This is the second in a series of articles. You can read the first article here.
Palestinians are subjected to constant humiliation, harassment and violence by the Israeli state. This has become so entrenched and normalised after 50 years of Israeli occupation that it rarely even makes the news. And this situation greatly favours Israel.
It’s impossible to recount all the violence I witnessed and the stories I heard from Palestinians about the personal loss and trauma they have faced. The Israeli state works aggressively to suppress these stories from the world outside, because they paint a sinister picture of Israel’s colonial-settler project in Palestine. These are just a small sampling of these stories.
A female faculty member and dean at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis
“I got pulled over by Israeli police this morning. He asked me to remove my contact lenses to check my eyes against my ID. He stared into my eyes for far too long, and I asked if he really needed this long to verify my identity. He retorted, you think I am staring into your eyes because they are that pretty?”
“We still have deeds of our house in Jaffa [ancient port city next to Tel Aviv in Israel] from the 1920s – long before Israel was created. Can the Israeli occupants of that house show me such a document?” [His grandparents fled their home in the face of Zionist militia violence in 1948 – part of a wider ethnic cleansing involving the destruction of over 500 villages and massacres of people in several parts of Palestine.]
“My grandfather was the governor of Haifa (city now in Israel) and lived in a mansion. He was evicted in 1948.”
A souvenir shop owner in Hebron’s Old City
“Israeli settlers have occupied the houses above and keep throwing trash down at us. You’ve seen it for yourself. Please tell the world.”
A faculty member at An-Najah University in Nablus
“We owned a house in the 1990s, overlooking the main road of our village. The Israeli army found it a convenient spot for surveillance of traffic and people. Israeli soldiers forcibly set up camp on top of our house and controlled entry into the house. On arriving home, we had to knock on the door until a soldier allowed us in. We were compelled to notify them in advance about any guests we expected.”
A faculty member at Al-Quds University
“My class was broken up by tear gas by an Israeli military raid of the campus. They destroyed equipment, tore down an exhibition on Palestinian political prisoners and threatened and intimidated us all. We write a note of condemnation on our website every time it happens, but no one bothers reading it.”
Faculty member at Birzeit University near Ramallah
“Our students are regularly held up at Israeli security checkpoints while travelling to university from their home towns, missing classes.”
A theatre actor at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin (a city in northern West Bank)
“School teachers in the Jenin refugee camp were among the first to be imprisoned when the first intifada began in 1988.”
PR team member at Al-Quds University
“I was walking on the street at 3 am when an Israeli military van approached. They threatened to bash me up if they saw me on the street again at that time of night.” [This was inside the West Bank. The very presence of Israelis here is illegal under international law.]
A professor at An-Najah University
“We wanted to use radiometers to measure solar energy on the Earth’s surface for climate research. The university bought one for $25,000 from an American company. It got shipped to Israel. However, Israeli forces denied permission for transfer to the West Bank, citing security concerns.” [Note: Radiometers have nothing to do with nuclear radiation. They measure only solar energy and have no application beyond academic research.]
Atta Jaber, a farmer
“They demolished our house twice, making my family instantly homeless.” [Around 50,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished by Israel since 1967. Since family sizes tend to be large in Palestine, this is the equivalent of many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Atta’s farm was bulldozed by the Israeli military during the time I was in Palestine.]
Zelikha, a resident of Hebron’s Old City in southern West Bank
“They closed off Shuhada street to Palestinians in the heart of our city and welded shut our door that led onto that street. I had to make a hole in the wall to my neighbour’s house, whose door leads to another street.”
Ahed Tamimi’s uncle in the village of Nabi Saleh
“They constantly raid our village and tear gas us indiscriminately. They do not even spare our children at play.”
A Palestinian friend
“We grow our own fruits and vegetables. But they built the Wall right next to the farm. Sometimes the Israelis put a gun to our heads and tell us to leave when we go there to cultivate. They give no reasons – just threats to follow orders, or be arrested or shot.”
A professor at An-Najah University in Nablus
“In 2001, they had blocked off the roads to the university. We started walking over the hills rather than take the direct route. It would take hours. Once, they put a gun to my head and told me to turn back.”
A young university student
“They shot my best friend at point blank range because she refused to remove her face veil for a male soldier and chose to walk away.”
Yet another student
“Our house was bombed in 2001.”
Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor at Bethlehem university and director of the Palestine Natural History Museum, about a friend whose house we visited
“Israel constructed this “security fence” right behind his house that cut him off from his grazing land and olive trees, which are now behind that barbed wire. His parents’ grave now lie just a few metres behind the fence, making it impossible for him to visit it. He went to court in Israel, which surprisingly ruled in his favour and the Israeli authorities had to find him a way to visit his parents’ grave. They built him a small tunnel under the fence to do so.” [We visited the same place a month later and found that the Israeli forces had blocked the tunnel in contravention of their own court’s orders.]
Mazin Qumsiyeh (paying his respects at his friend’s grave)
“This is my 19th friend I have lost to Israeli killing in the past ten years.”
A close friend (who wrote this in an email)
“Today, returning from Hebron, we got stuck in traffic near Hizma. There was a very uncomfortable energy. One of the few times when I didn’t feel safe. Soldiers were preventing people from entering Hizma village.
A guy was trying to convince soldiers to let him go home. In a split second, all hell broke loose. Soldiers dragged the man out of his truck; started beating him and others. A mother was screaming with panic: “My son”. One of those moments when I knew I had no control of the situation. Suddenly soldiers started shooting. Next to me was a four-year-old child. I was trying to assure her. Yet not so firmly.
I felt concerned for the guys between the arms of soldiers. The screaming mother. I had to accept that I can’t protect myself. It reminded of the complexity of the situation. Especially parents who disregard their own insecurity while trying to falsely reassure their children.
On a good note, there were both Arab and Israeli cars which surely prevented a massacre. After we survived the madness, I went swimming. Only after the swim did my body wake up to the shock. I was shaking. And my heart is worried about the future. Any segregation will definitely expose Palestinians to undesired events. We really need to work together as a human family to prevent such a path. All I pray for now is no guys are seriously hurt. And that the mother got her son back.”
The stories are endless – it is impossible to catalogue them all, given how the occupation invades, pervades and oppresses every aspect of a Palestinian’s life.
What does Israel have to gain from these seemingly senseless acts of violence, some so brutal and others so petty? For it to make sense, we must recognise that Israel’s end game is to annex most of the land remaining for Palestinians. Since formal annexation likely entails granting Israeli citizenship to people living on that land, Israel is attempting to drive as many Palestinians off this lands as possible. Humiliation and harassment are tools being used to force them to move away in search of a better life elsewhere, while making it appear voluntary to the world.
Chirag Dhara is a climate physicist with PhDs in theoretical physics and earth science. He is keenly interested in the Palestinian situation and visited the occupied West Bank for three months in early 2018 in solidarity with the Palestinians.