‘We are exhausted’: Palestinians denounce Israeli raids as collective punishment

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But this year in Jenin, amid a massive Israeli military operation across the occupied West Bank, residents are staying up late waiting for the next military raid on their town.

“We are exhausted,” said Israa Awartani, 32, who works in a theater. “We start thinking, ‘When will it be my turn? When will it be my son or another family member? »

Over the past week, Israeli forces have carried out an extensive campaign of raids on towns and villages in the West Bank, in response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. Israeli authorities imposed temporary economic sanctions and arrested dozens of people.

Israel says the increased military activity is a counterterrorism effort aimed at preventing further attacks and that it has focused them on the towns and villages from which the recent attackers originated. However, Palestinian residents and critics say the operation amounts to collective punishment and is counterproductive, as it will only further fuel the cycle of hatred and bloodshed.

At least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the start of Ramadan on April 2, including 16-year-old Mohammad Zakarneh, who was shot and killed during one of Israel’s raids in Jenin on Sunday, his mother said. He would quit his job at a fresh produce store and return home to break his Ramadan fast. The Israeli army would not comment on his death.

Ghada Sabteen, 47, a widow and mother of six, was also killed. She was shot in the leg as she approached soldiers at a checkpoint near Bethlehem. The Palestinian authorities have called for an investigation into his murder, but the Israeli army has not said whether it will conduct one.

Mohammad Assaf, a 34-year-old lawyer, was shot in the chest and killed in a raid in the city of Nablus on Wednesday, apparently shortly after dropping his children off at school.

The Israeli military operation follows the worst wave of violence in Israel since 2016. The latest attack, on April 7, was carried out by a 28-year-old Palestinian man from Jenin who opened fire outside a busy bar in Tel Aviv, killing two people and injuring 13 others. He was later shot dead by Israeli police forces. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the attack.

This week, the Palestinian authorities also condemned Israeli raids in the West Bank and the killing of civilians as collective punishment, and urged the international community to intervene. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it held Israel fully responsible for the repercussions of its actions.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and controls more than 60% of its territory. It maintains a two-tier legal system there – one for the 5 million stateless Palestinians and one for Israeli settlers – and restricts Palestinian movement and other rights, a system that a growing number of groups and advocates human rights called apartheid.

The Israeli government, in response to a recent such accusation from a United Nations investigator, said it was unfair to blame Israel for the system given the threats posed by Palestinian armed groups in the occupied territories.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel had gone on the offensive.

“The State of Israel will do whatever is necessary to defeat this terrorism. We will settle accounts with all those who have been linked, directly or indirectly, to the attacks,” he said. “We will reach anywhere, anytime, to eradicate these terrorist operations.”

He said there were “no restrictions” on the country’s security forces.

Over the past week, Israeli forces have attacked Jenin almost every day or night, local officials and residents said. The city, like most Palestinian urban centers in the West Bank, is governed by the Palestinian Authority, but Israeli forces still routinely carry out night raids and arrests in these areas. In January, during one such raid in the village of Jiljilya, a 78-year-old American Palestinian died in custody.

Rather than containing the latest wave of attacks, Israel’s actions will have the opposite effect, a Western diplomat in Ramallah said. Israel’s aggressive approach risks creating a new cycle of frustration, desperation and casualties, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive political issues.

Before leaving for work each morning, Awartani checks the latest news on local social media.

“I’m scared to go to work and suddenly run into Israeli soldiers on the street and they’ll shoot me,” said the mother of three daughters, 7-year-old twins and a 3-year-old. “I could die. I could become paralyzed. So who is going to take care of my daughters?

Awartani works as an accountant at the notorious Freedom Theatre, the epicenter of cultural resistance in Jenin. The theater canceled its month-long program for all of Ramadan out of respect for those killed in Israeli raids on the city and its refugee camp.

Mustafa Sheta, the director of the theatre, said he was worried about taking his four children to school every morning, fearing that Israeli snipers were still positioned on the rooftops.

Awartani said his sister-in-law refused to go to sleep before her two college-aged sons, fearing they would leave the house at night and be shot in a raid.

“We are all afraid of losing our children,” Awartani said.

Jenin has also been the target of economic sanctions. On April 9, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz closed the border crossings between Jenin and Israel, preventing tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel from coming to Jenin for shopping – a major mainstay of the city’s economy.

Merchants and businessmen from Jenin who have permits to enter Israel were no longer allowed to cross, and the transport of all goods and products from Jenin was also banned. Permits that had been issued to 5,000 Jenin residents to visit relatives in Israel were also revoked.

Border crossings were reopened on Saturday, but it was unclear whether other restrictions would also be lifted.

“The goal is always to increase the pressure, but it never works. If it worked, you wouldn’t see the same cycle of violence that we see every year,” said Tahani Mustafa, West Bank analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Israel is recycling the same heavy-handed response to what it sees as a Palestinian provocation.”

Following last week’s attack in Tel Aviv, some Israelis said the violence evoked memories of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and its violent crackdown by Israel, a period of unrest that lasted from 2000 to 2005 and killed an estimated 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

For Palestinians too, Israel’s response evokes memories of the Intifada, which left visible scars in Jenin. In the part of town that was originally a refugee camp, bullet holes mark the walls of many buildings. Many homes were built after 2002, when Israel razed hundreds of buildings in response to a series of suicide bombings.

All along the walls are posters of those killed by Israel – some of them members of Palestinian militant groups, others civilians. The faces of those killed in the past week of violence have yet to be added to the walls of the camp.

On a recent morning, at intersections and roundabouts, school children walked past tires piled up like pillars and dumpsters used to block roads to slow down Israeli incursions. Hours after Israeli forces withdrew, a dumpster was still smoking as children drove home.

In a jewelry store in Jenin’s main shopping district, lights twinkled on rows of gold jewelry. But there were few buyers.

As Israel bans crossings into Jenin, business owners say they lost more than half of their customers before the end of Ramadan, one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year.

Jewelery owner Abdullah Dawaseh, 60, said that just as Palestinians survived the Intifada, they will survive this.

Hours earlier, the Israeli army had attacked a neighborhood less than half a mile from Commercial Street.

“When you punish an entire population, then the entire population will burst,” he said, speaking behind a counter full of diamond rings. “Just as they want to be safe when they go to market, we too want to be safe when we go to market.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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