Overview of Violence
2018 was the most violent year in Gaza and the West Bank since 2014 where Israeli forces killed over 2,000 Palestinians during Operation Protective Edge. A total of 298 Palestinians were killed in Gaza  and the West Bank including East Jerusalem  during 2018. From 16 August to 31 December a total of 99 Palestinians were killed, 98 by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and 1 by an Israeli settler. This was a significant surge compared to last quarter where 66 Palestinians were killed but less than during the initial rise in violence after Israel began shooting at protesters when the Great March of Return started on 30 March (see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict issue 189). A total of 14 Israelis were killed during 2018, 7 of the casualties were Israeli security forces and 7 were Israeli settlers. 7 of the Israeli causalities occurred from 16 August to the end of the year. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded a total of 29,945 injuries caused by Israelis on Palestinians and 142 injuries on Israelis by Palestinians during 2018. About 8,000 of the Palestinian injuries caused by Israelis occurred from 16 August to the end of the year and 62 of the Israeli injuries occurred during the same period. OCHA reported 265 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians or Palestinian property in 2018, which is a 69 percent increase compared to 2017.
The comprehensive death toll since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 9/2000 reached 11,213 Palestinians by the end of 2018 (including 65 Palestinian citizens of Israel and 19 cross-border “infiltrators”); 1,287 Israelis (including at least 257 settlers and 447 IDF soldiers and other security personnel); and 73 foreign nationals (including 2 British suicide bombers). These numbers include individuals who died in non-combat-related incidents if their death directly resulted from Israel’s occupation or the ongoing conflict (for example: ailing Palestinians who died because they were denied access to medical care and Palestinians killed in smuggling tunnel accidents).
3 major developments caused a spike in violence during the period from 16 August to 31 December compared to the previous quarter. The ongoing Great March of Return continued through the end of 2018. Israel attempted to infiltrate and assassinate Hamas members in Gaza while Hamas and Israel were negotiating a cease-fire. And, the Israeli response to an attack on Israeli settlers in the West Bank by a Palestinian escalated violence in the West Bank in December as Israel conducted mass arrests, locked down Ramallah, and violently dispersed protests.
Great March of Return
The Great March of Return, which started on 30 March, continued throughout the year with weekly mass protests for the right of return of Palestinians to their homes in historic Palestine. The largest crowds continued to be gathered on Fridays with around 12,000 protesters reported on several occasions. A total of 145 Palestinians were killed during the protest by 16 August and by the end of the year the causalities stemming from the protest reached 195. On the Israeli side of the boundary between Gaza and Israel IDF snipers continued to shoot protesters and fire tear gas causing the majority of the casualties and injuries to Palestinians. Some incendiary kites and balloons originating from Gaza caused small fires in southern Israel on a number of occasions. In September Israel resumed air strikes on protesters launching incendiary kites and balloons as had been the case in July and early August. The first Israeli airstrike on Gaza of this update occurred on 7 September and airstrikes continued periodically since (9/17, 9/20, 9/22, 9/23, 9/26, 10/4, 10/7, 10/14, 10/15, 10/16, 10/17, 10/19, 10/20, 10/24, 10/25, 10/26, 10/27, 10/28, 10/31, 11/11, 11/12, 11/13, 12/28). The heavy Israeli bombardment of Gaza in October cause extensive damage to many structures, including a hospital in Gaza City on 26 October. In addition to the incendiary kites and balloons, a number of improvised explosive devices were reportedly found on the Israeli side of the Gaza boundary, one of which caused an injury to an IDF soldier on 14 September. The protest that had been most significant on Fridays continued on a daily basis after three Palestinians were killed during the Friday protest on 14 September. Protesters gathered along the Gaza boundary for 8 days in a row after 14 September. In response to the ongoing protest in Gaza, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered (10/12) a halt to Qatari bought fuel had begun being imported to Gaza on 9 October. In a tweet Lieberman cited the launch of incendiary balloons and kites and the burning of tires as the reasons of the decision (for more on Qatari aid to Gaza see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics). A couple of days later (10/14), as the protest continued despite Lieberman’s warning, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if Hamas did not stop the protests then Israel would launch a different response that would be very painful, hinting at instigating a new Israeli war on Gaza. The protest that started without Hamas involvement, but since has been claimed by Hamas, remains largely politically independent. After (10/17) unidentified Palestinians launched 2 rockets, 1 hitting a home in Beersheba in Israel. Israel also launches 20 air strikes on several locations in Gaza killing 1, injuring at least 7, and causing extensive damage. The following day (10/18) as Israel moves more tanks and artillery to the Gaza boundary, Hamas announces that it will investigate the rockets fired from Gaza and would move to reduce the Great March of Return protests (10/19). As violence continued to escalate, and the number of Palestinian causalities and injuries continued to rise, there were reports (11/3, 11/4) that the Egyptian mediated talks between Hamas and Israel were coming to fruition (for more on the Egyptian mediated talks see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics). It was also reported (11/4) that Defense Minister Lieberman disagreed with the rest of the Israeli cabinet about the approach to a cease-fire, with Lieberman favoring more violence rather than making concessions to Hamas. This disagreement ultimately led to Lieberman’s resignation as defense minister (see Israel).
On 30 December, the New York Times (NYT) published an article, accompanied by a 17 minute long video, detailing the murder of Razan al-Najjar, a young Palestinian medic tending to wounded protesters that took part in the Great March of Return. The NYT’s investigation found that despite the IDF’s claims she and the people around her posed no threat to any Israelis. The murder of al-Najjar received much media attention this year. Her picture and the text “Honoring the First Responders of Gaza. Saving Lives. Rescuing Hope.” was on a billboard in the Boston area which was taken down due to complaints that it was anti-Semitic. The NYT’s investigation of al-Najjar’s murder illustrates the Israeli policy of dispersing the Great March of Return protest with lethal force in complete disregard for civilian life, which had claimed 195 victims by the end of 2018.
Botched IDF Operation in Gaza
With reports of a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas being imminent, Israel launched an undercover operation against Hamas on 11 November. The operation was discovered by Hamas and resulted in 7 Palestinians and 1 Israeli officer getting killed after a heavy exchange of fire. 1 other Israeli officer was injured in the shootout. Hours before the operation was uncovered Prime Minister Netanyahu had claimed that Israel was trying to reach an agreement on Gaza and did not want to go to war. Israeli officials denied that it had engaged in an assassination attempt on Hamas officials. 1 former IDF official said, “these are operations that take place all the time, every night, in all divisions. This is an operation that was probably uncovered. Not an assassination attempt. We have other ways to assassinate.” After the shootout unidentified Palestinians fired 17 rockets into Israel, none of which caused any damage. Israel subsequently launched at least 50 airstrikes causing dozens of injuries and major damage to Palestinian structures. Over the following 2 days Israel continued to shell Gaza killing several Palestinians and injuring dozens, as well as destroying several structures including the al-Aqsa TV headquarters. By the time Israel finally agreed to a cease-fire on the afternoon of 13 November, 15 Palestinians had died during the 3-day assault. Some 70 Israelis were reported injured and several structures in Israel were damaged (see Chronology for details). The Israeli security cabinet’s decision to agree to a cease-fire prompted Defense Minister Lieberman to resign and take his party out of the government coalition, calling the cease-fire “a capitulation to terror” (for more see Israel). It was later reported that the Israeli forces that carried out the undercover operation had been residing in Gaza for weeks renting an apartment and pretending to work for Al-Basma Club for the Disabled, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) operating in Gaza. The soldiers’ disguise was reportedly uncovered when a Hamas official noticed that 1 of the undercover soldiers had a strange accent. IDF soldiers posing as aid workers undoubtedly will have an effect and possibly impact the work of real aid workers in Gaza as these will be met with more scrutiny. Despite the cease-fire Israel continued its violent attack on the Gaza protesters killing 8 Gazans and injuring over 300 (see Chronology for details).
Israeli Lockdowns and Violence in West Bank
As Israel was in political turmoil, had started its Operation Northern Shield (see Israel), and a cease-fire was reached with Hamas, Israel proceeded to focus on the West Bank after a Palestinian fired (12/9) on a group of Israeli settlers outside of the Ofra settlement near Ramallah. 7 settlers were injured and 1 unborn child died 3 days later (12/12). A week prior (12/4) to the 9 December attack, IDF soldiers had killed a 22-year-old disabled Palestinian when they shot him in the back of the head from a distance of 87 yards. After the attack on the Israeli settlers outside of the Ofra settlement, Israel locked down large parts of the West Bank and conducted mass arrests during extensive raids throughout the West Bank leading to unrest. During the Israeli assault on the West Bank 6 Palestinian were killed (12/11, 12/12 , 12/13 , 12/14) by Israeli forces and 2 Israeli soldiers were shot dead and 2 others were injured (12/13) at a mobile checkpoint outside of the Ofra settlement. The IDF also raided (12/10) the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) news outlet Wafa’s headquarters, detaining several employees and confiscating the surveillance tapes; injured 481 Palestinians; conducted 215 operations leading to 287 arrests. Ramallah was under complete lockdown from 13 December until 14 December when most of its surrounding checkpoints were reopened, however IDF soldiers kept being heavily deployed in the area and raids spawned protests throughout the West Bank. In response to the killing of the 2 IDF soldiers, Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed Hamas and said that the Gaza cease-fire deal was off if attacks continued. He also announced that he would approve 82 new housing units in the Ofra settlement and have the perpetrator’s house demolished within 48 hours as a punitive action.
Movement and Access
The Erez border crossing, the only crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel which allows movement of people, were closed on a number of occasions during the period of this update totaling 28 days. It is normally scheduled to be open from Sunday to Thursday and on Fridays for humanitarian cases and foreign nationals. The first closure was between 19 August and 27 August, then again between 5 September and 6 September where it was partially re-opened again. The Erez border crossing along with the Kerem Shalom border crossing, being the only crossing between Gaza and Israel for the movement of trucks, were closed for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah (9/8–9/11), Yom Kippur (9/17–9/18), and Sukkot (9/22–10/1). The Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings closed again on 17 October to 21 October. The Erez border crossing was also closed on 13 November. The closures for the Jewish holidays also affected movement between the West Bank and Israel (see Chronology 9/6). The Rafah border crossing, which generally is in operation from Sunday through Thursday, was open a total of 198 days in 2018 compared to only 36 days in 2017.
The fishing zone off the coast of Gaza was reduced several times from 16 August to the end of the year. On 6 October it was reduced from 9 nautical miles to 6. Later on 17 October the fishing zone was further reduced to 3 nautical miles. The fishing zone was expanded on 31 October to 6 nautical miles off the northern coast and 9 off the southern coast. It was further expanded on 3 November to 14 nautical miles. On 14 November it was again reduced to 6 nautical miles off the northern shore and 9 off the southern coast. The Israeli naval forces opened fire on Gazan fishermen on 63 different occasions during the period of this update, arrested a total of 33 fishermen and confiscated 9 fishing boats. The restrictions imposed by Israel on where Gazan fishermen can fish not only reduces the quantity and quality of the fish they are able to catch but also subjects the fishermen to harassment in the form of warning shots and arrests by the Israeli naval forces as the area in which they are allowed to fish constantly changes.
Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and East Jerusalem remained relatively unchanged throughout 2018 until the lockdown of the Ramallah area in December (see above). Reports of mobile checkpoints and Israeli patrols continued at a normal rate. According to numbers from OCHA 1,720 home search and arrest operations were carried out from 14 August to 31 December and media outlets reported at least 1,183 Palestinians arrested in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the same period.
Access to Haram al-Sharif was impeded a number of times during the period of this update. It was closed down for 15 hours between 17 August and 18 August. Right-wing Jewish activist caused access for Muslim worshippers to close temporarily when they visited Haram al-Sharif (9/6, 9/9, 9/16, 9/17, 9/18, 9/19, 9/24, 9/25, 9/26, 9/27, 10/7, 10/10, 10/15, 10/21, 10/23, 11/15, 11/18, 12/3, 12/5, 12/9, 12/16, 12/23, 12/26). In 1 instance the right-wing activists numbered 1,135 (9/27). Israeli member of Knesset (MK) Yehuda Glick led 3 of the tours to Haram al-Sharif. MK Glick, who is the chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, advocates that Jews should have free access to Haram al-Sharif. Last quarter Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed all MKs to visit Haram al-Sharif once every 3 months, in October MK Glick was allowed an additional visit to the Muslim holy site (for more on the new stipulations on MKs access to Haram al-Sharif see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict in issue 189). Al-Ibrahimi Mosque was also closed to Muslim worshippers twice (9/18, 9/25) for Jewish celebrations of Yom Kippur and Sukkot. For the Sukkot commemoration (9/25) IDF troops also ordered a number of Palestinian shops in Hebron to close while adding a number of additional checkpoints.
According to OCHA, from 16 August to the end of 2018 Israel demolished 195 structures displacing 191 Palestinians and affecting a total of 1,325 Palestinians. Of these structures 47 were inhabited residences. During all of 2018 Israel demolished 461 structures, displacing 472 and affecting 6,997 Palestinians. 102 of the structures demolished were inhabited residences. In East Jerusalem 6 home demolitions were carried out (10/8, 12/3, 12/4, 12/8 , 12/16) by Palestinian home-owners to avoid being charged by the municipality with demolition cost and fines. According to B’Tselem 10 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem demolished their own home in 2018 in order to avoid the high price Israel charges for the demolitions.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported (12/17) that it had obtained information from a report by the Temporary International Presence in Hebron which for the last 23 years has been mandated to observe the city of Hebron after American-Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and wounded 125 in al-Ibramimi Mosque in 1994. The report which is based on more than 4,000 “incident reports” accounts of severe and regular breaches of the right to non-discrimination and the protection of people living under occupation. The report further claims that Israel constantly breaches the Fourth Geneva Convention by deporting Palestinians in Hebron. In October, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, published his annual report on the human rights situation in occupied Palestine. The report lambasted Israel for moving towards de facto annexation of the West Bank: “Israel has steadily entrenched its sovereign footprint throughout the West Bank.” It also noted recent legal measures in the Knesset “that have become a flashing green light for more formal annexation steps.” Special Rapporteur Lynk further criticized the international community for its reluctance of holding Israel accountable for its “annexationist actions.”
A number of new settlements were approved during the period of this update, and additional plans for new settlements advanced. First the Israeli Civil Administration approved (8/21) a plan to confiscate 24.7 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem for the expansion of settlements in the area. The day after (8/22), the Israeli Civil Administration advanced plans for the construction of 1,004 new housing units in the West Bank, 382 of which were given final approval. Then on 23 August Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing approved tenders for the construction of 425 housing units in the West Bank and 608 new housing units in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem were deposited for public review. On 10/25 the Israeli government approved 20,470 new housing units for settlers in Ma’ale Adumim, a deal worth $765 million. 470 of the planned housing units were approved for immediate construction. The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled (11/28) on a 22-year long legal battle and granted ownership of 128 acres of Palestinian land surrounding the Gush Etzion settlement near Bethlehem to the Jewish National Fund. Settlers had already started building on the land before the High Court of Justice ruling. After the killing of 2 IDF soldiers in the West Bank (see above), Prime Minister Netanyahu announced (12/14) that he would promote the construction of 82 new housing units in the Ofra settlement and the construction of 2 new industrial zones in the Avnei Hefetz and Beitar Ilit settlements. The announcement is aligned with the Israeli government’s policy to displace families of alleged perpetrators of violence. After the High Planning Committee of Israel’s Civil Administration convened for 2 days (12/25-12/26) to discuss settlement expansion in the West Bank it was announced that it has advanced plans for 2,191 new settlement units and 3 new industrial zones and retroactively authorized 2 “illegal” settlements. The committee also announced that it was proposing 2,500 new settlement units in the Givat Eitam outpost near Bethlehem. Peace Now warns that the new settlement units near Bethlehem are part of a larger plan dubbed E2, which like E1 serves to cut the West Bank in half. It is furthermore part of a larger scheme to isolate Bethlehem by completely surrounding the city with Israeli settlements. The Israeli cabinet approved (10/14) $6.1 million to expand Jewish settlements in Hebron including 31 new housing units, 2 kindergartens, a daycare center, and a public park. According to Haaretz the approval of the plans to construct settlements in Hebron are the first in a decade. Israel also confiscated 66 acres of land owned by the Catholic Church in the West Bank in November to make the land a military compound. According to the Middle East Monitor Palestinians living on the confiscated land may be expelled.
The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which have been under threat of demolition for years, was once again at the center of Israeli politics when the Israeli High Court of Justice denied (9/5) petitions from the residents of the community to stop the planned demolition. The European Parliament passed (9/13) a resolution denouncing the Israeli plans to demolish the village. It further called on Israel to provide compensation for European Union funded infrastructure in the village that was destroyed. Later in October (10/17) the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that Israel’s plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar could constitute a war crime under the Rome Statute if the plans are carried out. The week after Prime Minister Netanyahu said (10/21) that he had decided to postpone the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar for “a short time” citing finalizing relocation plans. A report by B’Tselem titled “Fake Justice: The Responsibility Israel’s High Court Justices Bear for the Demolition of Palestinian Homes and the Dispossession of Palestinians” released 2/2019 detailed the Israeli legal construct that facilitates the dispossession and demolition of Palestinian communities like Khan al-Ahmar throughout the West Bank. Israeli courts condone the demolition of buildings that are built without Israeli permits, while only 4 percent of 5,475 applications for building permits have been approved by Israel since 2000. This Israeli policy allows Israel to engineer where Palestinians can live in the West Bank, making space for Jewish settlements by displacing Palestinians. Access to Khan al-Ahmar was blocked by Israeli forces 4 times during this update (9/11, 9/14, 9/28, 10/19), and Israeli settlers flooded parts of the village with wastewater twice (10/2, 10/15).
Separately, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled (11/21) that the settler organization Ateret Cohanim was allowed to continue its legal campaign to evict 700 Palestinians from their homes in Silwan in East Jerusalem. Earlier in October (10/24) a Palestinian family was evicted from a 4-story building in Silwan which Ateret Cohanim had seized control of in 2015.
In Israel the Bedouin village of al-Araqib was demolished twice (8/16, 9/6) during the period of this update. The second demolition of the village marked the 133rd time that village has been demolished since 2010.
Settler attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continued at a high rate throughout this extended quarter. 238 cars were punctured, painted with graffiti, or otherwise damaged by settlers. 32 additional Palestinian-owned cars were damaged in Israel. Around 1,572 agricultural trees, olive, and palm trees were reportedly uprooted or otherwise damaged by settlers (see Chonology). An additional 500 palm trees (11/20), 200 cactus trees (12/18), and 50 olive trees (12/31) were destroyed by the IDF. The numbers reported in the media regarding Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian agriculture seem to be lower than the actual numbers. In late October, OCHA reported (10/25) that over of 7,000 trees had been damaged by Israeli settlers in 2018, that number does not include trees damaged in November and December.
The IDF continued its practice of leveling farm land on the Gaza side of the “buffer zone.” A total of 31 instances were recorded during the period of this update. Israeli land leveling in Gaza severely impedes Palestinian agricultural production in Gaza (see Chronology).
According to numbers from Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that focuses on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the amount of Palestinians detained by Israel declined from the end of August to the end of December. At the end of August a total of 5,781 Palestinian prisoners were held by Israel, of these 456 were administrative detainees, 280 children, 65 women, and 5 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. By the end of December the number of Palestinian prisoners had gone down to 5,500, 480 were administrative detainees, 230 children, 54 women, and 8 members of the PLC. On 9 September Addameer’s legal unit coordinator Ayman Nasser was arrested and put in administrative detention by Israel. A week later the Israeli military commander in the West Bank said that Nasser would be held for 6 months. Palestinians being held by Israel in administrative detention do not have the right to a trial nor are convicted of a crime and the detentions are indefinite. On 25 October, Addameer released a report titled “I’ve Been There: A study of torture and inhumane treatment in Al-Moscobiyeh interrogation center” which details the Israeli use of torture in the ‘Russian Compound’ in West Jerusalem. The report, which is based on testimonies from 138 Palestinians, concludes that Israeli use of physical and psychological torture violates international law and constitutes war crimes under the Rome Statute.
The PA governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith was arrested by Israel on 3 different occasions (10/21, 11/1, 11/24) during this extended quarter. All 3 arrests were made on murky allegations. Governor Ghaith’s lawyer told Agence France-Presse that the arrests were a result of Israeli harassment because Israel object to the position of the PA governor of Jerusalem. After Governor Ghaith was released in 2 December he was order to house arrest for 3 days and barred from entering the West Bank for 6 months.