Overview of Violence
In this 2d quarter of 2019, 37 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions, the same as the previous quarter. The number of Israelis killed as a result of Palestinian actions was 4, up from 3 last quarter. Therefore, the comprehensive death toll since the beginning of the 2d Intifada in 9/2000 has reached 11,287 Palestinians; 1,294 Israelis; and 73 foreign nationals (including 2 British suicide bombers).
In the West Bank, 2 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces this quarter: 1 in April and 1 in May. 1 was executed after running from border police (4/20, he died on 4/27) and 1 was shot while crossing the separation barrier (5/31). 1 Palestinian was killed by an Israeli settler after he allegedly attacked settlers with stones (4/3). In East Jerusalem, 3 Palestinians were killed this quarter: 1 in April, 1 in May, and 1 in June. 1 was shot by Israeli forces after throwing improvised explosive devices at Israeli soldiers (4/2); 1 was shot by Israeli forces after stabbing 2 Israeli settlers (5/31); and 1 was shot by Israeli forces from a distance of 32 feet during clashes in Issawiyya (6/27). In Gaza, 29 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces this quarter: 1 in April and 28 in May. 4 of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza were in the context of the Great March of Return protest; all were killed by live ammunition fired at the protesters (4/12; 5/3 , 1 died on 5/4; 5/10). 25 Palestinians were killed by bombs fired from Israeli aircrafts (5/3 , 1 of them died from his wounds on 5/4; 5/4 ; 5/5 ). In Israel, 2 Palestinians were killed this quarter: 1 in April and 1 in May. 1 Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces after crossing from Gaza to Israel to seek work (4/3; he died on 4/14); 1 was shot after running a car through a roadblock (5/6). 4 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians this quarter: 4 in May. All 4 Israeli civilians were killed by rockets fired from Gaza (5/5 ). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA) reported that 3,865 Palestinians were injured during this quarter, down from 5,540 last quarter: 1,698 in April; 1,236 in May; and 931 in June. 134 Israelis were injured during this quarter, up from 22 last quarter: 2 in April; 128 in May; and 4 in June.
Resumption of Target Killings
During Israel’s violent attack on Gaza during the 1st weekend in May which killed 25 Palestinians, Israel made its 1st recognition of an assassination since 2014. On 5 May, Israel assassinated a suspected Hamas activist allegedly in charge of transferring money from Iran to Hamas. The man was killed while traveling in his car in Gaza when it was hit by an Israeli missile. Israel has since 2014 assassinated Palestinians but has not until now publicly recognized the assassinations as “target killings.” The Israeli chief of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) southern command subsequently said the policy of target killings “is expected to continue.”
Great March of Return and Rocket Exchange
The Great March of Return demonstrations continued into this quarter, with the biggest crowds on Fridays. At the beginning of the quarter, the death toll stemming from Israel’s violent suppression of the protest was 217; at the end of the quarter, the death toll had risen to 221 Palestinians. The vast majority of the 3,865 Palestinian injuries counted by OCHA this quarter were related to Israel’s violent response to the protest.
After a violent end to the 1st quarter, where Gaza was heavily shelled around the 1-year anniversary of the Great March of Return protests (see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict 1 January – 31 March 2019), April was relatively calm in regard to rocket fire. 1 incendiary balloon was found in Israel on 4 April. On 19 April, Israeli forces hit 2 targets in Gaza and on 20 April, 1 rocket was fired toward Israel. On 30 April, Israel said that Islamic Jihad in Palestine had fired a rocket toward Israel, but that this was done without the consent of Hamas. On 2 May, incendiary balloons were found in Israel; Israel then hit to separate targets in Gaza where an unknown actor then fired 2 rockets toward Israel. The most intense bombardment of Gaza happened on 3 May–5 May. The IDF claimed that 690 rockets were launched from Gaza in the direction of Israel, 240 of the rockets were intercepted, and that Israel struck 320 “targets” in Gaza. 25 Palestinians were killed due to Israeli missile fire while 4 Israelis were killed by the rockets from Gaza. Early on 6 May, it was reported that Egypt and Qatar had mediated an end to the rocket exchange. During the exchange, many structures in Gaza where demolished, including the office of the Turkish news agency Anadolu, and 13 schools were damaged. On 15 May, a number of incendiary balloons were sent toward Israel from Gaza after Israeli forces injured at least 65 Palestinians demonstrating on the 71st anniversary of Nakba Day. On 13 and 14 June, rockets and incendiary balloons were again exchanged between Israel and Gaza.
Israeli Policing in Issawiyya
At the end of the quarter, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man who was protesting Israel’s heavy policing of Issawiyya in the last part of June. The man was shot on 27 June from a distance of about 10 feet after lighting firecrackers in the vicinity of the Israeli forces. The murder coupled with the heavy policing and Israel’s refusal to hand over the deceased’s body to his family sparked widespread protest, to which Israel injured some 90 Palestinians in Issawiyya on 29 June.
Movement and Access
Haram al-Sharif Compound
Tensions at the Haram al-Sharif compound were very high last quarter as Israel banned a number of Islamic Waqf officials from the compound after Bab al-Rahma was reopened by the Waqf (see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict 1 January – 31 March 2019). This quarter was less intense; however, by the final days of Ramadan, tensions rose again. On 2 June, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli forces at the Haram al-Sharif compound as Palestinians protested Israeli settlers planning a parade in the compound for Jerusalem Day. Jerusalem Day coincided with the final days of Ramadan for the 1st time in 30 years and Israeli police have closed Haram al-Sharif for Jewish people for the last 10 days of Ramadan in previous years. This year, Haram al-Sharif was closed for Muslims for most of 2 June and many shops in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City were closed as Israeli settlers marched for Jerusalem Day. Between 120–400 Israeli settlers entered Haram al-Sharif, including Member of Knesset (MK) Yehuda Glick. Ir Amim, an Israeli nonprofit, had petitioned the Israeli high court of justice asking to prevent the Jerusalem Day march to enter the Muslim Quarter, but the petition was denied. More than 50 Palestinians were arrested in East Jerusalem on 2 June. A week later, on 9 June, some 330 Israeli settlers entered the Haram al-Sharif compound with Israeli police escort. 2 employees of the Islamic Waqf were arrested days later, including the head of the restoration and reconstruction department. Israeli settlers, including MKs Glick and Uri Ariel, toured Haram al-Sharif on 3 occasions this quarter (4/22; 5/19; 6/2).
At an event organized on 13 June by the Jerusalem municipality, attended by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Leon, a drawing projected on the stage of the event featured elements of the Jerusalem skyline, but the Dome of the Rock had been omitted from the drawing of the Haram al-Sharif compound. Several settler organizations want to see a new Jewish temple erected on the compound.
Other Issues Related to East Jerusalem
The Israeli state comptroller released a report on 2 June blasting Israeli and Jerusalem authorities for neglecting Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem. The report criticized the waiting time for Palestinian East Jerusalemites seeking Israeli citizenship, issues relating to garbage removal, and Palestinian children’s access to education.
A soccer tournament in East Jerusalem was shut down by Israeli police on 19 April by order of Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan, reportedly because it was organized by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The organizers of the tournament, the Jerusalemites Forum and Jerusalem Clubs Association, said that the tournament, which was for 12–13-year-olds, was apolitical and unaffiliated with any political actor. In another instance of Israeli asserting sovereignty over East Jerusalem, the PA Jerusalem affairs minister Fadi al-Hadmi was arrested on 29 June for accompanying the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera on the Haram al-Sharif compound, thereby appearing as a PA official in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem Affairs Minister al-Hadmi was released the following day.
Crossings and Palestinian Mobility
The Erez border crossing from Gaza to Israel was open 74 days during regular hours of operation between Sunday and Friday (on Fridays, the crossing can only be accessed by urgent medical cases and foreigners) this quarter. There was a slight increase in crossings into Israel compared to last quarter, the highest in June with 29 percent more crossing compared to the average of January through May. The Kerem Shalom border crossing was open 51 days as scheduled for the movement of goods in and out of Gaza (closed on Fridays and Saturdays) during most of the quarter, and there was significant decrease in the movement of goods exiting Gaza compared to the 1st quarter of 2019. All border crossings from the West Bank and Gaza were closed on 9 April during the Israeli general elections and 6 May–9 May for Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. The Rafah border crossing to Egypt was open for 43 days, 9 of which were only for entering Gaza. Crossings in both directions were higher in this quarter than the last as the crossing was closed for traffic in both directions between 7 January and 28 January due to the PA removing its staff from the crossing (see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics 1 January – 31 March 2019). Israel blocked the fuel entrance for the Gaza power plant on 25 June–27 June, cutting power supply down to 5-6 hours daily.
Many Christian Palestinians in Gaza were denied entry by Israeli authorities to visit holy sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for Easter celebrations. Out of 900 applicants, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) only allowed 200 to leave Gaza. However, after severe criticism, COGAT increased the permits to 500, still leaving about 400 Christians without a travel permit.
Gaza Fishing Zone
As part of Israel’s policy of collective punishment in Gaza, the Gaza fishing zone was closed, reduced, and expanded several times during this quarter. When the fishing zone is not completely closed, the reduction and expansion only pertains to about 1/3 of Gaza’s southern coast. After being closed, at the end of last quarter the Gaza fishing zone was reopened in the beginning of April to 15 nautical miles. On 30 April, Israeli authorities reduced the Gaza fishing zone to 6 nautical miles to expand it again on 10 May to 12 nautical miles and to 15 on 21 May. On 22 May, Israel limited the Gaza fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, the fishing zone was expanded to 15 nautical miles again on 26 May, only to be reduced again to 10 on 28 May. It was expanded again on 4 June, but was completely closed from 12 June to 18 June, where it was opened to 10 nautical miles. On 28 June, it was extended to 15 nautical miles.
After the human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights petitioned the Israeli high court of justice to have 65 of Palestinian-owned fishing boats returned to their owners in Gaza, the Israeli government announced on 21 May that it would be returning the boats. The announcement, however, did not provide a timetable and it was unclear by the end of the quarter if any boats had been returned to their owners. The Israeli navy frequently seizes boats from Palestinian fishermen.
According to OCHA, 159 structures were demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Israeli forces during the quarter, up from 137 last quarter: 71 in April, 17 in May, and 71 in June. The demolitions displaced 210 Palestinians, including 108 children. 72 of the demolitions were in East Jerusalem; 2 in Area A; 2 in Area B; and 83 in Area C. 4 of the demolitions were punitive, belonging to families with members who were accused of, or charged with, killing Israelis. OCHA estimates that more than 14,000 people were affected by the Israeli demolitions. The high number stems from 2 water cisterns demolished in Tammun affecting the water supply for 13,600 Palestinians. The level of demolitions and displaced people were well above the monthly averages of 2017 (35 structures and 55 displaced people) and 2018 (38 structures and 39 displaced people). During the 1st half of 2019, 299 structures have been demolished and 439 people have been displaced, a 50 percent increase for demolitions and 150 percent increase for displaced people compared to the 1st half of 2018. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian territories Jamie McGoldrick said in early May that demolitions in East Jerusalem had “increased at a staggering pace over the last month [April]” and that “[t]his must stop.”
The Israeli high court of justice ruled in late June that 13 large buildings under construction could be demolished by Israeli authorities. The buildings are located in Wadi Hummus near Jerusalem and is mostly situated in PA-controlled Area A. The buildings set for demolition host some 100 apartments with 20 residents currently living there while the rest is being constructed. The building permits were issued by the PA as the buildings are located in Area A, but the high court of justice ruling can have implications for other buildings located in Area A, as it sets a new precedence for demolitions in PA-controlled areas.
“Path of the Pilgrims” Inauguration
A settler archaeological project in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood named “Path of the Pilgrims” was inaugurated on 30 June. The project is widely criticized and is seen as another manifestation of Israel expanding its sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The inauguration was attended by 2 U.S. officials: Ambassador David Friedman and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. During the event, both U.S. representatives used a sledgehammer to help the settler organization Elad excavate under East Jerusalem’s busy streets. After the PA criticized Special Representative Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman’s appearances at the Israeli event, Greenblatt wrote on Twitter that the PA “claims our attendance at this historic event supports ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem/is an act of hostility vs. Palestinians. Ludicrous. We can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem have since 2011 complained about the excavations as the tunnel diggings have cause cracks in Palestinian-owned homes.
Auctioning off EU-Donated Classrooms
The Israeli ministry of defense advertised in an Israeli newspaper that it would be auctioning off prefabricated classrooms donated by the European Union (EU) to Palestinian schoolchildren in the West Bank. The prefabricated classrooms were dismantled and confiscated by Israeli authorities in October 2018. The EU condemned the confiscation of the classrooms in October and again called for Israel to return the classrooms to their intended beneficiaries after the Guardian published an article about the Ministry of Defense’s advertisement. After the EU raised the issue, the Ministry of Defense postponed the auction to July 2019, claiming the postponement was unrelated to the EU concerns.
There were at least 23 incidents of settler violence recorded toward Palestinians and Palestinian-owned property this quarter, down from 41 last quarter (4/3; 4/5 ; 4/7 ; 4/13 ; 4/24; 5/3; 5/15; 5/17; 5/19; 5/24; 5/26; 6/5 ; 6/13; 6/16; 6/17; 6/18; 6/19; 6/23; 6/27). 1 Palestinian was killed by an Israeli settler on 3 April in Huwwara near Nablus (see above). Several Palestinians were injured due to settler aggression and dozens of houses, cars, and trees were damaged (see Chronology).
Jerusalem Cable Car
A controversial project to build a cable car from West Jerusalem to occupied East Jerusalem that was approved by the Israeli national infrastructure committee in January passed another stage in the approval process in June. On 3 June, the national infrastructure committee rejected all remaining objections to the proposed cable car, leaving the final approval to the Israeli government. In April, some Jewish religious groups joined Palestinians, Israeli NGOs, and the Israel Association of Architects and Urban Planners in objecting the cable car plans. After the remaining objections were rejected by the national infrastructure committee, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov cited the plans for the cable car as an obstacle to peace during a meeting at the UN Security Council. Many fear that it is part of Israel’s Judaization of Jerusalem and will serve to bolster Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem and Silwan in particular, as Silwan is planned to be an access point of the cable car.
On 30 May, the Israeli housing ministry approved tenders for the construction of 805 housing units for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. 460 were approved for the expansion of the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement and 345 in the Ramot settlement. The EU condemned the housing ministry’s decision, calling it “an obstacle to peace.”
On 4 April, the Israeli higher planning council of the civil administration approved 28 plans for the construction of some 3,659 new settler housing units in the West Bank. The Civil Administration also ordered 401 dunams (99 acres) of Palestinian-owned land to be confiscated for a new 4.3 mile-long settler-only road in the southwest of the West Bank. Later, on 1 May, construction permits for the road were approved along with another construction permits for a settler-only road south of Nablus.
1 Palestinian mother and her 4 children were ordered evicted from her apartment in Silwan by the Jerusalem district court. The court ruled in favor of the settler organization Elad that now owns 3/4 of the house in which 1 Palestinian family still lives. Elad has tried to take over the property since the 1990s and forced 6 different legal proceedings to take over the house. The Palestinian woman was also ordered to pay $2,877 in legal fees.
The Israeli supreme court ruled in favor of the Israeli settler organization Ateret Cohanim ending a 14-year-long legal battle, handing over 3 buildings in East Jerusalem belonging to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In 2005, Ateret Cohanim bought the 3 buildings from the then-patriarch Irenaeus, who, after the story was published in the press, was ousted by the Greek Church. The new patriarch Theophilus III rejected the sale, citing corruption and bribery, and that the sale was done without approval from the Synod Council.
The Jerusalem Municipality on 16 June approved naming 5 streets in Silwan, East Jerusalem, after Jewish rabbis. The streets are located in the Baten al-Hawa neighborhood, which is home to 12 Israeli settler families and hundreds of Palestinian families. A minority of 2 committee members objected to naming the streets after Jewish rabbis as they believed it was provocative to the predominant Palestinian population in the neighborhood.
During this quarter, Israeli settlers cut down or otherwise damaged 530 olive trees, 150 almond trees, and 400 grapevines. It was also reported that Israeli forces uprooted 620 olive trees (see Chronology).
Arrests and Detentions
The total number of Palestinian prisoners fell this quarter compared to last quarter, according to Addameer. In April, there were 5,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons; that number decreased by 50 in May and decreased further by 100 in June. The number of Palestinians held in administrative detention decreased from last quarter from 497 to 480. The number of child prisoners rose to 215 in April, up by 10 compared to last quarter. In June, the number fell to 205.
Conditions in Israeli Prisons
After a tense 1st quarter between Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the Israel Prison Service, Palestinian prisoners started a mass hunger strike in April. In January, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said his ministry planned to worsen the conditions for Palestinian prisoners, sparking months-long tension that carried into this quarter (see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics 1 January – 31 March 2019). On 7 April, dozens of Palestinian prisoners led by prison leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, started an open-ended hunger strike calling for the removal of jamming devices that block cellphone receptions and the installation of public phones in the prisons. Prisoners have complained that the devices cause headaches in some prisoners and that they may cause cancer. In an attempt to end the hunger strike, the Israel Prison Service started relocating prisoners on 9 April. The hunger strike continued until 15 April, when the prison service and the prisoner leadership reached an agreement that included installing public phones, allowing prisoners to speak to relatives up to 3 times per week. A separate hunger strike organized mostly by prisoners that are affiliated with Fatah ended hours after it started on 16 June. The Israel Prison Service agreed to some of the prisoners’ demands, including ending night raids, establishing a kitchen in their prison ward, providing provisions of medical services, and lifting economic sanctions for some of the prisoners.
The Israeli public defense office issued a report severely criticizing the Israel Prison Service for running prisons that are “unfit for human residence.” Among the critiques in the report are harsh conditions, poor sanitation, prisoners sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding, prisoners having their hands shackled above their heads as punishment, and random strip searches. The public defense office also found that mold, bedbugs, cockroaches, rats, and mice were found in the prisons and that prisoners had to shower in the same space as squat toilets. Several of the prisons mentioned in the report hold Palestinian prisoners.