Israel has restricted the movement of of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and arrested hundreds in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. Arrests have included Palestinian parliament members and prisoners released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
Text by Michael Omer-Man
Photos by Tess Scheflan and Oren Ziv / Activestills.org
Since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped outside a West Bank settlement six days ago, the Israeli military has placed massive and arbitrary restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in most of the southern West Bank.
The entire city of Hebron has been under complete closure for days, and a number of other major checkpoints in the southern West Bank, everything south of Bethlehem, have been closed to Palestinian traffic. Impromptu or temporary checkpoints have been erected elsewhere, restricting freedom of movement.
Arbitrary travel restrictions were placed on Palestinians whose official place of residence is Hebron, including preventing certain categories of Hebronites from leaving the West Bank to Jordan.
A consortium of Palestinian human rights organizations on Tuesday described the restrictions, closures and arrests as collective punishment.
“Although some of the measures carried out by the Israeli forces in large parts of the West Bank may have a link to the investigation into the disappearances, the methods employed are indiscriminate in their nature and are undermining the fundamental rights of the persons concerned,” the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) wrote in a statement.
The group added that such actions indicate punitive measures against large portions of a protected population, therefore, violating Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. An official Palestinian government statement leveled similar accusations.
Israeli military and political officials have stated clearly that in addition to freeing the kidnapped Israeli teenagers, the current operation has a second goal: damaging Hamas’ military, social and media infrastructure in the West Bank.
The Israeli military has arrested over 260 Palestinians since the disappearance of the three teenagers, according Addameer, a Palestinian human rights organization that focuses on prisoners.
On Tuesday night alone, Israel arrested some 65 Palestinians, among whom the Israeli military said were 50 former prisoners who were freed in the swap that saw captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit released from Hamas captivity in 2011.
Israel has also arrested a large number of high-ranking Hamas officials in the West Bank, including a number of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and its parliamentary speaker.
In the past, the Israeli military has captured senior members of enemy groups with whom it expects to conduct prisoner swap deals. Israel undertook a nearly identical arrest operation against Hamas political figures and parliamentarians in the West Bank after Gilad Schalit was captured on the Gaza border.
Dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes that broke out during Israeli military arrest raids throughout the West Bank in recent days. One man was killed in such clashes in a refugee camp adjacent to Ramallah.
The arrest raids have taken place both in areas under full Israeli military control, as well as deep within cities classified as Area A, which under the Oslo Accords are supposed to be under full Palestinian security and civil control.
Settler attacks against Palestinian civilians have also taken place on a nearly daily basis since the kidnappings. The Israeli military has stopped a majority of such attacks, but at least a handful of Palestinians have been wounded and there have been at least a dozen cases of property damage.
In one case, a Palestinian man was struck in the face by a rock thrown by settlers near the notorious Yitzhar settlement, and subsequently hospitalized. (Graphic photo here.) In the same area of the northern West Bank, settlers have thrown stones at passing Palestinian cars, injuring at least three.
In another case in the southern West Bank, some 30 settlers invaded the Palestinian village of Susya and threw stones at homes. They reportedly attempted to attack a 13 year old, but were prevented from doing so.
In addition, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired rockets into Israeli territory on an almost nightly basis since last Wednesday and Israeli warplanes and helicopters have responded by launching airstrikes in the Strip, killing one man and a seven-year-old child, and injuring at least two others. No Israelis have been injured from the rocket fire.
The three Israeli teenagers are still unaccounted for and no Palestinian group has made a credible claim of responsibility. Israel has accused Hamas of being behind the kidnapping but the Islamic group has not claimed responsibility and called such accusations “stupid.” No ransom or other demands have been made by any Palestinian group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week told the public not to expect a quick end of the military operations seeking to return them.
More on the kidnappings:
Matar: Israel’s crackdown moves beyond Hamas militants
Badawi: After indicting Hamas, Netanyahu declares war on all Palestinians
Sheizaf: Reward activism and diplomacy, not violence