Every overture of peace made by the Palestinians in recent times, has been met with Israeli silence or violence. Last week, Israel said it would not negotiate with the Palestinian unity government signed off by Fatah and Hamas leaders in the Saudi-brokered Mecca Agreement. A few days later, Israel began a series of aggressive incursions into the beleaguered city of Nablus, deep inside the occupied West Bank. Returning again barely 24 hours later, Israel continued the “Hot Winter” offensive by sending 100 tanks and heavily armoured vehicles thundering into Nablus–a blatant provocation that could well trigger a new spate of violence.
Israeli soldiers began forcing Palestinian families out of their homes at gunpoint whilst looking for the relatives of “Wanted Palestinians”. Homes were vandalised and young men were blindfolded, handcuffed and arrested. There was no discriminating between the relatives: an old man with a heart condition and a 5-month pregnant woman were amongst those rounded up and kept under surveillance at a city school. Since the incursions began, some 150 Palestinian civilians have been detained. One man was killed and at least 30 people have been injured.
Large areas of this city of 50,000 people are now being held under military curfew, and once again, Palestinians are being confined to their homes for an indeterminate period. This, of course, has terrible implications for the sick and elderly who are not able to even seek medical assistance. Medics have had to find ways of reaching patients in crisis putting their own lives at risk, particularly since soldiers have taken up positions in peoples’ homes and are using the rooftops as sniper towers. Soldiers have also stationed themselves in the corridors of Rafidiya Hospital and are checking IDs and the belongings of doctors, patients and staff. The old city of Nablus is progressively turning into rubble as soldiers and bulldozers arbitrarily destroy buildings that they decide are security risks.
There is nothing new in all this: Israel has been executing such military operations in Palestinian cities and towns for decades. However, Nablus has borne the brunt of nightly military invasions that never make the media: only some do. Last year, a three day invasion destroyed priceless records covering more than 100 years of Palestinian history from the Ottoman Empire to the present day. As well, thousands of personal identification records were destroyed in a move seen by many as a deliberate act to strip the Palestinians of their identity. And what better way to break the economic centre of the occupied West Bank than to cut Nablus off from every other city and town. It also gives Israel carte blanche to collectively punish the civilian population using whatever methods will further subjugate a people already suffering under its Machiavellian occupation.
On any level of human existence, humiliating and terrorising a city’s population is bound to give rise to resistance. Israel’s claims that such incursions prevent terrorist attacks have not been borne out. There will always be those prepared to fight off their oppressors and the more brutal the response from the military, the more intense the resistance will be. This has been well and truly demonstrated in the forty years of oppression the Palestinians have already endured. The only conclusion that one can draw from Israel’s refusal to recognise the unity government, and Israel’s dangerous provocations in an already volatile situation, is that Israel is not interested in peace with the Palestinians. This raises the question–how does Israel expect to have peace without them?
If it’s not Nablus, it is Jenin or Gaza or any one of the other Palestinian cities and neighbourhoods regularly targeted by Israel’s military that leads to the seeds of discontent being sown from one generation to the next. The damage Israel has wrought on Palestinian society is enormous. Peace cannot come by drawing up unilateral borders, but only through engaging, making real concessions and genuine efforts to see justice done. A “Hot Winter” offensive is just a military solution by yet another euphemistic name. In such a milieu, peace will most likely be held to ransom indefinitely.
SONJA KARKAR is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia.