For the past year, we at forumZFD have been watching with great sadness the developments in the West Bank. Any short trip into occupied Palestinian territory is surrounded by Israeli settlement units. Operations by the Israeli army into cities in area A (controlled by the Palestinian Authority) have become routine. Settler violence against Palestinian communities has become a daily occurance, and often the Israeli army observes the attacks without interfering. Settler violence is documented by reputable organisations such as the human rights organisation B’Tselem. Lone wolf attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets have also increased.
Now, Israel and Palestine are facing an unprecedented crisis. Hamas attacked Israeli territory as of Saturday, October 7, targeting civilians in villages, killing over 1,200 people, and abducting 168 civilians and soldiers to the Gaza strip. As a response, Israel has launched extensive airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, killing over 1,400 people and displacing around 500,000 civilians. Israeli forces declared earlier that the bodies of 1,500 Palestinian militants, killed in fighting, have been found along the Israeli-Gaza border. The Israeli army is reportedly preparing for a ground incursion.
Attacks on civilians are never justifiable, and forumZFD condemns such acts.
Since 2006, the Gaza Strip is a territory under Israel's control by sea, air and land. Its inhabitants can only leave with prior approval via border crossings to Israel and Egypt. For the past 16 years there has been a a siege limiting imports and exports with severe consequences for the population. The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated areas across the globe. In the past days, a total blockade of Gaza was established, and the supply of electricity, food, water, and gas has been cut. This act will result in a humanitarian catastrophy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his country’s response is “going to change the Middle East”.
What change is he talking about? Change cannot mean resuming the status quo of blockade of 2.2 million people in Gaza, and entrenching occupation of the West Bank. For lasting peace, Palestinians and Israelis do not need conflict management, but a transformation beyond military occupation and blockade.
We have been checking on our partners and project participants regularly since Saturday. Everybody is deeply shocked by the massive violence, many mourn the loss of relatives and friends on both sides. All of them fear more violence, and more victims.
As one partner stated, Palestinians are “holding their breath and follow the developments with great concern". A participant of one of our projects in Masafer Yatta, a remote area in the south of the West Bank, has reported an increased army presence and checkpoints. Israeli settlements are located in the region, so severe restrictions of movement are being applied to Palestinian residents because of Israeli settlers. In practice, now even a short trip to Yatta, the nearest city, is not possible.
In the north of the West Bank, movement restrictions are severe as well. Our partner Dooz informed us that it is not possible for some of their students to travel to Nablus, where their office is located. The army has been closing checkpoints and roads for a few hours occasionally.Large protests have taken place in Nablus and other major West Bank cities against the military operation in Gaza. Also in the north, in the city of Qalqiliya, which is surrounded by the wall and has only a few exit points, a participant of forumZFD's women group stated: “The situation is a little tense. The army closes and opens the city as they please. They impose a curfew and close the shops. No one is allowed to pass. Settlers were in the city, and you know what their intention is, so we are trying to be more careful.” As of Thursday, reports emerged of various attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in different regions of the West Bank, Qalqilya not exempted.
Anyone interested in peace for both Israelis and Palestinians must ask what change is needed in this complex scenario. Military operations have not made Israel safer. Gazans have seen multiple situations of war that have only worsened their living conditions. Out of 2,2 million people in Gaza, 80% depends on aid to survive. European governments are raising the possibility of freezing aid to Palestinians and the result will certainly be catastrophic for Gaza and for vulnerable communities in the West Bank; ultimately, it can be counterproductive for Israel’s security, too.
Our partner Combatants for Peace has stated: “For our movement, this is a crucial moment where we must all dig deep to find our resolve to move ahead together. The only solution is ending the occupation, uniting Israelis and Palestinians and focussing our collective efforts on achieving peace. We call for non-violence, a renewed sense of humanity, and better days ahead for all of our children.”
Another partner organisation, Standing Together, has said: “No words can adequately comfort the families and friends of the people who have been killed or calm the concerns about the fate of those missing and abducted. Today [Saturday, October 7] was proof that continued occupation does not make anyone safer. No matter how many walls are built, as long as we are led by the way of war, we will continue to pay in blood. Without changing the direction we are headed in - we are doomed to continue living the horrors of today. Two peoples live in this land, and if we do not manage to allow both of them a life of peace, freedom and independence, none of us will ever be able to sleep in peace.”
Violence will only set Palestinians and Israelis even further apart. Any peaceful resolution needs to take into account Palestinian right for self-determination, and the legitimate right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in security. A profound change in the political approach in Israel and abroad, and solid committment from both sides are urgently needed for lasting and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.