The increase in violence against Palestinians by Israel’s militant army and the armed Jewish settler movement is part of an intentional strategy by extremists in the Israeli government who have been given the green light to flex their muscles.
The level of violence directed against Palestinians was already on the rise last year, mostly driven by the escalating political rhetoric of Israel’s far right. In 2022, Israeli soldiers and armed settlers killed 146 Palestinians in the West Bank, 32 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and four Palestinians inside Israel, the highest total since 2004, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.
Among the 182 Palestinians killed were five unarmed women, 34 unarmed children and seven unarmed seniors. Israel justified all of the deaths by claiming they were targeting “terrorists” planning “terrorist attacks,” without providing any evidence or proof of this or prosecuting perpetrators in Israel’s lopsided judicial system.
During the same period, Palestinians responding to Israeli military incursions and armed settler assaults killed 17 Israelis, all of whom were armed.
Things are about to change, for the worse, as newly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to pander to the most extreme elements in Israeli society, a strategy designed to ensure his own political survival.
In the first four weeks of this year, Israel’s militant government has shown a determination to surpass last year’s total number of Palestinian deaths, so far killing more than 29, including five children.
The most recent Palestinian fatalities occurred this week, when the Israeli military attacked the city of Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp using a bulldozer that was driven through the streets, crushing civilian cars and damaging civilian properties in what many viewed as an intentional provocation of the Palestinians living there.
Of course Palestinian civilians will take to the streets to confront Israel’s armed extremists. They have every right to defend themselves, especially since Israeli authorities refuse to defend Palestinians or to lessen the excessive violence committed against civilians by the Israeli military and their armed settler cohorts.
The violence is not a coincidence and it revolves around two political issues: The push by the increasingly extremist Israeli right to control Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the need for Netanyahu to reinforce his new, far-right coalition government through tough assaults on Palestinians.
Netanyahu is fighting for his political life against three corruption indictments. He needs to control the government to prevent the cases against him from moving forward, and to do that he had to make a deal with extremist political allies who were the only parties willing to support him. In exchange for their backing, the extremists are allowed to unleash their violent hatred against the Palestinians.
For example, those extremists — including Israel’s new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu’s closest political ally — have ordered a ban on the display of the Palestinian flag and the arrest of Palestinians who fly it in Israel and the Occupied West Bank.
Ben-Gvir described the display of the Palestinian flag as “an act of terrorism” and a “threat to public order.” Unarmed Palestinian protesters caught displaying the flag have been beaten and arrested by armed soldiers and settlers.
Under Ben-Gvir’s leadership, settlers have also stepped-up Jewish incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Other measures being publicly discussed include a weakening of the power of the Israeli Supreme Court, even though only on a few occasions has it ruled against Israeli and settler violence.
And leaders of the Religious Zionist Party, a foundational part of Netanyahu’s coalition, have vowed to annex the West Bank and aggressively expand Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land there.
Netanyahu’s extremist and militant Israeli government has also tightened restrictions on Palestinian leaders. It even blocked Jordan’s Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali from entering Arab East Jerusalem through Bab Al-Asbat, the Lion’s Gate, to prevent him from praying at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel is also extending the delays that prevent sick Palestinians from receiving life-saving medical care. For example, Mahmoud Al-Kurd, 45, from Deir Al-Balah, who has metastatic cancer, was forced to wait five months for permission to receive radiotherapy. When it was finally granted, the cancer had spread too much for the treatment to help.
His is not an isolated case. For instance, Akram Al-Sultan, 61, from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, was denied permission to receive cancer treatment in East Jerusalem.
Cancer victims such as these are not included among the statistics on fatalities caused by Israel’s assault on Jenin and the West Bank but they should be.
While coverage of Israel’s growing and violent militancy is sparse in the Western news media, which embraces Israeli government propaganda that claims the violence is the result of Palestinian attacks, human rights groups such as B’Tselem are doing their best to document the truth and gather evidence that points the finger of blame squarely at Israel.
That is one reason why Israeli authorities have sought to shut down these human rights groups: To silence them and hide the evidence and facts.
Although Israel has much of the mainstream Western media in a self-applied censorship headlock, videos of Israel’s recent assault on Jenin are widely available on TikTok. Unlike Facebook, which bans or censors videos showing Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinian areas such as Jenin, TikTok allows them to be posted. That is one reason for the rise in calls from pro-Israel members of the US Congress to ban TikTok in America.
Israeli authorities can censor and twist the facts all they want but Palestinians, and much of the Arab world, can see the truth, and believe Palestinians have an inalienable right to defend themselves against armed aggression from a militant and lawless Israeli military and its armed settler cohorts.
The violence is only going to get worse and Netanyahu will be hard pressed to convince his allies in the Arab world that his government is not responsible.