It’s not about Hamas. It’s the Illegal Settlements

Operation Brother’s Keeper, as was explained earlier this week, was planned in advance with the cooperation of Israel’s military brass, intelligent services, the politico and the settlement establishment in preparation for Fatah and Hamas taking the initial steps to form a unity government. Last week, I posted an article explaining that the current operations in Hebron and the greater West Bank area and the Gaza Strip weren’t about an investigation of a missing persons report, but the co-opting of a national tragedy to manufacture the political capital to finance the destabilization of the Palestinian nation. Haaretz and other left-leaning news agencies have adopted this general framework for reporting on Operation Brother’s Keeper, highlighting the overwhelming Palestinian arrests, home raids, and targeting of financial institutions to build upon the premises that the current military assaults are really about targeting Hamas rather than investigating the missing persons report. This argument is only partially true and it adds to the misconception that the majority of the military and intelligentsia resources are cutting into Hamas’ social, political, and financial infrastructure across the West Bank, Gaza, and Hebron specifically. A brief analysis of manufacturing public consent to engage in a prolonged operation, coupled with the systematic targeting of institutions and charitable organizations in Hebron raises certain questions about the intent of Operation Brothers Keeper. This fact, in connection with the historical patterns of Israeli settlement expansion reveals that the end game isn’t about inflicting a fatal blow to Hamas through collective punishment: Operation Brother’s Keeper is a tactical plan to create a political milieu that the international community will stand aside as Israel expands the colonial project across the West Bank.

Hamas: A Marketing Strategy

Hamas is more of an Israeli marketing strategy – a ‘necessary illusion’ – as it is an existential threat to the state. For the Israeli military, ‘Hamas’ is the quintessential brand name for packaging its use of force against Palestinian civil society and selling it to the Israeli public and the international community. People are quick to support the use of force to establish or maintain security, particularly when framed as a preemptive measure against ‘terrorist’ elements. After 9/11 the world began to adopt the War on Terror narrative, and the politics of fear entered center stage. This shifted Israel’s belligerent occupation of Palestinian lands from a Human Rights and International Law paradigm, one in which the government is legally responsible for the health and wellbeing of the population, to one of suppressing a population with a legal system constructed to demolish homes,  detain of children, imprison Palestinians indefinitely, issue curfews across cities, close access points to communities which restricts freedom of movement, construct apartheid roads of Jewish exclusivity that link up to Jewish communities built on annexed Palestinian land all under the guise of combating terrorism.

The decades old Palestinian struggle for sovereignty and self-determination has been transformed from a nation of refugees trying to unshackle themselves from the yoke of military occupation, to a romanticized story of the heroic Israel entrenched in a fight for western values. Hamas quickly transformed into Israel’s Al-Qaida, and everything made sense. What has passed from the collective memory is that Hamas, unlike Al-Qaida, was democratically elected in 2006 as an alternative to corruption that was widely perceived in Palestinian politics. Hamas is an internationally recognized political entity, unlike Al-Qaida. This pivot from legitimizing settlement expansion in an often times complicated peace process frame work, to a globally accepted security model based on the contours of the ‘War on Terror’ narrative, provided an alternative context to understand Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian lands and made aggressive Israeli military policies in the West Bank and Gaza the accepted, justifiable norm.

Hamas: The Institutional Paper Dragon in Hebron

Israel’s current prolonged surge of the West Bank and attacks on Gaza is premised on the strength of the Hamas infrastructure. This is particularly dubious concerning Hamas’ power-share in the West Bank.

For years, Fatah has been purging the Hamas social and political infrastructure to consolidate power and establish itself as the figure-head of the Palestinian liberation movement. The systematic dismantling of the Hamas power structure in the West Bank took form of political oppression through the imprisonment of Hamas political figures, the installation of pro-Fatah technocrats in government, and appointing of Abu Mazen approved board members across civic and religious intuitions with the Fatah sphere of influence. Furthermore, the ambitious welfare and development projects by Salam Fayyad served to inflate Palestinian dependence on the Fatah political structure for employment and government aid, forcing families to make a choice between personal economic welfare and alignment with Hamas.

Additionally, because of the wide spread crack down on the funding of terrorist organizations and new accounting transparency protocols on the global level, charitable organizations across Palestine have adopted a higher level of standard to receive international grants and endowments both locally and abroad.

Two charitable institutions recently targeted during ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ revealed nothing and a closer look at the nature of the make up their board of directors also demonstrates that there was little link between their services and propagating a Hamas political agenda, let alone acting as an arm for terrorist activity.

Al-Shariyya Boys School, which was established in 1961 by King Abdullah and the administration in Jordan – before Hamas had become politically relevant – provides benefits to over 3,500 orphans across the West Bank and handles over 6,000 special benefit cases, and was raided June 20th, 2014. The doors to their administration building were welded shut in the early morning hours. The total damage is unknown, for fear that opening the doors could lead to IDF retribution.

However, it’s reasonable to assume that financial records, employee and client information was obtained during the search and seizure operation, as it would follow the current operational pattern.

In 2008, the Al-Shariyya Boys School was raided and employee records and financial statements had been confiscated.

In the past, in addition to an Israeli financial audit which halted services to the orphans, employees of the institution had travel restrictions placed on their identification cards and were unable to leave the country for a period of time.

“When they raided us in 2008, our employees and staff were unable to go to Jordan,” said Judge Hatam al-Bakri.

In 2008, the Israel forces also issued warnings to the businesses that rent space from the administration building, citing that their rental fees were aiding the financial wing of the institution – despite there not being evidence that the Al-Shariyya Boys School had been engaged in illegal activity.

Judge Hatam al-Bakri is confident that the current order which is set to expire on September 31st will not extend past the date.

“What they did in this case, is reinitiated the order from 2008,” explained Judge Hatam al-Bakri. “But the problem is, this is going to cause problems during Ramadan and our ability to fundraise – which is crucial to our continued operation.”

The incursion, destruction of property, and confiscation of business information essential to the continuation of their social programs which provide services as far south as Yatta and as far north as Beit Omar, is particularly dubious. Judge Hatam al-Bakri was appointed to the board after the Hamas purge and has a clean record. Additionally, the Al-Shariyya Boys School has been acknowledged by German Society for International Cooperation and awarded a certificate for exemplary accounting practices.

The raid on the Muslim Youth Society had all the same irrelevant connections to Hamas as the Al-Shariyya Boys School: The board had been purged, they garnered awards in their accounting practices, and their administrative by-laws specifically ban the alignment or propagation of any political party. Despite these facts, the organization was raided on June 18th.

The Muslim Youth Society that focuses on education and sport, administers 12 schools across the West Bank and uses the curriculum and text books issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

The Muslim Youth Society, which has expanded its services to offer international opportunities to its students and staff, offer exchanges to host families around the world and coordinates sports programs with such high profile organizations as Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Palestinian Olympic Committee – organizations that would not risk the public opinion of working with an institution that may have links to terrorism.

This civic organization which has 223 employees, offers transportation to the orphan sector of the Palestinian community – specifically Hebron – providing services to over 3,500 cases, is facing the prospects of starting over because of the confiscation of their computers and file system.

“We as a board opted to not even back up our data for fear that in doing so, it could be perceived as trying to hide information,” said Shadi Sider, the executive director of the Muslim Youth Society. “We won’t know which of our clients need which services or if the families need additional financial benefits. Thousands of people depend on our work in Hebron and elsewhere. All that we are asking is to have our data back.”

The absence of a Hamas super-structure is evident in the lack of tangible evidence obtained during the current, thorough siege of the West Bank. Over 2,000 soldiers, with a legion of intelligence experts gathering information from illegal detentions with forced interrogations under the “Ticking Time Bomb” protocols, including data gathering instruments not limited to internet hacking but also involve gaining access to data bases and cellphones through the physical confiscation of computers in house and institutional raids, the monitoring of movement via aerial balloons and drones. All of this has turned up little information to put the military a step closer to solving the missing person’s report or evidence of Hamas posing a significant threat to the security of Israel in the West Bank.

As Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “Even if we locate and rescue the kidnapped boys, we won’t cease this operation until we feel we have exhausted it.” With the IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz re-affirming the accepted analysis of “Brother’s Keeper”, that aims to inflict serious social and economic damage to Palestinian civil society: “The operation must continue as long as it continues,” and that the “ancillary goal is to cause more damage to Hamas”. Ya’alon and Gantz are correct in saying that the mission is broader than the missing person report, but are misleading in suggesting that the “ancillary goal is to cause more damage to Hamas.” Ya’alon, Gantz and the rest of the Israeli occupation apparatus fully understand the weak connection that these individuals have to Hamas. That is why in many cases the military is executing previous legal instruments to justify the sweeps and confiscation of private property. It would be difficult to build a legal case upon today’s realities linking institutional administration of the charitable organizations in Hebron today to Hamas or other elements of terrorist networks.

Using Hamas affiliation for dentition, imprisonment, and home demolitions

Additionally, the rhetoric in the news and from the political advocates of the surge, continue to brand the detainees as Hamas affiliates, regardless of whatever tangential link there may be. The numbers of Palestinians arrested has surged over 400, with the Haaretz reporting that some 300 have a link to Hamas.

What methodology is Israel using to classify people as Hamas supporters, and what is meant by ‘support’? Political allegiance is inherently fluid, with individuals switching parties and ideologies over the course of a life time. Often times, subscription to a political party is based on opportunities rather than a dogmatic adherence to the parties practicing principles.

Individuals facing interrogation are more likely to be an individual who simply didn’t have an I.D. at a check point or a Palestinian suspected of stone throwing than a Hamas operative with access to financial resources to carry out an act of violence against Israel. The necessity for Israel to demonstrate a serious blow to the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank creates an institutional pressure to classify Palestinians as Hamas affiliates. This is particularly problematic because an outside institution isn’t independently verifying prisoners’ connection to Hamas.

A closer look at some of the incidents of arrests and home demolitions suggests that little has changed in the operational methods or requirements in arresting members of the Palestinian civilian population, but rather  an increase in the number of Palestinians arrested has been a result of an increase of military resources, intensity and social unrest: An additional 2,000 soldiers are on the ground and able to conduct more home raids and administer more military check points across the Hebron district, clashes with soldiers are more frequent and last longer. As a result, the data collection on alleged Hamas affiliates inflates the public perception of Hamas’ presence in the West Bank, an essential precondition for carrying out the magnitude of the surge.

On Tuesday, June 17, Jamal Ezzat al-Qawasmeh had his home raided in the Farsh al-Hawa area of Hebron because of the strategic location of his home. During the raid, Jamal Ezzat al-Qawasmeh was taken to jail and his house was turned over.

On Saturday, June 21 Shadi Abu Omar, 18 years old, was arrested and detained on suspicions of having a dangerous weapon. The military entered the shop where he worked, told everyone to leave, searched the place and found a knife – a knife that is used for peeling corn. He was later released after several hours of interrogation. No connection to Hamas was established.

Israeli has renewed with gusto, the implementation of home demolitions as an instrument to target businesses and residents in the West Bank (in some cases, Israel has renewed home demolitions as an instrument of collective punishment for the innocent civilian population), taking an opportunity to use the smoke screen of siege to displace Palestinians and inflict damage on the local economy.

The Al-Rayan Investment Agricultural Company was issued a demolition order on their dairy processing plant in the northern area of Hebron, near the strategic location on Route 60 – the main entrance to the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement, in the south eastern corner of Hebron.

The home demolition order was re-issued, despite a court decision from the Israeli High Court that the business could continue to operate under Israeli dairy processing regulations in 2002.

The manufacturing plant was built before the Oslo Accords, before the West Bank was carved into separate administrative zones, Area A, B, and C and the H1 and H2 sections of Hebron – meaning that they did not need to work through the Israeli bureaucracy to maintain a building permit.

Taking extra precautions to avoid Israeli authorities from exploiting manufacturing regulations that could execute the demolition order, the Al-Rayan Investment Agricultural Company moved there dairy cows to property miles away.

“We have lost a lot of money from moving our dairy cows off our property. But we felt like we had to, because it could be a reason for the Israelis to destroy our plant,” said one of the workers who wished to not be identified. “No we spend extra money on drivers. The logistics of trying to make it through check points. It has been a big problem. But this is what we have to do in order to ensure our plant isn’t demolished.”

Israel did not accuse the workers or the administration of being affiliated with Hamas, but were satisfied by re-issuing a decades old demolition order on their milk processing facility.

On Wednesday, June 18 the family of Eid Ziyad Thayer in the area of Khallet al-Furn had their homes demolished, displacing over 70 men, women, and children, and killing several sheep in the process. Again, this was the execution of a demolition order that was issued seven years ago, but because the political milieu could support the operation with little to no attention by the international community, it was feasible to carry out the operation with no repercussions to Israel’s public image. No Hamas operatives or affiliations were made in connection to this village of refugees.

Empowering the settlement enterprise

Taken together, the collective punishment brought about a rise in nationalism and empowered the settlement enterprise and Israel’s colonial project of populating the West Bank. This is evidenced by an increase in settler attacks on Palestinians, which in return creates an argument to increase security around the settlement populations in the West Bank. Stoking unrest is an essential ingredient to cause a Palestinian backlash. The backlash is a means to either create military “security zones”, or jumpstart the Peace Process – a peace process that has been used to expand settlements in a very blatant pattern.

This is significant, because settlement expansion, often times through a pattern of establishing “closed military zones,” around current settlements and strategic Palestinian locations, creates a de facto situation on the ground, and after the land passes through a series of legal designations, it becomes open for Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Additionally, the “embattled pious Jewish community in a sea of angry Arabs” rally cry across the settlement establishment in the West Bank provides a reason to mobilize Zionist institutions for resources, such as fundraising, political currency, infrastructure, and often times, inspiring people to move into the settlements. Look no further to the life of Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his ability to unite Israelis around the settlement movement, and his violent ideology to see this played out in real time.

The increase of anti-Palestinian sentiment has popped up across social media in the form of a Facebook page calling for Israelis to kill Palestinians has received over 20,000 ‘Likes’, as well as violent attempts to claim Palestinian lives.

On June 14th, Israeli settlers injured three Palestinians and caused damage to 15 vehicles in the northern area of the West Bank.

On June 16th, Israeli settlers opened fire on the Palestinian village Beit Rima north of Ramallah.

On June 22nd, Israeli settlers opened fire on during a funeral of Muhammad Tarifi, (the fifth Palestinian to lose his life during Operation Brother’s Keeper) in al-Bireh near Ramallah.

The Alternative Information Center also chronicles several Palestinian attacks across the West Bank, demonstrating increased confidence that settlers can attack in impunity.

In the H2 sector of Hebron, where settlers are notorious for attacking Palestinians and international human rights observers, there has also been in increase of violence.

On June 16th, the symbol of settler violence, Anat Cohen in Hebron, attacked the family of Abu Shamsiyya and injured his 15 year old daughter Madilyn. Despite filing a police complaint against Cohen, it was Madilyn that was warned that if she was seen by Cohen, that it would be her that would be taken to jail.

On June 21st, just five days later, Farij Abdul al-Razad Abdul Rahman Gaith and his two sons, aged 28 and 21 were attacked at the home next to the parking lot for the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Despite the settlers initiating the attack by throwing stones at their house and brandishing a knife, the family was taken to jail.

These are just a few of the incidents that CPT followed up on, and doesn’t include the instances where reports were not filed to the police stations by Palestinians, knowing that seldom they produce any justice – or in the case of the Abu Shamsiyya case, it works against the family. Additionally, because of the heightened security around Hebron and travel restrictions, there is very little independent international media to cover the area. The local Palestinian media staff often times are targeted by settlers as well as the Israeli military and police. Many more cases aren’t documented, but do occur on a regular basis.

Is it now or never for the settlements?

Recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular Palestinians gaining access to international legal instruments, international governments becoming increasingly willing to offer political support for the Palestinians, as well as success in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel and businesses association with the occupation has made proponents of the Zionist dream uneasy. Israel’s recent isolation in global politics may well portend that the window of opportunity is closing to completely embed the illegal settlement web across into the West Bank.

Although the elaborate apartheid system built from Jewish-only by-pass roads and illegal settlements offer a wide analysis of potential settlement expansion, the H2 section of Hebron offers a microcosm of the settlement campaign and what is at stake.

In just the small section of Hebron, the designated H2 area, there are over 20 areas of settlement expansion and settlement activity that are on the brink of full-fledged Knesset support for development. These areas represent strategic locations of annexation to provide absolute continuity from the illegal Tel Rumedia settlement and the surrounding Jewish cemeteries in the northwest corner hillside of the Old City of Hebron, down along the Abraham spring, connecting it to the centrally located illegal Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah, and Avraham Avinu settlements. The centrally located Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah and Avraham Avinu settlements are a jumping stone to the large Kiryat Arba settlement on the southeastern fringes of the Old City and the newly established Al-Rajabi building. Together, these Jewish settlement blocks represent the Gordian Knot being tied around the crown jewel of Hebron: The Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Palestinian violence is a precondition for settlement expansion in Hebron. Last year when an Israeli soldier was killed in Hebron, the initial retaliation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to re-occupy the al-Rajib house, a strategic intermediary location between the Shuhada Street settlements, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and the Kiryat Arba settlement.

Plans for settlement expansion in Hebron are already under way, with the announcement of a museum on the hill top of Tel Rumeida – which is being built on the Palestinian family Abuhaikal’s land. But as Emmanuel Eisenberg from the Israel Antiquity Authority points out, it is more than just a museum he plans on building.

Many questions remain involving the missing person report, but one question we can ask ourselves today: With so much land, resources, and money hinging on the development of the settlements in the West Bank, would Israel break from its long history of exploiting a national tragedy to capitalize on an opportunity?