Israel Aiming Punitive Measures at Soft Targets

RAMALLAH – As the international community becomes increasingly critical of Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Israeli-Arabs and the brutal occupation in the Palestinian West Bank, the Israeli authorities are venting their anger against soft targets such as Arab-Israeli parliamentarians and Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent peace activists.

The majority of Knesset members recently voted in favor of stripping Israel-Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges following her participation in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza last year.

The flotilla tried to break Israel’s crippling siege on the Gaza Strip. Nine people were shot dead—some of them at point-blank range—by Israeli commandos after some of the passengers resisted the commandos.

Zoabi, a slight woman, was arrested and initially accused of trying to stab a commando. “It was ridiculous. I just laughed when they made the accusations. I never even tried to resist. They knew the charges were false and subsequently withdrew them. They are just trying to persecute me politically,” Zoabi told IPS.

An Israeli high court will shortly rule on Zoabi’s petition against having her parliamentary privileges revoked. These include the withdrawal of her diplomatic passport, entitlement to financial assistance for legal assistance, and the right to visit countries with which Israel does not have political ties.

“The right-wing consensus in the Knesset is trying to punish me and prevent my freedom of expression,” she said as she arrived at the court last week.

Israel’s crackdown on dissent continued when the Knesset recently approved a law that would enable Israel’s Supreme Court to revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of espionage, treason, or aiding the enemy during war. The problem is the interpretation of this law, which is wide open to Israeli sensitivity to any criticism, however legitimate and nonviolent.

The move follows the Knesset voting overwhelmingly, earlier in the year, in favor of a legislative commission of inquiry to investigate the funding and activities of leftist Israeli organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, as well as other critical NGOs.

Pro-Palestinian Israeli activists are also being targeted. The Israeli authorities have admitted to forming a special police unit to monitor Israeli protesters in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Every Friday, for the last couple of years, hundreds of Israeli peace activists have been peacefully protesting the eviction of Palestinian residents from their homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlers.

Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, has also monitored the telephone calls of Israeli activists and summoned a number of them for interrogation.

Yonatan Shapira, a former Israel Air Force (IAF) pilot and a member of the organization Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall (AAW)—the separation barrier that divides Israel proper from the West Bank but diverges off the internationally recognized Green Line and into Palestinian territory—is one of them. Shapira co-authored the Pilot’s Letter in 2003.

Together with 30 other IAF pilots, Shapira signed the letter, which stated: “We the undersigned are no longer willing to be part of the indiscriminate attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories. We declare our refusal to participate in what we believe to be illegal and immoral activities.”

Another Israeli member of AAW, Yonatan Pollack, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment at the beginning of the year after he took part in a bicycle protest against Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the war on Gaza in 2008-2009. He was the only protester arrested and charged.

But Pollack has been a thorn in the side of the Israeli authorities for some time now. As a spokesman for the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees and a regular participant in West Bank protests against the separation barrier, he as been arrested and beaten on numerous occasions.

Meanwhile, on the ground in the occupied West Bank the Israeli military continues to attempt to crush dissent and popular revolt in several Palestinian villages where weekly protests against the separation barrier and illegal settler annexation of Palestinian land have grown.

Last Saturday, 19 Israeli peace activists were arrested, several beaten and all imprisoned overnight when they held an impromptu nonviolent protest outside the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, in the southern West Bank.

The activists were protesting the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) siege on the village, which had lasted several weeks. Entrances to Beit Ummar were closed with concrete blocks and metal gates manned by Israeli soldiers. Residents were unable to leave or enter to attend school or work or to go shopping.

The IDF was enforcing a collective punishment on the little town in response to a spate of stone- and Molotov-throwing at Israeli settler cars by Palestinian youth. The attacks came after one of the settlers opened fire on a funeral procession in Beit Ummar killing one Palestinian.

“The army has crossed another red line,” Micha Kurz, a long-time Jerusalem peace activist told Israeli-American journalist Joseph Dana. “The soldiers acted as if they’d thought about how much they hate leftist Jews before we arrived and then just unleashed fury on us,” Kurz recalled.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Mel Frykberg

Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.