With mass protests roiling Lebanon and Iraq, unsettling developments in Syria and Yemen, and the latest episode of the continuing soap opera that calls itself Israeli politics, little attention is being given to the plight of the Palestinians. One consequence of this neglect is that both Israel and the Trump Administration feel they have been given a free hand to accelerate the oppression of the beleaguered Palestinian people.
Two reports passed my desk this week, both of which require our attention. First, as a result of the loss of US aid to UNWRA, the agency reported that it has been forced to make drastic cuts in programmes and personnel. I will quote freely from the UNWRA report in order to fully establish the magnitude of the loss.
In Gaza, “to protect food assistance (UNWRA) provided to one-half of the population, other critical programmes were cut.” These included: All housing subsidies for those still rendered homeless from the 2014 war; drastic reductions in the “cash for work programme” (cut by 59 per cent) and the community mental health programme (cut by 40pc). In addition, UNWRA was forced to end all repairs to the refugee camps’ water and sanitation systems and to end “programmes supporting students whose education was impacted by conflict.”
In the West Bank, funding was slashed by 67pc, resulting in: Ending the community mental health and mobile health clinic programmes; ending the “cash for work programme for 90,000 refugees,” and limiting food assistance to only 30pc of eligible refugees. As a result of cuts to educational programmes, the average class size in the West Bank has been expanded from 30 to 50 students.
In addition to being denied essential services by these cruel decisions, Palestinians have been forced to endure continued acts of repression and brutality at the hands of the Israeli military and vigilante settler groups. This brings me to the second report – a weekly cataloguing of human rights violations compiled by Mondoweiss. While these Israeli behaviours are reported only occasionally in the Press, seeing them collected, in full, each week presents a horrifying picture of life under Israeli military rule.
This last week witnessed the celebration of Jewish holidays and there were a number of incidents directly related to hostile measures taken to allow Israelis to visit holy sites in the West Bank. For example, on October 17, busloads of Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli army personnel, entered Nablus without permission to pray at the site Jews believe to be the burial place of the prophet Joseph. Since Nablus is within Area A, it is supposedly under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. As Palestinians gathered to protest this incursion, they were fired on by Israeli soldiers. Four were shot and wounded with live ammunition, 17 injured by rubber bullets and 34 admitted to hospitals suffering from smoke inhalation.
The occupation forces also used the holy days to close Hebron’s Ibrahim Mosque to Muslims for two days, giving Jewish worshippers full access to the mosque. During this same period, the Israeli military invaded at least 14 Palestinian villages, shot and injured nine young men, and detained over four dozen.
A continuing reality of daily life in the West Bank are attacks by settlers on Palestinians farming their land located near Israeli settlements and outposts. The most notorious of these occurred in the village of Burin, where this past week, settlers uprooted olive trees, set fires that consumed hundreds of acres of farmland, and beat all who attempted to stop this vandalism.
Settler attacks occurred not only in villages but on roads as well, harassing Palestinians on their way to work. These assaults and the Palestinians’ response to them prompted a bizarre warning issued by the military to some villagers cautioning them against taking action to resist the settlers’ vigilante behaviour.
The above is only an excerpt of the many instances of abuse encountered by Palestinians during the week covered in the report.
What is most concerning about all of these horrors is how little coverage they receive not only in the US Press but in the Arab World’s Press, as well. With events in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen dominating the news, the plight of the Palestinians has taken a back seat.
And so, my dear readers, I urge you to consider that as you focus on all of the other conflicts unfolding across the Arab World, do not forget what is happening to the Palestinian people under occupation.