Quarterly Updates for (16 Aug 2017 — 15 Nov 2017)

After the flare-up of violence surrounding new Israeli security measures at Haram al-Sharif last quarter, Israeli-Palestinian violence returned to pre-crisis levels. As a result, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli actions this quarter fell to 21, down from 38. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian actions was 4, down from 6 last quarter. Therefore, the comprehensive death toll since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 9/2000 reached 10,978 Palestinians (including 64 Palestinian citizens of Israel and 19 cross-border “infiltrators”); 1,270 Israelis (including at least 250 settlers and 440 IDF soldiers and other security personnel); and 73 foreign nationals (including 2 British suicide bombers). These numbers include individuals who died in noncombat-related incidents if their death was a direct result of Israel’s occupation or the ongoing conflict (e.g., ailing Palestinians who died because they were denied access to medical care, and Palestinians killed in smuggling tunnel accidents). They do not include the Palestinian killed in the Swedish town of Limmared on 8/20, despite the accusation made by various Palestinians that Israel’s Mossad agency was responsible. Also excluded is the Palestinian killed in a firefight with PASF troops on 9/13 (see Chronology).

Overview of the Violence

The number of Palestinians killed because of Israeli actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem decreased significantly this quarter. Although tensions across the oPt over longstanding issues like settlements and demolitions of Palestinian property remained high, there were fewer protests, clashes, and individual or so-called random attacks. Overall, only 5 Palestinians were killed in this context (down from 29 last quarter): 2 died (on 8/26, a car driven by Israeli settlers ran over 8-yearold Aseel Abu Oun, who died from her injuries on 8/27, and on 10/31, Israeli soldiers fired into a car near a checkpoint, killing the driver); 1 succumbed (9/3) to injuries sustained in clashes with the IDF on 8/9; 1 was killed (8/19) after allegedly attempting to stab Israeli border security guards; and 1 was killed (9/26) after shooting and killing 3 Israeli security forces. There were far fewer Palestinian injuries as well. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 275 Palestinians were injured between 8/15 and 11/6 (down from 1,794 last quarter).

Apart from the 1 major incident of crossborder violence, the number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip because of Israeli actions was comparable to totals in recent quarters. Overall, 16 Palestinians were killed in this context; 2 Hamas fighters died during a tunnel collapse on 9/15; 1 Hamas fighter died in an unspecified “training accident” on 9/19; 1 Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighter died in an “accident” during an unspecified mission on 8/28; and the remaining 12 were all Hamas and PIJ fighters killed when Israeli forces detonated a tunnel leading from Khan Yunis into Israeli territory on 10/30 (see “Prisoner Swap” and Chronology). The number of Gazans injured because of Israeli actions this quarter decreased substantially. According to OCHA, 52 Palestinians were injured between 8/15 and 11/6 (down from 162).

The IDF strictly enforced the unilaterally defined buffer zone, or so-called Access Restricted Areas, along Israel’s border with Gaza, as in previous quarters. Israeli troops violently dispersed Palestinian protesters gathering along the border fence on 9 different occasions (down from 16 last quarter); shot at Palestinian shepherds, farmers, and bird hunters on 2 occasions (8/18 and 10/10); and fired on Palestinian land or other property 12 times (9/9, 9/16, 9/17, 10/13, 10/15, 10/22, 10/25, 11/2, 11/6 [2], 11/9, and 11/13). Israeli forces also conducted 11 limited incursions to level land and “clear sightlines” into Gaza (8/21, 8/28, 9/5, 9/11, 9/12, 9/24, 10/10, 10/16, 10/24, 10/27, and 11/5), and arrested 9 Palestinians attempting to cross into Israel (8/16 [2], 8/19, 9/16 [2], 10/10 [2], and 10/14 [2]).

Also of note: Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the IDF’s Coordinator of Govt. Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said (10/11) that Hamas fighters had started using lasers to blind IDF troops operating along the border in recent weeks. “The continuation of the provocative blinding operations . . . could lead to an escalation at a sensitive moment for developments in the Palestinian theater,” he said. “You’ve been warned.”

Although the Israeli authorities again decided to temporarily expand (10/18) the fishing zone off Gaza’s s. coast (see “Movement and Access” below), Israeli naval forces violently harassed Gazan fishermen throughout the quarter. They opened fire on or otherwise confronted the fishermen on at least 62 separate occasions, up from 52 last quarter. Over the course of these incidents, 1 Palestinian was slightly injured (11/8), 8 were arrested (9/18 [2], 10/15 [4], and 11/6 [2]), and 4 boats were confiscated (9/18, 10/15 [2], and 11/6). In a related incident, Israeli naval forces shot and injured a Palestinian sailing off the coast on 10/19.

Movement and Access

The Israeli authorities again changed their procedures for processing applications by Palestinians trying to exit the Gaza Strip this quarter, imposing yet another hurdle for merchants conducting their business, students pursuing education opportunities abroad, and those in need of specialized medical care not available at home, among others (see figure 1). Just 5 mos. after Israel’s Liaison Office informed the authorities in Gaza that they were planning to extend the expected processing time for exit-permit applications from 24 working days, COGAT put the new rules in place in 10/2017. The maximum processing time was set at 23 working days for non-urgent medical care cases; 50 days for applications to visit sick relatives or attend weddings, work meetings, or conferences in the West Bank or Israel; and 70 days for other commercial trips to Israel and higher education abroad. It’s important to note that these new maximums had no impact on the results of individual applications. They went into effect as the Liaison Office was dealing with a massive backlog of permit applications— approximately 16,466, according to COGAT (9/6). “The situation assessment among the relevant security agencies requires adjusting the security check process in accordance with developing threats,” a COGAT spokesperson explained (9/6). “In recent months, we have engaged in staff work together with the relevant security agencies, and as part of this work, we set a timetable for completing the processing of applications to enter Israel in a way that permits a professional examination process.”

Palestinians in Gaza also had infrequent opportunities to leave via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The Egyptian authorities opened the crossing in both directions on only 3 days (8/16–17 and 8/28), up 1 from last quarter. On 6 other days, they opened the crossing partially to allow Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca to enter. Overall, 6,535 Palestinians were able to enter Gaza and 5,203 were able to leave.

It’s also worth noting that the 10/12 intraPalestinian reconciliation deal had little effect on Egypt’s administration of the Rafah crossing. The day after Hamas formally relinquished control of the crossing, the PA announced (11/2) that the Egyptian authorities would open it permanently, starting on 11/15, but that did not happen. “We don’t have any information about when the Rafah border [crossing] will reopen again,” said the PA’s dir. of border crossings, Nazmi Muhanna, at the quarter’s close (AFP, 11/15).

As mentioned above (see “Overview of the Violence”), COGAT announced (10/15) that, starting on 10/18, the fishing zone off Gaza’s s. coast would be expanded from 6 naut. mi. to 9 naut. mi. for a period of 6 weeks. A similar, temporary expansion in 5/2017 reportedly allowed Gaza’s fishermen to increase their collective revenues by more than NIS 500,000 (approx. $175,000), and comparable increases were expected by the end of 11/2017.

The IDF’s near-daily raids, house searches, and mobile checkpoints again served as the principal obstructions to Palestinian movement and access in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this quarter. According to OCHA, the IDF conducted 893 search and arrest operations in the West Bank between 8/15 and 11/6, or almost 10 raids per day. There were fewer alleged stabbings, vehicular assaults, and other attacks this quarter, but the IDF cracked down on each one disproportionally, to the degree that was common at the height of the habba, the surge of Palestinian resistance, random attacks, and protests that began in Jerusalem in 9/2015 (see JPS 45 [2, 3]). After a Palestinian shot and killed 3 Israeli security guards outside the Har Adar settlement nr. Jerusalem on 9/26, the IDF imposed (9/26) a lockdown on Bayt Surik, the attacker’s hometown. Over the following 2 days, Israeli soldiers arrested tens of Palestinians, confiscated dozens of cars, and issued stopwork orders to various construction sites in the village. They also imposed a general closure on 8 other Jerusalem-area villages (9/26–10/1).

As in previous quarters, the Israeli authorities imposed additional restrictions on Palestinian movement during Jewish holidays. They suspended border crossings in and out of the West Bank and Gaza for Rosh Hashanah (9/19–23), suspended crossings and barred Palestinian laborers from entering Israeli settlement on Yom Kippur (9/29–30), and suspended crossings again around Sukkot (10/4–11). DM Lieberman pointed (10/1) to the Har Adar incident on 9/26 to justify the exceptionally long closure for Yom Kippur. Later, Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot decided (10/5) to downgrade the 11-day closure and allow West Bank Palestinians “employed in required sectors of the economy” to enter Israel.

Gaza Electricity Crisis

The crippling power shortages plaguing Gaza since its sole power plant was forced out of commission in 4/2017 continued throughout the quarter. As a result, Gaza’s approximately 2 m. residents were forced to get by on 4–6 hours of electricity per day and suffered deteriorating basic services, such as access to potable water (see figure 2).

International humanitarian aid helped improve the situation marginally in 9/2017, but relief efforts from Israeli and Palestinian authorities were scant. According to a Times of Israel report on 9/14, COGAT Mordechai sent a letter to PA minister of civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh informing him that Israeli authorities would begin deducting money from monthly tax revenue transfers to the PA in order to fund increased electricity supply to Gaza. The move was explicitly intended to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and reverse, at least in part, the Israeli authorities’ earlier decision to acquiesce to the PA’s 4/27 request to decrease the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza by 40% (see JPS 46 [4] and 47 [1]). Through the end of the quarter, however, there were no reports of any increases to the supply of electricity to Gaza.

The Palestinian national reconciliation process offered the greatest hope for relief. The day before Hamas and Fatah officials announced that they had signed a national reconciliation deal (see “Intra-Palestinian Dynamics” below), the acting dir. of the Palestinian Energy Authority (PEA), Zafer Milhem, said (10/11) that the PEA had already created a plan to ease the crisis, which would be implemented once the PA took control of Gaza. Specifically, he indicated that Gaza was operating with only 147 of the 400–500 MW of power it needed, and that the PEA’s plan would increase the supply to between 200 and 230 MW quickly. The strategy reportedly included efforts to rehabilitate Gaza’s power grid and reform local bill collection systems. More importantly, it also called for the PA to rescind its 4/27 request, which PA pres. Abbas had used to pressure Hamas into negotiating the reconciliation deal in the first place. Although unresolved issues threatened to undermine that deal as the quarter ended, it was widely assumed that the PA intended to implement the PEA plan and bring relief to Gaza.

Judaization of Jerusalem

Following the Palestinians’ victory on the issue of Haram al-Sharif, resulting from peaceful protests that made the Israeli authorities remove newly installed checkpoints and cameras at the sanctuary, new Israeli efforts to dominate East Jerusalem and the Old City kept tensions high. On 8/29, Israeli authorities temporarily lifted the ban on MKs and ministers visiting Haram al-Sharif. PM Netanyahu had imposed the ban in 10/2015 to de-escalate growing unrest across the oPt. The PM agreed to a 1-day exception following mos. of pressure from leader of the messianic Temple Mount movement, Orthodox rabbi and Likud MK Yehuda Glick, as well as other ultranationalist leaders. On 8/29, Glick and fellow MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home) were the only previously banned Israeli officials to visit the sanctuary. A small group of activists protested their tour, but it proceeded without incident.

The constant presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian neighborhoods led to another controversy later in the quarter. In mid10/2017, the parents of approximately 4,300 Palestinian students in Issawiyya kept their children home from school in protest at the Israeli police’s practice of patrolling the neighborhood every afternoon just as children made their way home from school at the end of the day. The parents reported that the police presence provoked disturbances and led to arrests and clashes on 10/16, during which 1 Palestinian youth was seriously injured. As a parents’ comm. was set to meet with the city’s Education Office reps. and the police on 10/18, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat canceled the meeting at the last minute. “A group of parents from the neighborhood chose to declare a general strike in the schools, and instead of instructing their children to refrain from violence the parents decided to inflame passions,” a statement from Barkat’s office read. “This extreme group, which was never elected to represent the neighborhood parents, decided to impose the strike on the parents and enforce it through intimidation and threats.” Included in the statement was a warning from the Jerusalem police commander saying, “The police won’t speak to the strike leaders until there is quiet in the neighborhood and the repeated stone-throwing stops.” Over the next week, the police cracked down on the neighborhood, arresting at least 50 residents, including 23 youths (see Chronology).

Also of note: Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled (9/13) against the Israeli authorities in a 10-year-old case over their attempt to revoke the residency status of 4 East Jerusalem Palestinians elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on a Hamas-affiliated slate in 2006. The 4 men were expelled from Jerusalem in 2011, following years of protests and demonstrations against a reported ultimatum from the Israeli authorities: either resign from the PLC or give up residency status. While the court rejected the expulsions, it put a 6-mo. stay on reversing them, allowing Israel’s Ministry of Interior to push for a new law that would retroactively justify the deportations.

Palestinian Prisoners

In the wake of the Dignity Strike, the mass prisoner hunger strike last quarter, the number of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons remained relatively stable. According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there were 6,200 Palestinians in Israeli prisons in 5/2017, when the hunger strike ended, and 6,198 in 11/2017. The number of Palestinian administrative detainees declined slightly over the same period, from 490 in 5/2017 to 463 in 11/2017.

Meanwhile, fallout from the strike continued. On 9/4, Fadwa Barghouti, wife of imprisoned Fatah leader and strike organizer Marwan Barghouti, said she had been denied entry permits to visit her husband until 2019. A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service then confirmed (9/4) that she was barred for “security reasons” in connection with the strike. Later, Haaretz reported (9/10) that the PA had suspended its funding for the Palestinian Prisoners Club (PPC), an NGO that advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. PPC sources said that the decision had resulted from pressure by both Israel and the U.S. over the PA’s support for the prisoners and the PPC’s support for the strike. While the PPC receives small donations and support from other institutions as well as the PA, the loss of PA support led to speculation that the organization would disband. The PPC insisted (9/13) that it had no plans to do so; however, further reports showed that there was a power struggle taking place within the organization, and its future was far from certain.

Prisoner Swap

With the Israeli govt. under increasing pressure from its constituents to secure the return of the 2 Israeli civilians and the remains of the 2 IDF soldiers allegedly being held in Gaza, Israeli and Hamas officials resumed their intermittent indirect talks on a possible prisoner swap this quarter. However, personnel changes on the Israeli side and the ongoing Palestinian reconciliation process complicated the affair, and there was no apparent progress made by the end of the quarter.

The Israeli official tasked with leading the indirect talks, Lior Lotan, resigned after 3 years in the role on 8/24. Sources familiar with Lotan’s work said (8/24) that he quit because his most recent initiative hit a dead end and because Netanyahu gave his office too little leeway (see JPS 47 [1]). His resignation sparked a fresh wave of criticism from the family of Hadar Goldin, 1 of the 2 IDF soldiers killed during the Israeli assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. “Following Lior’s resignation, we feel we have been abandoned by the govt.,” the family said (8/24), in a statement. In response, Lieberman reaffirmed (8/27) the govt.’s desire to bring Goldin’s remains home. “Nevertheless, we must not repeat the mistake of the Shalit deal,” he said, referring to the 2011 prisoner swap that exchanged 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in Gaza in 2006 (see JPS 41 [2]).

An 8/28 report on Israel’s Army Radio illuminated the internal Israeli conflict over a possible prisoner swap. The report featured recordings of Lotan, allegedly made mos. earlier: “I want [to play with] a full hand on the issue of prisoners,” Lotan could be heard saying. “If we have 1 captured [soldier], [the war] needs to end with 200 to 1. If it’s 2 [captured soldiers] then 400 to 2, if 3 then 600.” His comments were widely interpreted as an argument for the IDF to adopt a policy of kidnapping Hamas fighters as bargaining chips, but it was unclear at the time if his superiors found the argument persuasive.

After a few more weeks of rumors, speculation, and some confirmed reports of ongoing talks, al-Quds reported (9/14) that Egyptian mediators had presented a new framework for a possible exchange. It would reportedly see Israel transferring the bodies of 39 deceased Palestinians to their families in exchange for definitive information on the remains of the 2 IDF soldiers and the 2 Israeli civilians. After that initial exchange, designed to be a confidence-building measure, the framework reportedly stipulated that Israel would free 54 Hamas-affiliated prisoners who had been rearrested after being freed in the Shalit deal, and Egyptian intelligence officers would mediate a new round of talks on a more comprehensive swap. Two weeks after the al-Quds report, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said (9/28) that Hamas agreed to the new Egyptian framework. “The ball is now in Israel’s court,” he was reported as saying.

Deflecting, the Israelis adopted a new strategy. First, Netanyahu appointed (10/21) Yaron Blum to replace Lotan. Blum, who had been on the team that negotiated the Shalit deal, was known for the hard-line stance he had taken on the prisoner swap issue, arguing that Israel should offer fewer Palestinian prisoners for captured Israelis and that the responsibility for negotiating such swaps should be moved from the PM’s office to the Defense Ministry. Second, in a move that was not immediately linked to the prisoner swap issue, the IDF staged (10/30) a “controlled detonation” of an underground tunnel leading from Khan Yunis into Israeli territory, immediately killing 7 Palestinians, all mbrs. of either Hamas or PIJ, and injuring at least 18 more (see Chronology and “Overview of the Violence” above). In the immediate aftermath of the operation, which took place inside Israeli territory, Hamas accused (10/30) Israel of a “desperate attempt to sabotage efforts to restore Palestinian unity,” and the Egyptian govt. mobilized its diplomats to prevent an escalation, according to a senior Hamas official. PIJ mbrs. stated (10/30) they were “weighing their options,” alluding to the possibility of a counterattack.

It took days for the link between the tunnel operation and the prisoner swap talks to materialize. On 11/2, COGAT released a statement, saying, “Israel will not allow search operations in the area of the security barrier in the Gaza Strip without progress on the issue of Israelis kidnapped and MIAs.” Hamas had reportedly appealed to the International Comm. of the Red Cross (ICRC) to pressure Israel into allowing recovery efforts, and Mordechai’s statement was in direct response to an ICRC request. PIJ (11/2) and Hamas (11/3) both rejected Mordechai’s position, stating that they considered the 5 Palestinians missing after the tunnel explosion to be dead. An IDF spokesperson then confirmed (11/5) that the bodies of the 5 PIJ mbrs. had been recovered.

The incident significantly escalated tensions surrounding the prisoner swap and neither side appeared eager to make concessions as the quarter came to a close.

Settler-Related Violence

Settler-related violence increased slightly this quarter. There were 35 instances of settlers attacking Palestinians or their property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 8/15 and 11/6, according to OCHA. Settlers also harvested and stole the produce from more than 3,000 olive trees. During the olive harvest season from mid-9/2017 to mid11/2017, settlers damaged 5,582 olive trees, more than triple the 2016 figure of 1,652, the UN agency reported. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Palestinian families rely on olives for income, an activity described as a “key economic, social and cultural event for Palestinians,” OCHA said. In addition, settlers dismantled about 100 m (about 330 ft.) of irrigation water pipes and threw them in the Jordan River, according to OCHA.

Ten of these attacks led to Palestinian injuries, down from 18 last quarter, and the remaining 25 resulted in damage to Palestinian property, up from 15 (see figure 3 and Chronology). A settler also ran over and killed 8-year-old Aseel Abu Oun near Nablus on 10/26 (see “Overview of the Violence” above). Agencies report that vehicular targeting of Palestinian children is quite common but rarely investigated by Israeli authorities. Just before the quarter began, a settler ran his car into and injured a group of four 6-year-old boys. Also of note: a 70-year-old Israeli settler was found dead of apparent stab wounds in an industrial area nr. Kafr Kassim in c. Israel. Israeli security sources said that the man was killed for “nationalistic reasons,” and Israeli forces later arrested 2 Palestinians from Qabatiya village nr. Jenin in connection with the killing.

Demolitions and Displacement

For the first time in a year, Israeli forces demolished more Palestinian buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem than they had in the previous quarter. Between 8/15 and 11/6, they demolished 69 structures, according to OCHA, up from 55 last quarter. This included 55 in the West Bank (up from 29) and 14 in East Jerusalem (down from 26). Two of the demolitions were carried out purportedly as collective punishment: on 8/17, Israeli forces demolished the Dayr Abu Mash‘al home of 1 of the Palestinians killed during an alleged attack in Jerusalem on 6/16; and on 11/15, they destroyed the Bayt Surik home (11/15) of the Palestinian killed after shooting 3 Israeli security forces on 9/26. Overall, this quarter’s demolitions resulted in the displacement of 160 Palestinians (up from 56 last quarter).