Palestinians preparing to march in support of a bid for statehood at the UN later this month could get more than they bargained for: Israel has given security forces and civilian guards in West Bank settlements a license to shoot at protestors.
Palestinian organizers insist that the rallies will be peaceful and will not approach Israeli settlers’ homes in the West Bank, but Israel is preparing for every eventuality, while in the streets there is talk of a third intifada, that some say might become as bloody and as violent as the first two.
With the help of the military, each Israeli settlement in the West Bank has marked a "red line" around its perimeter, said Shlomo Vaknin, an Israeli security officer, the Associated Press reported.
If Palestinians cross that line, the military will shoot at their feet or in the air. But if there are no soldiers nearby, the settlements’ civilian guards can take the initiative and react, Vaknin added.
With some 400,000 settlers living cheek by jowl with the West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinians, the population is bracing itself for violence, RT’s Paula Slier reports.
For several months the Israeli army has been preparing an operation dubbed Summer Seeds, which is now in its final stages. The settlements’ civilian guards have been undergoing intensive security training and participating in drills alongside regular troops.
Some US $20 million has been spent on police training alone. About 28,000 police officers have been mobilized around the country, with Jerusalem one of the focal points of the operation. Many fear that most of the violence could erupt there.
Mass demonstrations are set for the time of the 66th UN General Assembly session scheduled on September 13 – 20, where Palestinians hope their state will receive official recognition.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the decision to approach the UN came after Israel refused to abide by international agreements. Nevertheless, at a meeting held at his Ramallah headquarters on Wednesday, Abbas noted that "approaching the UN is not an alternative to the peace talks."
"I am pleased to note that the Palestinians stated – and maintain this attitude – that their appeal to the UN is not an alternative to achieving a solution with Israel through negotiations," Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday, welcoming the statement made by Abbas.
Sergey Lavrov said that Russia sees no problem in recognizing the Palestinian state. “Our country did it in the last century, and an ambassador of the State of Palestine is working in Moscow," the minister noted.
As the UN vote for recognition of Palestinian statehood nears, the Israeli government is not taking effective action to prevent possible violence from breaking out, says Israeli peace activist and social protester Alma Itzhaki.
She believes that the Netanyahu government is actually fueling the violence by drawing “red lines” around settlements – a move which is not legal.
“Basically, the army is now permitting civilians to open fire. It is in fact creating a civilian militia, which will have the right to shoot at Palestinians crossing these lines that are arbitrary,” the peace activist says.
The lines divide Palestinians’ villages from their fields and from the places where they work, meaning they will have no choice but to cross them, she explains.
In her opinion, “the Palestinians are definitely not interested in any violent events like intifada.”
The Israeli government may be interested in a provocation, warned Michael Warschawski, co-founder of the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli NGO.
“To arm the settlers will add oil to the already existing fire,” he declared, claiming that in fact it is the Palestinians, and not the Israeli settlers, who are being attacked more often.
After the last week’s demonstration, Israel is a different country, Warschawski suggested.
“The brutal reaction from the Israeli army and brutal policy by the Israeli government may be confronted with mass demonstrations inside Israel,” he said. “It will be very hard today – unlike several years ago – to demobilize Israeli public opinion by using the word ‘security’ and even by using bloody incidents.”