: the days when such systematic brutality could be kept under wraps are now over.

Shir Hever, who has spent years piecing together the murky economics of the occupation, has published a new report that makes shocking reading. Like others, he believes international aid has allowed Israel to avoid footing the bill for its occupation. But he goes further. His conclusion is that at least 78 per cent of humanitarian aid intended for Palestinians ends up in Israel’s coffers.

Israel is to put financial pressure on Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem in an effort to make them switch over to an Israeli-controlled curriculum. Palestinian officials have slammed the move, warning that it is part of intensified efforts by Israel to disconnect East Jerusalem from the neighbouring West Bank and entrench its control over the 300,000 Palestinians in the city.

In an atmosphere of inculcated ignorance and prejudice, it is easy for Netanyahu to persuade public opinion that the recent wave of Palestinian protests and attacks is solely the result of “incitement” from Palestinian officials and media. The Israeli right suggests that Palestinians who stab or drive cars at their oppressors are easily inflamed into action by words that appeal to ancient prejudice. As the Israeli public discourse grows ever more detached from reality, Israel’s military commanders sound like an oasis of sanity – at least, by comparison.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has described his security forces’ cooperation with the Israeli military as “sacred”. But an armed attack on an Israeli checkpoint this week by a Palestinian security official, which left three Israeli soldiers injured, suggests that Abbas’ view may not be widely shared among Palestinians.

Israeli government funds have been secretly transferred to far-right organisations leading a smear campaign against groups opposed to the occupation, a series of investigations show. The rightwing groups have received tens of millions of dollars in state funding. In three known cases, the publicly funded far-right organisations launched spying operations on human rights groups, while other money has gone towards ad campaigns claiming to expose peace activists as “moles”.

In his Jerusalem office, Rabbi Chaim Richman has steeped himself in an unlikely mix of 2,000-year-old Judaic tradition and the latest in American cattle-breeding technology. His aim is to genetically engineer a perfect red heifer. If he succeeds, he believes it will open the way to destroying one of the holiest sites in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque, and building a Jewish temple in its place.

Tens of thousands of visitors have come to Sheikh Raed Salah’s protest tent in the past three weeks, since Netanyahu declared his Islamic Movement an “illegal organisation”. In an interview, Salah calls the move “a declaration of war not just against our movement but against Islam and against the whole Palestinian community [in Israel]. Everyone feels targeted.”

In many Palestinians’ minds, non-violence has become tainted by association with Mahmoud Abbas’ years of ineffectiveness and his security coordination with Israel. But some Palestinian intellectuals are advocating non-violent resistance on pragmatic grounds, emphasising the futility of violence faced with Israel’s military superiority.

Despite claims it is seeking to calm tensions in Jerusalem, Israel is intensifying activities to encircle the al-Aqsa mosque and strengthen its control over the holy site, Israeli archaeologists have warned. Sounding the alarm as the US brokered a deal that will see cameras installed in the mosque compound, the group accused Israel of making rapid changes to the physical landscape around al-Aqsa to obscure the area’s Islamic character and create an ever-more arduous “obstacle course” for worshippers.

Israel has little but stopgap measures to defend against Palestinian protests. Its intelligence agencies cannot predict the lone wolf, its guns cannot deter the knife, its military might cannot subdue the craving for justice and dignity. The current unrest may recede, but more waves of protest of ever greater intensity are surely not far behind.

Israeli human rights groups say videos taken on phones challenge the accuracy of official Israeli accounts of the circumstances in which police have killed or injured Palestinians. The footage provides concrete evidence that police have been “quick to shoot to kill” rather than arrest Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel who were suspected of involvement in attacks on Israeli Jews.

Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a crackdown on Palestinian political leaders in Israel, blaming them for the current unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to bolster his severely dented image as ‘Mr Security’. After a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu directed officials to assemble the evidence to make possible the outlawing of the northern wing of the Islamic movement.

The violence rocking the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and now Gaza is on the verge of spilling into Israel, Palestinian leaders in Israel warned. A wave of unrest has swept Palestinian towns in Israel over recent days. Aggressive policing, vigilante-style attacks by Israeli Jews and a crackdown on the Palestinian leadership in Israel have quickly heightened tensions.

The rapid escalation in violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank suggests the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be entering a new phase, according to analysts. But the term “intifada” risks obscuring as much as it reveals. The clashes are not chiefly about resistance. They have been provoked by the growing stranglehold the settlers enjoy, both on the ground and on government policy.

For the past month Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to rewrite the Biblical story of David and Goliath by declaring war on what he terms Palestinian “terrorism by stones”. The touchpaper for the latest clashes are Israeli transgressions at al-Aqsa mosque compound. Tensions have risen sharply as ever larger numbers of Jewish ultra-nationalists have ascended to the mosque area.

Roni Alsheikh, Israel’s new police chief, has spent decades living in two shadowy worlds: as a senior officer in Israel’s secret police, known as the Shin Bet; and as an religious settler who has lived in some of the West Bank’s most extreme and violent communities. Indicating the Shin Bet’s lack of transparency and accountability, the Israeli media had to refer to the new police chief by the initial “R” until a gag order was lifted on Wednesday.

Officials in Jerusalem have approved a massive construction project, including plans for housing, shops and a hotel, on one of the largest and most historically important Islamic cemeteries in the Middle East. A previous project to build a courthouse at the site, part of Mamilla Cemetery, was scrapped earlier after it provoked a storm of protest.