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Frontline: East Jerusalem

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At the United Nations back in October, many people expected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop a ‘bombshell’; a message that would shake up the status quo in Palestinian-Israeli relations. Restrained by the usual parties, Abbas’ message was no different than his usual, mealy-mouthed utterances that ‘we’re really not so thrilled about what’s happening’; that mock defiance and say nothing. It is no surprise that his popularity continues to drop at a time when furious outcries are breaking out of another decade of degradation.

Funnily enough, writers and activists long familiar with Israel’s endless record of brutality in Palestine still refer to escalating violence as a result of ‘the failed peace process’.  The what? When was there a ‘peace process’ between Israel and the Palestinians? Does anyone still believe that a ‘just peace’ process was put in place in 1993 or 1995 – or at any time before or after those dates? If that myth hasn’t been blasted away by now, it is because bobble-heads in Tel Aviv and Washington have created a fun-house looking glass through which Americans are made to understand a seriously distorted picture of the outside world.

Is it any wonder that US-Israeli actions over the past 22 years have significantly worsened? That a United Nations report concludes that the continued deterioration of conditions on the ground for approximately 4.5 million people in Gaza Strip will render it “uninhabitable” by 2020 (UN UNCTAD Report, Sept 1st, 2015)? and that the ongoing denial of basic human rights in the West Bank have made the atmosphere there more heated and tempestuous than it has been since the military crackdowns of the second Intifada (uprising)? Surely Abbas recognizes that his “security arrangements” with Israel transformed his own fighting forces into Israel’s proxy police. If he isn’t there yet, he is miles behind his own people and gradually falling out of sight.

Give it up, Mahmoud. Give back the Occupation’s lock-up keys and wash your hands of their stench. Throw away the shreds of paper you’ve been hauling around like fool’s gold since you assumed power. Israel isn’t honoring any covenant but its own. The covenant that details how to grab your people’s land and lives, incrementally and outright, using every stone under the desert sun as an excuse. Where are the improvements in the conditions in which your compatriots live? Where is their security when occupation tanks roll over your land to crush you in ‘self defense’? What have the deaths of thousands meant if they fail to prevent the process of annexation and national, cultural annihilation? Allow resistance to bloom or you’ll be complicit in the fate of the Red Man of the Middle East.

Why has Justice burned up for the Dawabshe family? Where were the handcuffs before Huthaifa Abu Suleiman was gunned down with live fire west of Tulkarem for protesting Jewish setters’ attacks in illegally annexed Jerusalem – the epicenter of the coming revolt? Why are Israeli forces always at the ready to attack hundreds of Palestinian civilians in their own East Jerusalem neighborhoods? Why should these same civilians not protest the murders of Fadi Alouon and Muhannad al-Halabi? Why did the Israeli police patrol 19-year-old Aloun was running to for protection execute him at the demands of settler fanatics chasing him through the streets of East Jerusalem? Why was 13-year-old Abed Obeidallah shot in the chest  during a clash between protesters and Israeli security forces near Bethlehem?

Should villagers in the surrounding neighborhoods of Silwan, al-Eisawiya, at-Tour, As-Souwana, al-Jouz valley, Shu’eifat, Beit Hanina, Abu Dis, and al-Aizariya stay quiet when Israeli forces use live ammunition, rubber coated metal bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters to punish collectively anyone protesting the violation and possible partition of a sacred religious site; against people who object to seeing their friends, neighbors or family members kicked and beaten for exercising their legal right to resist?

When the Palestinian Red Crescent Society reports 171 Palestinians wounded by live bullets, rubber coated metal bullets and bullet shrapnel do military strategists and lay people expect this will quell the spirits of an increasingly restive and angry population? Will imprisoning and beating children who throw stones at heavily armed, battle trained soldiers cause them or their neighbors to reconsider rejecting their oppression?

For nearly 30 years news reports have remained the same with different variables. Israeli military forces still deliberately target Palestinian ambulances, as they did on Oct. 4th, 2015 in front of a university in Abu Dis, and again in the village of al-Issawiya? Why did they beat the ambulance crew near Taweel Mountain outside el-Bireh and arrest a wounded child who’d been inside the ambulance after dragging him face down by his feet, throwing him on the ground and beating him? Why did the police attack the ambulance after putting the wounded boy in it, and then prevent it from leaving to take the boy to hospital? Why was the ambulance driver forced to turn off the ambulance and hand over his key?  There are no answers, only clear signs that the army of occupation is closing in on al-Aqsa.

Why were bypass roads closed down and armed soldiers deployed at checkpoints, and why did they proceed to humiliate the Palestinians forced to use those checkpoints? Why have home demolitions begun again with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu instructing “Justice” Minister, Ayelet Shaked to speed up the process by which homes can be destroyed? (Haaretz)The international community, including Israel, knows that collective punishment, excessive use of force, detaining or imprisoning children indefinitely often without charge, targeting civilians, the civilian infrastructure, humanitarian aid convoys with food and medical supplies, and firing at ambulances are grave violations of international laws. Netanyahu and his gang of thugs don’t care. They are preparing for “all out war”. Judging by the response, neither do the so-called Great Powers. “Terrorism” is still the word of choice used to describe even non-violent resistance to occupation, while in Israel people are complaining that the tactics used by occupation soldiers against Palestinian protesters are not harsh enough. “No one anywhere will have immunity,” Netanyahu said at a 5-hour cabinet meeting on Tuesday referring in part, one can assume, to the stricter rules against anyone caught throwing stones against armed occupation soldiers.

No US president, including “tough on Israel” President Barack Obama, has demanded that Israel refrain from its predictable patterns of violence, its accelerated building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the theft of natural resources, its indifference to refugees, and its tightening grip on the Old City of Jerusalem. US Calls for “restraint” are hollow protests. In practice, they are affirmations of long-established, acceptable behavior by US allies with the possible caveat that they occur as far away from independent media lenses as possible. The attack  on Al Mayadeen journalist Hanaa Abdel Hamid Mahamid, 30, who sustained moderate burns on the left side of her face, neck, and ear after being injured by an Israeli fired stun grenade demonstrates the effort to silence unwanted reporting.  Spin in a fable or two for ‘reasonable doubt’ and anyone can be exonerated, including (among others) the most notorious apologists, advocates, and executors of mass killing such as Moshe Ya’alon, Shaul Mofaz, Shimon Peres, Ayelet Shaked, Isaac Herzog, Ehud Barak, Tipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu – to say nothing of Ariel Sharon. If the past three wars against the Gaza Strip haven’t demonstrated this, nothing will.

Importantly, over the last 5 years alone, Gaza has been transformed from a desert slum into a wilderness of concrete ruins, dried up farmlands, minimally-functioning, half-destroyed cities and refugee camps with increasingly intermittent water and electricity. The last pools of resilience are shrinking. Poverty, a sense of powerlessness, food insecurity, and desperation define a population consigned to global solitary confinement. Their isolation, compounded by an eight-year long official blockade of the Strip, contributes to the nightmares of hundreds of thousands of children who, with their families, are fighting post traumatic stress disorders, dire medical shortages and inadequate facilities, persistent fear, deep emotional scars and the loss, among far too many, of the will to live. “If we cannot kill you in death, we will kill you in life,” wrote an activist describing this occupation’s goals. (Journal of Palestine Studies; “Return to Rafah”; 2004.) As Gaza withers, attention is focused increasingly on completing the de facto annexation of the West Bank; the ‘Gaza-fication’ of the remaining Palestinian ‘island’ communities. Slowly, often subversively, the people of these indigenous communities are disappearing. Israel can tolerate only a small remnant of Palestine’s past; tourist attractions like the Navajo or the Sioux.

Fully aware of the tumult raging across the region, Obama has presented Israel with a glittering new gift bag of weapons. These Israel will use for practice on its captive population and as yet another insurance policy against Iran and any other potential adversary. Israel is the nuclear-favored protege of the paramount power in world politics. Washington is its role model; its power has paved the way for global terror and cataclysmic violence. Fragmented, crushed and divided states have given way to power vacuums and sectarian bloodshed, filled in places by villainous and extremist gangs, often armed with the weapons we left behind, and spreading far across the region like ISIS in Yemen. These are the twisted outgrowths of a century of colonial hegemony and imperial hubris.

Watching Israel’s self-serving aggression from afar is like living in a straightjacket of frustration. Standing on the streets where these events are taking place forces you onto the edges of life where a chaos of bullets, dust and grit engulfs you and steals away your children. ‘So foul a sky clears not without a storm.’* Reality is a gaping, bloody wound threatening the beating heart of your world. East Jerusalem is the epicenter of a new revolt. Al-Aqsa will be its rallying cry.

This essay originally appeared in the October print issue of CounterPunch magazine.

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Jennifer Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at at Penn State University.  She can be reached at: amadea311@earthlink.net

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