Amid W. Bank violence, Arab parties bring treatment of Palestinians to campaign fore

With Israel imposing lockdown and conducting raids in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat after soldier’s killing, Hadah-Ta’al and Balad see little difference in so-called ‘change government’

MK Ahmad Tibi, head of the Ta'al party, visits the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. (Courtesy: Ta'al)
MK Ahmad Tibi, head of the Ta'al party, visits the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. (Courtesy: Ta'al)

In a newly released campaign ad Thursday, the Arab-majority Hadah-Ta’al party accused Israeli leaders of “murdering and dancing on the blood” of Palestinians.

“The will of our Palestinian people will be victorious in freedom,” the clip declared.

In similar vein, while visiting Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem this week, MK Ahmad Tibi of Hadash-Ta’al denounced the “collective punishment” he said was being imposed on the camp’s residents as security forces hunt for the alleged killer of an Israeli soldier.

“Ending the tenure of [Benjamin] Netanyahu is essential, but not enough. It is now necessary to change the dominant policy in Israel. The race to the right is something we have a duty to stop,” Tibi told The Times of Israel Tuesday, citing multiple examples of discriminatory policies against Palestinians.

Since Sunday, Israeli security forces have been scouring Shuafat and nearby areas of East Jerusalem in search of Udai Tamimi, a Palestinian man accused of gunning down 18-year Israeli soldier Noa Lazar at the Shuafat checkpoint. Operations in the camp, into which Tamimi escaped immediately after the shooting, have led to the arrest of multiple alleged collaborators.

Security forces have deployed tear gas as well as stun grenades against protesters and blocked roads leading in and out of the camp. Critics have denounced such actions, and Israel’s Arab-majority parties stand out as some of the most vocal among them.

These parties are once again seeking to make Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — an issue they say Israelis don’t think or talk about nearly enough — a central theme of their election campaign ahead of the November 1 national vote.

A member of the Israeli security forces is pictured in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, during confrontations with Palestinian protesters, on October 12, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Virtually none of the residents of the Shuafat camp and environs are eligible to vote in Israeli elections, since most don’t hold Israeli citizenship. Tibi, however, considered his visit an important show of solidarity and a message to the Israeli electorate about the urgency of a paradigm shift in the approach to Palestinians.

On Tuesday evening, at the Hebrew-language Hadash-Ta’al campaign launch targeting the minority of the slate’s supporters who are Jewish, Tibi condemned “the merciless closure” of Shuafat.

“That’s what the occupation looks like. The occupation has victims. There’s a solution to this suffering and oppression: ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state,” he said.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman, the number two in the Hadash party, similarly defined Israel’s actions in Shuafat as “a draconian collective punishment” in a tweet on Wednesday.

Touma-Sliman went after members of the Knesset currently sitting in the coalition government. “Once again, [Yair] Lapid, [Ayelet] Shaked, and [Benny] Gantz, suggest killing, siege tactics, and home demolitions, but only ending the occupation will bring real security.”

Palestinian youths clash with Israeli security forces in the Shuafat Refugee Camp, Jerusalem, October 12, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Gantz, who serves as defense minister under the current government, visited the site of the shooting on Monday to thank border guards for their service and to promise that “we will soon get our hands on the terrorist and whoever assisted him.”

The day after Gantz’s visit to the checkpoint, Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh sent them a formal complaint written on Knesset letterhead regarding the “heavy arrests and restrictions on movement imposed upon the residents of Shuafat.”

In that letter, Odeh also deplored the state of general paralysis in the area, saying that “3,000 patients are being denied exit to receive medical care; medical crews are being denied entry to the neighborhood for the purpose of medical care; ambulance and firefighting crews are being denied entry to assist residents.”

“There is a lack of basic foodstuffs. As a result of the difficult situation in the neighborhood, schools have shut down, fearing for the life and health of students,” he added.

Odeh claimed that arrests were “accompanied by heavy raids by security forces and massive use of violence and teargas, which is incomprehensible against innocent persons.”

Some Palestinian news outlets reported, but later deleted, posts claiming an infant was choked to death by teargas during clashes between Israeli security forces and local residents in nearby Kafr ‘Aqab.

There was no confirmation of the incident by the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry or Israeli police.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, October 12, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hashim Hushiyeh, a 51-year-old Shuafat resident who has been kept from his work in construction due to the road closures and is staying at home with his children, themselves unable to attend school, also felt that the community was facing collective punishment. “Because of one person, we are made to bear the punishment as an entire group. We as Palestinians face many problems from people coming out of Israeli towns, cities, and settlements. But there’s never any full closure of Israeli areas,” he told The Times of Israel.

Israeli security forces say that the measures they are taking in Shuafat are strictly necessary to capture Noa Lazar’s killer and pacify the camp, which they call a hotbed of extremism.

“When pursuing a terrorist with blood on his hands who is prepared to strike again with the help of accomplices, the security apparatuses must make every effort to prevent his escape and foil his violent designs against innocents,” a spokesperson for the Border Police said.

Shuafat is part of Jerusalem, despite its location on the Palestinian side of the West Bank security barrier. Businesses in the eastern part of the city have heeded the call for a general strike, leaving often bustling parts of the city extraordinarily quiet.

Another Arab Israeli politician weighing in on the events in Shuafat was Sami Abou Shehadeh. The Balad party he heads broke off last month from Hadash and Ta’al, its former partners in the Joint List. Polling suggests that the Balad party will fall far short of the electoral threshold.

Israeli security forces vehicles are parked near a building during an operation in Jenin in the West Bank, on October 8, 2022. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

“The harsh violence of police officers and soldiers against the residents of Shuafat must come to an end. The severe violation of the basic rights of the camp’s residents by the various security apparatuses comes at the behest and encouragement of the ‘change’ government,” Abu Shehadeh stated.

He added, “This is a government that acts again and again to deepen the occupation, to attack Palestinians and their most basic rights. The difference between them and the right is non-existent.”

The idea that the center and the right are merely variations on, as Balad puts it, “fascism,” has been a major talking point since the party split from the Joint List, putatively in opposition to the other two parties’ willingness to recommend Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid for prime minister after the election.

Jewish Israelis’ attitude toward the country’s rule over Palestinians does not appear to be a strong driving factor in voting decisions in recent years, so much so that ending Israel’s military rule over lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War war does not appear as an option in surveys that ask Israelis about the factors influencing their voting decisions. The closest proxy — “security and foreign policy” — drives the party choice of only 11% of voters, compared to 44% for economic issues and the cost of living.

But for Arab-majority parties, Israel’s policies in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem form a crux that ties into all other social and economic issues.

At the Hebrew launch for Hadash-Ta’al on Tuesday, MK Ofer Kassif, the highest-ranking Jewish member of the party, said that, “The occupation is the root of all that is wrong, including the high cost of living. Money that could be spent on education, health and social programs is allocated to the settlements. Even economic policies aim to preserve the occupation.”

Adva, a non-partisan Israeli policy analysis institute, revealed that in 2017 the Israeli government spent 50% more per capita on non-Haredi settlements in the West Bank than on impoverished towns in Israel, many of which have Arab-majority populations.

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