Middle East & North Africa

The Untold Story of Israel’s Soft Oppression


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October 20, 2015 23:50 EDT

Israeli forces target youth with provocative acts designed to trigger violence, in order to gain legitimacy in occupying more Palestinian territory.

On October 4, Fadi Aloon, 19, was chased by orthodox Jews. While offering no resistance, he was shot dead by an Israeli police officer just outside East Jerusalem. Police later revealed he stabbed a Jewish teenager.

The incident rocked an already tense moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with each side arguing over the legitimacy or disproportionate response of the Israeli officer. (A video subsequently surfaced in what appears to be a public execution.)

This dramatic episode reveals the complexity of everyday life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Moreover, given the emotional reactions it created on both sides, many observers have sought to understand what led Aloon to commit this seemingly impetuous act.

While grieving Palestinians now refer to him as a hero fighting the occupation, Israelis say the 19-year-old only serves as further proof of Palestinian terrorism. Once detached from those extremes, a deeper explanation can be found in the everyday lives of Palestinian youth—an untold, calculated system of Israeli-inflicted pressure and psychological harassment.

This article is not about the climate of tension that has resulted from Israeli demonstrations of force and violence stemming from the occupation, including night raids, house demolitions, clashes and murders. Nor is it about the harsh conditions implemented by Israel’s colonial policies cemented in law, which afflict Palestinian housing, education, health, hygiene, employment and even family unity.

Rather, it sheds light on the numerous “soft” acts of Israeli pressure that occur on a daily basis. Taken one-by-one, these actions do not seem dramatic to an outsider, especially when compared to the more direct examples of violence mentioned above. However, when they are perceived as a whole, the situation reveals that a tactical system exists, aimed at giving Israeli forces moral legitimacy when removing local populations, and therefore, when occupying more Palestinian land.

The situation in Silwan

Situated on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Silwan neighborhood is gradually disappearing as Jewish settlers are violently taking over the area.

Saber Abbassi, an employee of the Wadi Hilweh Silwan Information Center, gives concrete examples of this underlying oppression. For her, provocations against Arab residents of Silwan are omnipresent and particularly target young, fragile members of the community.

Abbassi recounts a story that occurred just a few months ago, when a police car was hit by a stone. The police subsequently searched the area and arrested a 13-year-old boy, solely on the basis that he was in the vicinity.

“This kid was retained in the police station for nine hours, forbidden to contact his parents, to use the bathroom and to have water or food,” she says. “He was threatened with imprisonment, to be separated from his family and also to be responsible for his father losing his job unless he admitted having thrown the stone.”

In another incident, Abbassi notes, a Silwan resident, after being arrested by the Israelis, was kept in an isolation compound for 20 days. At the time of his release, he was mentally unstable and had stopped eating and sleeping. “He had lost something there,” she says.

Beyond that, numerous families in the area have complained about police cars following children on their way to school. This begs the question: How can children going to school represent a threat to Israeli security, especially when no settlements or Israeli buildings are in the area?

Seemingly absurd sanctions are carried out to push individuals to their limits, Abbassi explains: “When one is put [in] jail for no reason, the feeling of frustration and anger is such that he or she will think, ‘Next time I would rather actually do something if I’m going to jail anyway.’”

It is here where the outcome of the Israeli pressure strategy appears.

Blurred victims

“We are a social and psychological center here, everyone has problems, and wherever you dig there is a story,” Abbassi says. She goes on to state that by traumatizing young spirits, and by implementing and intensifying a climate characterized by frustration and anger that leads to rash acts, Israeli officials are able to righteously call upon “necessary” defense and security measures in order to close schools or even evict Palestinian people from their homes.

If police cars continue to follow the children, Abbassi argues, “at some point a child will launch a stone and the Israeli authorities would shut the school for two months.”

Even if such Israeli measures are only perceived as small acts of pressure, their implementation is tactical, tending to increase during days or periods of symbolical value for Palestinians. On May 17, for example, Palestinian locals were driven away by Israeli police from Damascus Gate—the Israeli-annexed main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem—in order to allow Israelis to celebrate the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem.

Another example is the targeting of al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan, wherein measures such as cancelling access to the Haram al-Sharif, or even allowing settlers to enter the compound under the protection of Israeli special police units. On September 15, Israeli forces eventually stormed the mosque.

Abbassi asks, “Why are they targeting al-Aqsa? It is something special for us; it is hope for us that we will liberate Palestine. By taking al-Aqsa, what is left?”

Such Israeli “security” measures act like a noose, suffocating the Silwan youth, who are already traumatized from an early age and are left feeling as though there is no solution to their situation. Distraught in the face of what appears to be absurd, pointless cruelty, the youth undertake ill-advised actions: throwing stones or, in the worst cases, assaulting soldiers.

By creating this environment, Israeli security forces operate as though they are simply reacting to violence perpetrated against them first, while in fact they are the ones triggering the violence they punish in the end. By doing so, the Israelis legitimize their state crimes in front of local and international audiences.

Evading Media Attention

This “soft approach” of oppression, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator, remains unspoken of in the media because acts of violence, when looking at them individually, often lack historical context.

Indeed, when reviewing an article, newspapers have to evaluate the attractiveness of a story according to their editorial guidelines, audience and context. The Palestinian situation and its never-ending series of dramatic events takes precedence over the underlying actions explained here. Not concrete enough for headlines, these acts of oppression are not only neglected by mainstream media, but also those outlets specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, the issue of soft oppression does not reach the public or policymakers.

As the underlying context of pressure on Palestinian people is almost impossible to relay to interested individuals, the information published by the media is often incomplete and leads the public, with their preconceived perceptions, to draw wrong conclusions.

Among Palestinians in Silwan who endure this soft oppression, some will fall into the clutches of this strategy and commit rash acts. However, those actions, being devoid of any tactical approach or strategic thinking over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should not and cannot be considered terrorism. Rather, such actions must be evaluated, while also taking into account those Israeli acts of pressure within an Israeli-implemented state of terror.

If peace negotiations were set on bringing about a solution to the conflict, this would mean concessions on the Israeli side. If, on the other hand, Israel wants to build its future at the expense of Palestinians, it will face local and international resistance. In light of this, the Israeli strategy of planned acts of pressure appears to be the policy best-suited to its interests.

As Saber Abbassi notes, “With all that they [the Israelis] are doing, those children being arrested without any reasons, they are creating an enemy.”

By establishing itself in a position of defense, Israel has all the false legitimacy it requires to undertake its expansion over Palestinian territories.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

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