Israel escalates attacks in Palestinian territories in response to attacks

JENIN, West Bank – Ramadan evenings in this Palestinian city are usually spent getting up late and watching drama and comedy series in high season on TV, praying or drinking coffee and smoking hookahs in cafes that are open all night.

But this year in Jenin, in the midst of a widespread Israeli military operation across the occupied West Bank, residents are getting up late and waiting for the next military attack in their city.

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

In the past week, Israeli forces have carried out a widespread campaign of raids on cities across the West Bank, in response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. The Israeli authorities have imposed temporary economic sanctions and arrested dozens of people.

Israel says the intensified military activities are a fight against terrorism to prevent further attacks and that it has focused them on the hometowns and villages of recent invaders. Palestinian residents and critics, however, say the operation is equivalent to collective punishment and is counterproductive, as it will only boost the cycle of hatred and bloodshed.

At least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of Ramadan on April 2, including 16-year-old Mohammad Zakarneh, who was shot and killed on Sunday during one of the Israeli raids in Jenin, his mother said. He left work in a grocery store and was on his way home to break his fast Ramadan. The Israeli military will not comment on his death.

Also killed was Ghada Sabteen, 47, a widow and mother of six, who was shot in the leg as she approached soldiers at a checkpoint near Bethlehem. Palestinian authorities have called for an investigation into her killings, but the Israeli military has not commented on whether it would commit one.

On Wednesday, Mohammad Assaf, a 34-year-old lawyer, was shot in the chest and killed during a raid in the town of Nablus, allegedly shortly after handing over his children at the school.

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

This week, Palestinian authorities also condemned Israel’s raids on the West Bank and the killing of civilians, called for collective punishment, and called on the international community to intervene. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it held Israel fully responsible for the consequences of its actions.

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

The Israeli government said in response to a recent such indictment by a UN investigator that it was unfair to blame Israel for the system given the threats posed by armed Palestinian groups in the occupied territories.

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

“The state of Israel will do everything necessary to overcome this terrorism. We will do away with everyone who was connected, either directly or indirectly, to the attacks,” he said, adding: “We will reach everywhere where it is necessary, at all times, to eradicate these terrorist operations. “

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

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

Instead of limiting the latest wave of attacks, Israel’s actions will have the opposite effect, a Western diplomat in Ramallah said. The aggressive Israeli approach risks creating a new cycle of frustration, despair and sacrifice, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive political issues.

Before she goes to work every morning, Ms. Awartani checks the latest news on local social media.

“I fear I could go to work and suddenly encounter Israeli soldiers on the street and they could shoot me,” the mother of three girls, 7-year-old twins and a 3-year-old, said. “I could die, I could become paralyzed. So who will take care of my daughters? ”

Ms. Awartani works with accounting at the well-known Freedom Theater, the epicenter of cultural resistance in Jenin. The theater canceled its month of programming throughout Ramadan out of respect for those killed during Israeli raids on the city and its refugee camp.

Mustafa Sheta, the theater’s manager, said he feared taking his four children to school every morning, worried Israeli snipers might still be placed on the roofs.

Ms. Awartani said her sister-in-law refused to go to bed before her two college-age sons did, fearing they would leave the house at night and be shot dead during a raid.

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

Jenin was also hit by financial sanctions. On April 9, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz closed border crossings between Jenin and Israel, preventing tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens in Israel from coming to Jenin to shop – an important pillar of the city’s economy.

Jenin’s merchants and businessmen who are allowed to enter Israel were no longer allowed to cross, and transportation 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 be lifted as well.

“The goal is always to increase the pressure, but it never works. If it worked, you would not see the same cycle of violence that we see every year,” said Tahani Mustafa, West Bank analyst at International Crisis Group. “Israel recycles the same harsh response to what it sees as Palestinian provocation. “

In the wake of last week’s attack in Tel Aviv, some Israelis said the violence had brought back memories of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and its violent repression of Israel, a period of unrest that lasted from 2000 to 2005 and killed approx. . 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

Also for the Palestinians, Israel’s response evokes memories of the intifada, which has left scars still visible in Jenin. In the part of the city that emerged as a refugee camp, bullet holes mark the walls of many buildings. Many homes were built after 2002, when Israel leveled hundreds of buildings in response to a series of suicide bombings.

Everywhere along the walls are posters of those killed by Israel – some of them members of Palestinian militant groups, some of them civilians. The faces of those killed in last week’s violence have not yet been added to the camp walls.

One recent morning at intersections and roundabouts, school children walked past decks stacked like pillars and containers used to block roads to slow down Israeli intrusion. A few hours after Israeli forces withdrew, a garbage container was still smoldering as children walked home.

In a jewelry store in Jenin’s largest shopping district, lights flashed from rows of gold jewelry. But there were few buyers.

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

The jewelry store owner, Abdullah Dawaseh, 60, said that just as the Palestinians had survived the intifada, they would survive this one.

Hours earlier, the Israeli military had looted a block less than half a mile from the commercial move.

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

Reporting is contributed by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad in Haifa, Myra Noveck in Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman in Rehovot, Israel.

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