Israel’s massive crackdown in the West Bank, which was sparked by the disappearance of three Israeli students on June 12, has now entered its 13th day and shows no sign of letting up.
The incursion, dubbed “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” has killed five Palestinians, arrested at least 361, raided some 1,600 locations, and put the entire southern region of the West Bank, and most major Palestinian cities under total lockdown. Of the hundreds of Palestinians arrested, very few have been formally charged, but rather are being held on “administrative detention.”
Israel has said that Operation Brother’s Keeper is intended to find and arrest those responsible for the kidnappings, which it insists is Hamas, despite offering no public proof of this allegation. But the reality of the situation — demonstrated by powerful images and the facts above — hints that the core of this crackdown is rooted in something other than the hunt for the missing teenagers.
“The response we’re seeing really suggests it is not about the crime,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine Center and The Jerusalem Fund, told VICE News. “It has provided an opportunity for Israel to impose a sweeping attack on Hamas, which imposes a severe cost on Palestinian society.”
Israel does not deny this. Speaking to reporters on June 17, Israeli Major General Nitzan Alon said: “We are fighting Hamas, a cruel terror organization. The operation against it is complicated and protracted. It didn't start today and it's not going to end anytime soon."
Alon added that the heads of Hamas are “feeling the hits and understand the message."
'The broader policy of collective punishment towards Palestinians has been a feature of Israel’s occupation since it began in 1967.'
But the effect of this onslaught is not just directed at Hamas. “This cost is felt in all segments of Palestinian society,” Munayyer added. “Both for Hamas but also many, many people who are not.”
So while the severity of this operation might the greatest in years — the numbers of Palestinians arrested and Israeli troops that have been deployed in the West Bank is the highest since the Second Intifada — its fundamental tactics are nothing new. Night-time raids, administrative detention, and the use of live fire on demonstrators have been happening on a pretty routine basis in the West Bank for decades, said Munayyer.
What’s more, the broader policy of collective punishment towards Palestinians has been a feature of Israel’s occupation since it began in 1967. The Gaza Strip provides perhaps the clearest evidence of this, whose entire population has experienced routine bombardment and a strict blockade for the past seven years.
The reality of the operation reveals that its broader intention is to quell dissent and send a message.
Collective punishment is specifically banned under the fourth Geneva Convention, where it is defined as punishment for an “offense he or she has not personally committed” and considered a measure of “intimidation or of terrorism.”
The reality of the operation reveals that its broader intention is to quell dissent and send a message. It is unclear why, for instance, that while on the hunt for the missing teenagers, Israeli forces have been raiding college campuses and confiscating computers and personal property. Or why, after Israel narrowed the hunt to the Hebron region in the south of the West Bank, the northern cities of Nablus and Jenin have been regularly raided.
This use of blind force as part of a “strategic deterrence” policy will not achieve any positive effects but will also actively incite further anger and frustration, as Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab pointed out yesterday in his column for Al Monitor. "While such brutality and punishment of the innocent might have temporary results, it's unlikely to stop Palestinian demands for the end of the occupation and the exit of a hostile settler population that has been rammed down Palestinian throats," Kuttab wrote. "What makes the Israeli 'strategic deterrence' unworkable is that it does not come as part of a comprehensive plan that has a political component."
The fundamental reality is that there is one state that controls the population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, with a monopoly on state-sanctioned violence. Operation Brother’s Keeper has served as a reminder that this violence can be unleashed at full-force at any point.
“This is what a military occupation is,” said Munayyer. “It is ruled by a blunt instrument, and not one that in any way has regard for the rights of the people which it rules.”
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