State Violence and the Palestinian Community

By: Arriana Dawidziak

On March 30th, 2018 Israeli Forces and Palestinian protesters clashed, drawing attention to the ongoing Palestinian Occupation in the Middle East. While this has been the most recent news from the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is not the only sign of oppression in the area. The cases of Ahed Tamimi and abuse of media outlets provide further insight of the increasing tension in the region.

Protests on March 30th took a turn for the worse when protesters and soldiers clashed. The reported death toll rose to between 16-22 Palestinian citizens with no Israeli casualties. Additionally, reports found that potentially over a thousand were injured, despite Palestinian protesters being unarmed. March 30th marks the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, during which Palestinians commemorate the right to their land that was confiscated by Israel in March of 1976. Around 30,000 protesters demonstrated this year with the message to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

The lack of concrete information from this March 30th event caused the United Nations and European Union to call for investigation that was quickly rejected by Israel’s Defense Minister. The head of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, also called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the recent deaths and displayed his support for the separate investigation request by the U.N. The Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, responded over radio that soldiers “did what had to be done,” and suggested that the Israeli Army be praised. Since this statement, the Israel Defense Force spokesman has claimed ten of those who were killed were Palestinians affiliated with terrorist groups and engaged in violent acts that posed a threat to the Israeli Army, despite a video showing the protesters shot were not a threat. Israeli Defense Forces claim the videos were fabricated by terrorist groups and implied that any one who further attempts to break through the border fence will be considered a threat and shot. In response, Gheit defended Palestinians, saying the rights of Palestinians “will not be forgotten or diminished” and he hopes that killings will stop. 

This recent incident is not the only event receiving international attention. Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old activist who has become one of the faces of the Palestinian resistance, has also made worldwide headlines. Growing up in a village in the West Bank, Tamimi has experienced constant struggle with military forces and the push of Israeli settlements. She has become known for confronting the Israeli military on multiple instances, such as in the case of a video where she slaps and shouts at a soldier who had put her relative in a coma from a directed rubber bullet. Despite admiration from the Palestinian community, the Israeli government sees Tamimi’s actions as a humiliation to the army and has even compared her family to terrorists. Prison sentences and trials soon followed the rubber bullet incident. On April 1st, video from her third interrogation in December 2017 was released. The interrogation lasted two hours with somewhat brutal tactics. Tamimi was granted the rights of a minor, yet two male interrogators used flirting, intimidation, and threats as tactics. Following Tamimi’s plea deal, some of her family members and friends have been arrested in military raids in connection to her case. Although Tamimi was not physically attacked while in custody, which is reported as a common experience for Palestinians, she is aware of mistreatment from interactions with her relatives.

Government media outlets in Arabic, like the social media of the Israeli Army spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, have been criticized as an expansion of oppression. Coined “Digital Occupation”, his Twitter and Facebook accounts are of the only methods for many Palestinian citizens, many of whom cannot read or speak Hebrew, to communicate with high-ranking Israeli officials. While Adraee’s social media provides some useful information about checkpoints and permits, the account, and other accounts like it, have also become tools for Israeli propaganda, prosecution, and surveillance specifically targeted at Palestinians. Following the protests on Land Day, Adraee’s twitter labeled the protesters as troublemakers who carry out acts in a similar way as terrorist groups. The Israeli government has also infringed upon Palestinian digital rights. Facebook specifically serves as example here. The Israeli government reports Palestinian content and accounts, with an 85% acceptance rate of their requests in 2017. Social media accounts like Adraee’s  purport to be concerned with the Arab citizens well-being, even using Quranic verses to warn Palestinians of the dangers of being misled by terrorist groups or simply not following a set Israeli agenda. 

The 50-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has created numerous refugees, only seems to draw pressure from international organizations when large numbers of death and other extreme cases occur. However, protest clashes, mistreatment of arrested Palestinians, and media exploitation are not new forms of oppression in the region. Lack of international response to these violations stems from the fact that there is a broad acceptance of state-sanctioned violence by global leaders. When non-state actors, e.g. the Taliban, are involved in a violation, there is an immediate response from the likes of the United States. However, when Israel commits human rights violations, like those against Ahed Tamimi the Gaza Strip blockade,, the international response comes in the form of condemnation by an international human rights groups or disapproval from a political figure and nothing more. Without international intervention, tension is likely to continue as the protests on March 30th are only the beginning of what is being called “The Great March of Return”. The demonstrations along the Gaza Strip border are expected to continue until May 15th, the anniversary of the 1948 War when Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.