Israel marks beginning of Ramadan with violence and retaliation against Palestinians
Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City, is often a place of gathering and celebration for Muslims breaking their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. But for the fifth night in a row, the ancient landmark has been marred with violence as Israeli forces lead a brutal crackdown against Palestinians.
Since the recent string of attacks against Israelis by Palestinians in cities across Israel, Israeli authorities and settlers have launched a new wave of aggression in retaliation against Palestinians.
Israeli forces dressed in riot gear and using rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades have violently broken up Ramadan celebrations and enacted a mass arrest campaign, with 22 Palestinians detained, seven killed thus far and tens more injured.
The army has also increased its use of flying checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank (temporary, makeshift barriers) further restricting Palestinian movement, which is already severely limited.
"Since the recent string of attacks against Israelis by Palestinians in cities across Israel, Israeli authorities and settlers have launched a new wave of aggression in retaliation against Palestinians"
“[Israel] is dragging Palestinians into confrontation,” Younes Arar, director of international and public relations and media for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, said of the heightened enforcement.
Israeli settlers have led a spate of so-called revenge attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank — elevating tensions in an already sensitive area. They’ve held marches chanting “Death to Arabs”, hurled stones, set cars ablaze, uprooted hundreds of olive trees, and vandalised property with graffiti in recent weeks.
In the Naqab Desert in southern Israel, vigilante groups have formed and reports have also emerged of armed militias training to protect settlers in the flashpoint Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Issa Amro, founder of the Palestinian activist group, Youth Against Settlements, has been afraid to walk outside in recent days because of the intensified violence. He described how Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, where he lives, are fearful of future massacres, especially since Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, recently called on civilians to take up arms.
Bennett has seized the opportunity provided by recent attacks to appeal to his voter base of right-wing Israeli settlers as his government faces an existential threat that could remove him from power.
“This is the time to carry a gun,” Bennett encouraged in a video statement, and requests for gun licences have spiked since.
“What is different here is violent Palestinians are held accountable, but Israeli settlers and army violence have full impunity,” Amro said.
From his perspective, statements and actions by Israeli politicians, settlers and soldiers have fanned the flames of violence. But beyond a few provocative displays, the prime culprit of ongoing bloodshed is Israel’s occupation of Palestine. For Palestinians, it is the occupation that necessitates Palestinians’ violent resistance.
“Palestinians are in defence,” Amro said. “The Israeli army, settlers and the occupation are the main source of violence. They are the ones who do violence and who really make Palestinians violent.”
In addition to increased arrests and attacks, Israeli authorities are cracking down economically on Palestinians.
Israeli municipalities have suspended construction and gardening labour, vocations mostly done by Palestinians. Some settlements announced they wouldn’t allow Palestinian workers in to do their jobs. Last week, the Israeli security cabinet decided to revoke the work permits of Palestinians related to the perpetrators of attacks against Israelis and pushed forward a plan to rebuild the wall separating the West Bank and Israel.
Assaf Adiv, executive director of MAAN Workers Association, a labour rights organisation, explained how Palestinians have used breaches in the fence to enter Israel for work — often while the army knowingly looks away. Now, with an increased army presence, soldiers are cracking down on those attempting to cross through the gaps.
Palestinians with permits who are let into Israel, however, are not exempt from Israel’s heightened repressive measures. Daud al-Muatan, who works in the illegal Israeli settlement of Beit El, said he’s experienced more stringent security procedures when entering.
"Economic retaliation in the form of limiting Palestinians’ access to work constitutes a form of collective punishment, but remains a common tactic used by Israeli authorities"
“Before [the recent attacks], I used to only show my magnetic card and then enter the settlement,” al-Muatan said. “Today, they [security guards] stop me and search every single thing that I have. Sometimes they detain me for 30 minutes or more under the pretext of security issues.”
Increased settlement security isn’t the only difficulty al-Muatan and his co-workers are undergoing.
“We’ve faced a few incidents where settlers would throw stones at our cars on our way home,” al-Muatan said. “So, we're all having this feeling of fear and discomfort, but at the end of the day, this is what we do to put food on the table, and there's nothing we can do about it. This is our only source of income.”
Official numbers suggest that about 130,000 Palestinians work inside Israel and its settlements, which constitutes roughly 13% of the Palestinian GDP. Economic retaliation in the form of limiting Palestinians’ access to work constitutes a form of collective punishment, but remains a common tactic used by Israeli authorities.
Another violent Ramadan
Last year’s Ramadan was plagued with violence when protests erupted across Jerusalem in response to Israel’s violent crackdown on Palestinian Muslims attending Ramadan prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque as well as ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem.
In May of 2021, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem escalated into Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza in which 256 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children. This year, clashes in Jerusalem and violence in the surrounding region have raised fears that history could repeat itself.
Likening the current situation to the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli oppression in the early 2000s triggered by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s storming of Al-Aqsa, Arar noted that Israel’s actions are once again pushing Palestinians to the brink.
“They’re beating on the very sensitive place for Palestinians, that's Jerusalem, and they know it could lead to [war] by experience,” Arar told The New Arab.
"Media pundits predicted April would be a tense month for Palestine-Israel with Ramadan, Passover, and Easter coinciding together"
Media pundits predicted April would be a tense month for Palestine-Israel with Ramadan, Passover, and Easter coinciding together. Many Palestinians visit Jerusalem during religious occasions, with Israel often responding with enhanced security and even denying access to holy sites.
Arar doesn’t see larger crowds convening in Jerusalem as reason for flaring tensions, though.
“Israel uses this month [of Ramadan] to humiliate Palestinians, as much as they can, especially at the doors of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Arar said.
Placing the onus squarely on the world powers, Arar added, “The international community has to decide whether they want peace or they want the extinction of Palestinians.”
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.
Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum