During the last week of January, violence was on the rise in both the West Bank and Israel. Nine Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Army in the Jenin refugee camp, 35 so far this year, and 7 Israelis were killed outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem by a lone 13-year-old Palestinian boy. The escalation in violence has occurred as the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history took power earlier in the month.
Leaders of the new coalition government, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, include ultra-Orthodox anti-gay politician Bezalel Smotrich and right-wing extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, a supporter of the late rabbi Meir Kahane who was convicted for acts of terrorism. Both men, who were appointed to powerful posts in Netanyahu’s coalition government, openly support Israel’s annexation of occupied Palestinian territories.
Some observers describe the current rise of violence as the launch of a third Intifada, similar to two earlier Palestinian uprisings over the past 35 years. But others caution that that framing perhaps diminishes the daily impact of the Occupation over the past 53 years. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Issa Amro, founder of Youth Against Settlements in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, where Israeli settler oppression, backed by the Israeli military, has been extreme. Now serving as executive director of Friends of Hebron, he shares his views on Israel’s new government and the oppressive reality Palestinians face in their daily lives.
ISSA AMRO: I see that the Israeli society changed a lot, and that Israeli society recently voted to the Kahanists, the party by racist and extremist as Itamar ben Gvir and Smotrich, and this is new that they became mainstream in the Israeli society, especially among teenagers.
We will survive from the result but we expected it, because these leaders were created in the West Bank under the Occupation; the Occupation made them become very strong leaders and the Occupation gave them the environment to grow and become stronger and they got that much money, that much political support, that much backup.
So the Israeli society now became addicted by the ideology of the Kahanists, Kahane and Kach movement, which is calling to transfer the Palestinians from all over Palestine and now especially Hebron. I see it every day, that it’s going much stronger among Israeli politicians, Israeli teenagers and many other Israelis.
So, in Hebron we face ethnic cleansing; we face displacement. How do they do it? They don’t evict you directly from your house, but they make it impossible for you to stay and remain. How do they make it impossible for you to stay and remain? You don’t feel safe in your house. You don’t have any safety or security. Settlers attack you. Israeli army raid your house, arrest your children, beat you up. Checkpoints all over. You don’t feel safe about yourself and your family, so you decide to leave.
Other thing they do is the Palestinians who live in the historical part, the ancient part, of the city, they don’t have any social life. They are disconnected, separated, segregated inside their neighborhoods. We are talking about 22 checkpoints in less than one square kilometer. We are talking about more than 100 movement barriers; 1,800 shops closed because of the closure policy; more than 1,000 apartments became empty. They changed the names of the streets from Palestinian Arabic names to Israeli Hebrew names.
So, there is no social life. You don’t exist; your identity doesn’t exist. And they make your life as if you are in a big jail, without food and protection.
And the third element is no services. You live in an area without any municipal services: No plumbing, no electrician, no doctors. The ambulance to come into that area needs a special permit to come in, so you skip all the emergency cases. So people there are stuck and Palestinians are facing ethnic cleansing and displacement and the Palestinian Nakba didn’t stop in 1948 and ’67.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, are you still with the group that you founded, Youth Against Settlements?
ISSA AMRO: Yeah, I founded the group Youth Against Settlements and I help them a lot. I train them; I am their consultant and they do amazing work to counter those policies. They do nonviolent resistance: direct actions, sit-ins, rallies. They do media. They do social media. They do documentation. They give out cameras to families to document the human rights violations. They do a lot of legal work to challenge legally the situation on the ground. They do campaigns like the Open the Street Campaign. They get people all over the world to show solidarity with Hebron by lectures, by film screenings, by play, by any nonviolent activities and actions all over. We do a lot of tours and advocacy and awareness. We do social activities to give the families the feeling that they are not alone.
MELINDA TUHUS: You’re a founder and you’re still with Youth Against Settlements? Is that your job?
ISSA AMRO: Yes, I am the founder and I am with Youth Against Settlements, and now I am the director of an organization here in the U.S .and it’s called Friends of Hebron and Friends of Hebron does a lot of education in Hebron.
MELINDA TUHUS: Oh, I see. So how often do you come to the U.S.?
ISSA AMRO: I come three, four times a year to do advocacy and awareness, and this time I came to do a reading for a play I wrote with an Israeli playwright — her name is Einat Wizeman — we wrote a play about my military trial and about Palestinian Authority indictment and about apartheid and occupation. It’s called How to Make a Revolution. We hope to stage it here in the U.S. and we hope to get help to stage it here.
MELINDA TUHUS: Say a little more about, what is that all about? Your trial and what did it have to do with the Palestinian Authority exactly?
ISSA AMRO: The Israeli occupation and apartheid — they don’t want to end it but they want to shut off the voices who are exposing the Israeli policies of apartheid, Israeli violence, and the Palestinian was very critical of occupation and I used nonviolent resistance to make a change, so they wanted to shut me off.
The PA, the Palestinian Authority, arrested me and they wanted to shut my voice off because of me talking about their corruption, their dictatorship and their being subcontractor of the Israeli occupation.
Find more analysis and commentary on Israel’s new extremist government, and the rise in Israeli-Palestinian violence, by visiting Friends of Hebron at friendsofhebron.
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