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'I hear the sound of helicopters overhead and the piercing sound of police sirens. The violence has been appalling'

The second week of October saw the highest number of Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Israel recorded in a single week since 2005.

Garry Walsh

SITTING IN EAST Jerusalem I can hear the near-constant sound of helicopters overhead. The piercing sound of police sirens race by, which makes me fear there has been yet another attack and further loss of both Palestinian and Israeli civilian life.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing for decades, and this region is no stranger to horrifying human rights abuses.

But the last few weeks have been marked by an appalling wave of violence that has shocked both Israeli and Palestinian societies, and brought the conflict back to the attention of world media.

Israeli civilians have been stabbed by Palestinians, with attacks now happening on an almost daily basis. Palestinians have been victims of shootings by Israeli forces, as well as attacks by violent settlers. Children have been killed on both sides.

Not seen this level of unrest in some time

It may be premature to talk of third Intifada (Palestinian uprising), but certainly there hasn’t been this level of unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank for a long time.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the second week of October saw the highest number of Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Israel recorded in a single week since 2005.

The Israeli government has introduced tough new measures to respond to the unrest, which seem short-sighted and infringe upon the basic rights of Palestinians.

Entire Palestinian neighbourhoods have been closed off in East Jerusalem, live ammunition has been fired on demonstrators, including children, while the families of attackers have been threatened with deportation and house demolition. These measures constitute collective punishment and they seem destined to only fuel further resentment.

An Israeli organisation, Hamoked, is challenging through the courts the planned demolitions of homes of the families of accused attackers. Often houses of neighbours are also demolished in the process.

Shoot to kill 

Other organisations have raised concerns about Israeli police operating a ‘shoot to kill’ policy on accused assailants. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation supported by Trócaire, has said that “video footage published by the media raises grave concern that the security forces shot to kill even when it was clear that the Palestinians no longer posed a threat and could be apprehended in other ways”.

They are demanding investigations be opened into these cases.

Nine Israeli human rights organisations, including Hamoked, B’Tselem and Gisha, have called for an alternative approach to collective punishment based on addressing the root causes of the prolonged occupation of Palestine.

They have called on the Israeli government to “end the reality of ongoing and daily oppression faced by some four million people who live without hope of any change in the situation, without any horizon for the end of occupation, and without prospects for a life of liberty and dignity”.

Credible peace process

This current wave of violence has its roots in a Palestinian youth deprived of rights and economic development, and frustrated by a lack of a credible peace process.

Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, has quite rightly highlighted some of the root causes in “policies on the ground intended to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem in favour of settlers, the absence of any political process or perspective which might promise an end to this situation, and among Palestinians the consequent loss of authority by political leaders and belief in a political path”.

Over two decades of failed peace negotiations have left the Palestinian population without hope.

The non-violent approach of diplomacy no longer appeals to this youth as an effective means of claiming their rights.

What drives a 13-year old Palestinian boy to try and stab an Israeli soldier, knowing with almost certainty that he will be killed in the attempt? The social media pages of these young Palestinians have often included farewell messages posted before the attack.

These attacks are a form of suicide. The absence of peace, the absence of dignity and the absence of hope is a dangerous place, and it feels as if some Palestinian youth want to walk into the abyss.

To restore hope we need to demonstrate that non-violent approaches can work. We need a meaningful peace process. We need the international community to step up pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestine, which is ongoing for nearly half a century.

Ireland should champion human rights, step up the pressure, and galvanize other EU member states to take concerted action. International pressure is a non-violent tactic that has helped create change in places like South Africa, Iran and Myanmar. We need to demonstrate that it can work for the people of Palestine and Israel.

Garry Walsh is Trócaire’s Programme Officer for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

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Garry Walsh

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