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Israel-Palestine: As Stabbings, Shootings Kill Dozens, Endless Occupation Fuels Vengeful Resistance

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The death toll from violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories has increased with new Palestinian stabbing attacks and an intensified Israeli crackdown. On Sunday, an attacker identified as a 21-year-old Arab citizen of Israel knifed an Israeli soldier to death and then opened fire at a bus station in Beersheba, wounding 10 people. The attacker was killed. In an apparent case of racial profiling, a mob of soldiers and bystanders then shot and beat an Eritrean man to death, mistakenly thinking he was a second assailant. After sealing off East Jerusalem neighborhoods last week, Israel is widening its crackdown on Arab residents and continuing military operations across the West Bank and Gaza. The United Nations says last week was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel in 10 years, raising concerns “of excessive use of force, and violations of the right to life and security of the person.” We are joined by two guests: Jamil Dakwar, a Palestinian human rights lawyer with Israeli citizenship, and Nathan Thrall, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group whose new article for The New York Times is “Mismanaging the Conflict in Jerusalem.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The death toll from violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories has increased with new Palestinian stabbing attacks and an intensified Israeli crackdown. On Sunday, an assailant identified as a 21-year-old Arab citizen of Israel knifed an Israeli soldier, then opened fire at a bus station in Beersheba with the soldier’s rifle, wounding 10 people. The soldier and the attacker died. In an apparent case of racial profiling, a mob of soldiers and bystanders then shot and beat another man to death, mistakenly thinking he was a second assailant. Video footage shows the crowd kicking and assaulting the victim, 29-year-old Haftom Zarhum, as he lies on the ground. Zarhum later died in the hospital. He had been seeking asylum in Israel from his native Eritrea. The incident comes after Israeli forces shot dead five Palestinians accused of stabbing attacks, including three in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

After sealing of East Jerusalem neighborhoods last week, Israel is widening its crackdown on Arab residents. A new bill before Parliament would give forces stop-and-frisk powers to search anyone in the streets without cause. In addition to severe restrictions on movement, Israel is also erecting a wall in East Jerusalem that would separate Palestinian neighborhoods from a nearby Israeli settlement. Israeli forces meanwhile continue military attacks across the West Bank and Gaza, raiding villages and firing on Palestinian demonstrations. Over the weekend, a group of some 200 Israeli settlers reportedly attacked two Palestinian villages in the West Bank with firebombs.

The surge in Palestinian knife attacks and protests is partially fueled by concerns over Israeli control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and visits there by far-right Israelis. On Sunday, Israel rejected a French proposal to deploy international observers at the flashpoint holy site. Speaking today in Madrid, Secretary of State John Kerry backed Israel’s rejection of a foreign presence at the Temple Mount, but said he would meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming days.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence. But in my conversations with the prime minister, as well as with King Abdullah and the foreign minister of Jordan, they have expressed a desire to try to see this process be able to find a way of making certain that everybody is clear about what is happening with respect to the Temple Mount.

AMY GOODMAN: The overall death toll stands at 44 Palestinians and eight Israelis this month. The U.N. says last week was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel in 10 years, raising concerns, quote, “of excessive use of force, and violations of the right to life and security of the person.”

Joining us now are two guests. Here in New York, Jamil Dakwar is with us. He’s a human rights lawyer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who previously worked as senior attorney at Adalah, a leading human rights group in Israel. And in Jerusalem, Nathan Thrall is with us, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. His new article for The New York Times is headlined “Mismanaging the Conflict in Jerusalem.”

Nathan, let’s start with you in Jerusalem. What is happening there, and why do you believe that the situation is so out of control at this point?

NATHAN THRALL: So what’s happening now in Jerusalem is checkpoints are going up all over the east. At the exits to Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, you have big concrete cubes going up and very, very long lines for Palestinians to exit their neighborhoods. And there is a sense among Palestinians in East Jerusalem that they are being punished for these so-called lone wolf stabbing attacks that have taken place so far. The other morning, residents of one neighborhood, where basically the traffic police, the parking—people who give parking tickets never go, came and left 500-shekel tickets on everybody’s car. And there are a series of small steps like this that are leading a lot of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to feel that they’re being collectively punished for what’s going on now.

I live right at one of the seam neighborhoods between the east and the west, and it’s filled with border police who are basically stopping a high proportion of the Palestinian men who are walking from one side of the city to the other. Many of them work in the west side of the city. You had mentioned a moment ago that there is a consideration of allowing the police to do stop-and-frisk without cause. You know, that’s news to the residents of Palestinian East Jerusalem, who are stopped and frisked without cause all the time and are being stopped and frisked without cause today. So the situation in Jerusalem is extremely tense. People are eyeing one another suspiciously. A Palestinian woman in West Jerusalem was walking around today and was telling me how people were staring at her, surprised that she was walking around there.

So, the attacks don’t seem to have any kind of organized leadership behind them, which makes them much more difficult for anybody to stop. And one of the big problems here is we don’t have an organized political leadership in Jerusalem, a Palestinian political leadership in Jerusalem, which means that there’s no one for the Israelis to talk to in order to try and calm the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go right now to what happened on Sunday. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected Palestinian concerns over the Temple Mount.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The reason the status quo has been violated is not because we changed it. We didn’t change anything. The orders of prayer, the visiting rights have not changed for the last 15 years. The only thing that’s changed are Islamist hoodlums, paid by the Islamist movement in Israel and by Hamas, who are entering the mosque and trying to put explosives there, and, from there, emerge and attack Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, and Christian visitors. That’s the only change in the status quo. Israel will protect the holy site, will guard the status quo. Israel is not a problem on the Temple Mount, Israel is the solution.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. We’re also joined by Jamil Dakwar, human rights lawyer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who previously worked as a senior attorney at Adalah, a leading Israeli human rights group. Your response to what Netanyahu just said?

JAMIL DAKWAR: Well, I think that what is really striking here is that the Israeli government, every time there is any kind of a rise in tension and crisis and use of violence, it turns into militaristic approach towards dealing with the Palestinians. It’s using that same old policies of a crackdown, on collective punishment, on seeing the Palestinians with no really value of their life and their basic human rights. The response, and particularly on the issue of status quo, you know, Israel is the only country that is allowed to change the status quo in Jerusalem, and it’s been changing that for years, for decades. And yet, if a country or political party is suggesting a change of the status quo towards more peaceful resolution, towards more protection of civilians, then that is always rejected. So I think there is, clearly, a going back to giving now the Israeli government and Benjamin Netanyahu a pretext to go—what he really would prefer to do is to continue his policies of aggression against Palestinians.

Certainly, this is going to be more and more difficult, because in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, the reason that there is no leadership is because Israeli policies were cracking down on institutions. The Orient House was closed by the Israeli government. The Palestinians who were elected by their own people were not allowed to engage in political activities. Many of them were imprisoned. So that, in and of itself, clearly shows that the Israeli government wants to see only its own interest, meaning the Jewish Israeli interest in Jerusalem, and that continue to perpetuate the situation both in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank as a military occupation, which is now nearing 50 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what has caused this latest escalation of violence, from your perspective. Where did you grow up, by the way?

JAMIL DAKWAR: I grew up in Haifa. I went to school at Tel Aviv University. I remember when I went to law school at Tel Aviv University, there were very, very difficult times. There were times when there were suicide attacks going on inside Israel. Those happened in response to the settler going to Hebron mosque and killing prayer—Palestinians who were praying in the mosque. That kind of blew up the whole situation. And it was clear that without cracking down on the settler violence, without ending Israel’s settler activity in the West Bank, there is no way that the Palestinians will sit back and allow the Israeli government to continue to control their life in every way.

So I think the escalation that we’re seeing now has been mounting, has been building, because of what’s happened in the last several years. There is no hope for any real, normal life. This is the new normal for the Palestinians, which is military occupation continues unabated, the Israeli government continues to send settlers to the West Bank. There’s a crackdown rounding up children, Palestinian children, in night raids, documented by Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations. These kinds of things will make Palestinians despair or make the Palestinians, some of them, to resort to violence and do what they are doing. And I think that is what is really concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: Are these knife attacks new?

JAMIL DAKWAR: These knife attacks are new, although in the—we’ve seen in the—this is not the first time that there were these kinds of wave of knife attacks. And it happened during the Shamir—appeared in the '80s. They were very much similar, in a situation where the Palestinians were really giving up on their hope to have a normal life. I think that there's now also—there’s the impact on their lack of ability to be able to express themselves.

You mentioned the Arab Palestinian citizen who stabbed the soldier. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens are peaceful. They’ve been peaceful in their activities for their entire career, and yet the Israeli government is cracking down on their leadership, is cracking down—there are home demolitions inside Israel, displacement of Arab Bedouin communities. That is making people see that despite the fact that you are making an effort to be a citizen, a law-abiding citizen, the Israeli government is saying, “No, you are not welcomed here. You are an enemy. You are not going to be enjoying the same basic rights as others in the country.”

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, a Palestinian reportedly opened fire at a central bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, killing a soldier and wounding 11 other people. He had taken the gun of the soldier. Afterward, the Israeli police spokesperson, Micky Rosenfeld, addressed reporters.

MICKY ROSENFELD: As a result of the attack where the terrorist had a pistol and opened fire, we have six people that were injured, four of them being police officers injured inside the central bus station. One man was severely taken to hospital and received medical treatment. Unfortunately, confirmed that he passed away a few minutes ago. Heightened security is continuing in the area, and our police units are still in and around the central bus station.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli eyewitness to the shooting, Sima Koseshvili, called for greater security.

SIMA KOSESHVILI: [translated] Do I need to live in a world where I am afraid to leave home to go to my college studies, to work or to go shopping? Everything is frightening, and I want the police to take more action and increase their security presence.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Thrall in Jerusalem, can you talk about what happened there in Beersheba? First you had the killing of both the Palestinian gunman and the Israeli soldier, many other people also injured, and then the Eritrean man being beaten to death in a case of apparently mistaken identity.

NATHAN THRALL: Yes. Frankly, I know about as much as what—as much as you do about what happened there. I wasn’t there, and I’ve seen the reports and watched some of the videos. And I’ve seen that the government has, you know, acknowledged that a tragic mistake was made. But beyond that, I don’t know the details of the incident.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of this?

JAMIL DAKWAR: The significance is that, look, what’s happening is that now anyone appears to be an Arab Palestinian. And that starts with the racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, that is a daily experience of Palestinians. But also Israeli Jews who are Arab Jews, who come—[Sephardic] Jews, who appear to some Israelis or to the Israeli security forces as suspicious Arab Palestinians, some of them are even being attacked. I think this is going out of control, because the Israeli government and the politicians are spreading those statements, making those statements that are very dangerous statements, encouraging citizens to take arms and shoot people, shoot to kill. And there are now human rights reports investigating the shoot-to-kill orders. This amounts to extrajudicial killing. There need to be clear investigations of these instances. You have people who did not pose any imminent threat to additional people; even if they committed crimes, they still should not be executed right on the spot. And that, I think, will bring the situation to a much worse, because people are mistrusting anyone who is a Palestinian, who is an Arab, who appears to be Palestinian, and that’s why the Eritrean refugee got in that situation. And the lynching—there’s situations where a soldier is standing by, security forces standing by and not protecting those civilians. That, in and of itself, is a huge, dangerous escalation that I think even worse than the act of lonely or individual taking some knives and stabbing people, because that frustrates entire—puts entire communities at risk, when law enforcement carries those attacks and crackdowns and opens fire with no respect to human life.

We see a situation that really requires more attention and more action, not just—you know, condemnation of acts of violence is the easy part of this. What is really needed to be done is what needs to be done about the situation, the situation of the occupation, the situation on East Jerusalem. And what we’re not hearing, what are the solutions, including administration officials. Every time Secretary Kerry tries to say something right, whether it’s the recent comment that he made, where he said, “Well, we’ve seen building of settlements, an expansion, etc. That is now—and now we’re seeing violence.” So he’s making the right connection, a very logic, commonsense connection, and yet he had to retract those statements, even though he’s really saying what everybody knows, what everybody knows in the Obama administration, what everybody knows here in the United States, that settlements are illegal, and yet they are now getting full support from this Israeli government, and is now building on turning this conflict into a religious war. And I think that is really the critical point where I think we need to be very, very concerned about. People who know the situation know that if you are going to speak to the youth about religious wars and agitate them, they will take things like this, they will take knives and stab people. And without leadership, without any hope, without a future, this will become the norm. And unfortunately, that would be a very dangerous route to go to.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a role for the ICC here, the International Criminal Court?

JAMIL DAKWAR: Well, the ICC, as you know, there’s a preliminary investigation of the situation in Israel and Palestine, particularly the situation of Palestine after Palestine joined the ICC. There were calls to ask the prosecutor to look at the alleged crimes committed in the recent month. I believe it will be a little bit difficult for the prosecutor to jump at this issue. There’s a significant development that happened just last week with the ICC prosecutor asking to open full investigation in Georgia. That will be an important—has important implications on the situation in Palestine, because this will be—if this full investigation will move forward, will be the first nonstate party full investigation that is taking place in the ICC, which could, again, delay, on one hand, the Palestinian situation, but, on the other hand, would also set important precedent for that. I think, most importantly, there should be a clear deterrence to the Israeli government from clear statements made, that the Israeli government cannot continue these actions with no consequences. There is no accountability. We know from reports like B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Al-Haq and other organizations that investigations within the Israeli military are discredited, they’re not credible, they’re not serious, and therefore, at some point, there will be action by legal mechanisms, including the ICC, to look into the crimes that are committed in the occupied Palestinian territory.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his counterpart in Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, visited Israeli stabbing victims recovering in the hospital. On Sunday, Mayor de Blasio visited the Western Wall and toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. He signed the guest book at the museum, “Never again,” then made a statement.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We’re here at a painful moment. We’re here at a moment where people are afraid, where people are struggling, because of the violence in their midst every single day lately, more and more terrorist attacks on absolutely innocent civilians, something unconscionable and unacceptable, according to all our values, and something that must end.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Thrall, I wanted to get your comment—also the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, Marine General Joseph Dunford, in addition to de Blasio, are in Israel—to what you believe needs to be done and what de Blasio said.

NATHAN THRALL: So, what we’re seeing is the beginning of the United States compensating Israel for the Iran nuclear deal, and they’re discussing now increasing the $3 billion in aid that Israel receives each year. And regarding de Blasio’s statement, of course attacks on civilians are horrible, and all of this death is horrible. In terms of looking at the root causes, I see very little being done to address that.

What we’re seeing right now among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and particularly in Jerusalem, is a real sense that the idea of a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem is escaping them. Jerusalemites have felt for many years that they are losing Jerusalem. They feel that they’re losing control over Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well. And so, they’re—the other guest had mentioned that the institutions of the Palestinian political leadership used to exist in Jerusalem. The PLO had something called the Orient House, which was its headquarters in Jerusalem, that had been—that has been shut down and is shut down. And, you know, Jerusalem has been separated by an enormous wall from the rest of the West Bank. And when Palestinians come and visit from Gaza, for example—those few who are allowed exit permits and do get to come to Jerusalem—they’re in shock at what they see. And seeing it with their own eyes and going around the West Bank, they come to the conclusion that the possibility of separating Israel from an independent Palestinian state passed a long time ago.

And nobody is offering any kind of solutions or answers to Palestinians, including their own leadership. And I think that’s a big part of why you see Palestinians actually acting right now outside of the political factions that dominate Palestinian politics. Palestinians feel like those factions are not offering any solutions and that they are taking matters into their own hands. So, the center of some of the fighting against Israel has occurred specifically among those groups who are not under Palestinian Authority control. The Jerusalem—Jerusalemites, of course, are not at all under Palestinian Authority control. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden from acting in any form in Jerusalem—and in other domains, as well. Villages in the West Bank who are fighting against the wall cutting through and taking part of their land also find—many of them are outside of the Palestinian Authority’s control and therefore are able, actually, to fight Israel. The same thing with hunger-striking prisoners and with Gazans now, who are approaching the border fence every day and throwing rocks, and getting shot and killed in the process.

So, I think that Palestinians, in general, feel that they are approaching the end of an era, and that era is the era that was inaugurated with President Mahmoud Abbas’s election in January 2005. This came just after Yasser Arafat had died and at the end of a very bloody and painful intifada, one that was bloody and painful for both sides. And what Abbas represented for Palestinians was a chance to try a totally different strategy, one that was not based on armed conflict, one that would basically give Israel exactly what it most wanted, which is security, and to cooperate with Israel, fully in security, to hunt down militants in the West Bank and to prevent attacks against Israelis, against settlers. And Abbas—if you ask the Israeli security establishment, they will say that Abbas has delivered that in spades. And what the security officials say is, you know, “We view our job as to provide the calm that allows the political leadership to reach out and to make a deal, or at least to improve the situation.” Even if you don’t have a final peace agreement, there are a thousand things that Israel can do to make life better for Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza. And a lot of the anger—sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I just—we have to wrap up, but I wanted to bring Jamil Dakwar back in. Go ahead with “a lot of the anger,” and then I’m going to go back to Jamil.

NATHAN THRALL: Sure. OK, sure. I just wanted to say that a lot of the anger is a sense that that strategy, that was inaugurated with Abbas’s election in January 2005, has been given 11 years now to play itself out, and it hasn’t achieved anything. And it hasn’t really eased life or restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and Jerusalem. And so, what Palestinians are doing now is, in a very nonstrategic and emotional way, rebelling against that, without a clear vision of where they’re headed.

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