Defiant Israel to expand West Bank settlements

Israel's right-wing nationalist government announced new plans June 18 to approve the construction of thousands of new buildings in the occupied West Bank, despite pressure from both the US and EU to halt settlement expansion. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has just been granted authority over approval of West Bank settlement construction in a cabinet decision, tweeted in explicitly annexationist language: "The construction boom in Judea and Samaria and all over our country continues."

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called for US and international action to press the Israeli government to backtrack on the decision both to expand settlement constuction and give Smotrich authority in the matter.

The settlement expansion plan comes amid escalating violence. The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced June 19 that at least five Palestinians were killed and 91 injured during an Israeli military raid on a purported Islamic Jihad stronghold in the West Bank town of Jenin. An Israeli helicopter gunship fired missiles after Palestinian militants targeted troop carriers with explosives.

In an apparent reprisal attack the next day, a Palestinian opened fire at a gas station near the Israeli settlement of Eli, killing at least four people and wounding several others before being shot. Israeli security forces said they also shot and killed another Palestinian assailant who fled the scene of the attack. Hamas claimed both assailants as followers.

Hours after the shooting, Israeli settlers streamed through Palestinian towns in the Nablus area, torching and ransacking property and smashing cars with stones. Some settlers opened fire at Palestinians who ventured out of their homes to confront them. Huwara, the scene of much recent violence between settlers and Palestinians, was one of the targeted towns. (Jurist, ToI, WAFA, NPR, Al Jazeera, BBC NewsPRI)

Israeli police also clashed with Druze farmers in the illegally annexed Golan Heights, who blocked roads and burned tires to protest seizure of their lands for a wind farm. They were attacked by riot police who fired tear-gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Israel's Energix Renewable Energies plans to build the $190 million project in orchards near the towns of Majdal Shams and Masada in the northern Golan. Palestinians in the area have announced a general strike in support of the farmers. (Arab News, MEE)

UN human rights chief condemns West Bank violence

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today warned June 23 that violence in the occupied West Bank risks spiralling out of control, fuelled by strident political rhetoric and an escalation in the use of advanced military weaponry by Israel.

Two days earlier, there were reports of an Israeli military drone strike near Jenin, killing three Palestinian men alleged to be members of a militant group.

"Israel must urgently reset its policies and actions in the Occupied West Bank in line with international human rights standards, including protecting and respecting the right to life," Türk said. He added that "these latest killings and the violence, along with the inflammatory rhetoric, serve only to drive Israelis and Palestinians deeper into an abyss."

So far this year, Israeli security forces have killed at least 126 Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Among them were 21 boys and one girl. Over the whole of 2022, a total of 155 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, representing the highest number in the past 17 years. The highest number of Israelis were killed last year since 2016.

Golan farmers win a round

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 23 ordered a temporary halt to construction of the ARAN (Hebrew acronym for "Clean Wind Energy") turbine project that has become the subject of conflict between the government and Druze farmers in the Golan Heights. (Jurist)

More Israeli air-strikes on Jenin

Israel's military has launched air-raids on Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank, part of out an overnight attack that also saw a missile strike and left at least four Palestinians dead, according to residents and officials. (Al Jazeera)

Abbas suspends security coordination with Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suspended contact and security coordination with Israel, as figting continues in a major Israeli military raid on supposed militant strongholds in Jenin. The decision came after Abbas held a meeting with other leaders of the Palestinian Authority. (MEM

Israeli bulldozers demolish streets in Jenin

After the initial air-strikes on "terrorist strongholds" in Jenin, Israeli military bulldozers destroyed the surrounding streets to prevent movements of combatants. Critics say the demolition of roads prevents ambulances from reaching the wounded. Additionally, other videos show IDF vehicles blocking ambulances from using roads. This may violate Article 3.2 of the Geneva Convention, which requires that "the wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for." (Jurist)

New Israeli air-strikes on Gaza

Just as the IDF announced the start of its withdrawal from Jenin, leaving at least 12 Palestinians dead, Israeli jets struck targets in Gaza—supposedly in retaliation for rocket fire from the Strip. (AFP)

UN warns of humanitarian law breaches in Jenin

UN agencies expressed grave concern on July 4 about the IDF operation in Jenin, West Bank, which has led to at least 12 deaths and approximately 100 injuries so far. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that international humanitarian law must be followed during all military operations.

The UN stated that access to the Jenin refugee camp is restricted due to road destruction and Israeli military checkpoints. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Israeli forces have stopped ambulances from entering the camp, depriving the injured of prompt medical attention. (Jurist)

Israel: judicial reform bill clears committee

A supposedly "scaled back" version of Israel's judicial reform bill on July 4 cleared the Knesset Constitutional Law & Justice Committee by a 9-6 vote. The bill now advances to its first reading in the Knesset plenum.

However, some committee members were not present for the vote after they were removed from the floor for "interference." The removed lawmakers claimed that not all of the invited experts and legal advisors had presented their statements to the committee before the vote. (Jurist)

The following, day, thousands staged a protest occupation of Ben-Gurion Airport, and clashed with police sent to remove them, to oppose the forced resignation of Tel Aviv police district commander Amichai Eshed. Protesters from "Kaplan Group" (named for a street in Tel Aviv) later blocked the Ayalon Highway.

Eshed said the decision to remove him was "politically motivated" by his refusal to take a tougher stance on demonstrators against the government. (JP, JP, ToI)

Israel judicial reform bill passes first reading in Knesset

Israel’s Knesset voted July 10 to advance a bill seeking to restrict the powers of the Supreme Court. Having cleared its first reading, the bill must now be passed through two more Knesset votes before becoming law. (Jurist)

Likud militant expelled for Holocaust comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 16 expelled an activist from his Likud party who had made inflammatory remarks about the Holocaust. The incident occurred in the context of ongoing protests against Israel's pending judicial reform. The party activist in question, Itzik Zarka, was captured on video cursing and spitting at demonstrators in the Northern District of Israel the previous day. His remarks targeted Ashkenazi Jews, who are seen as being dominant in the protest movement. "It's not for nothing that six million were killed," Zarka is seen shouting. "I'm proud that six million of you were burned!"

Zarka later apologized for his words but claimed that he had been provoked, and that his comments were "taken out of context." Denying or celebrating the Holocaust is punishable by up to five years in prison under Israeli law. (Jurist)

Constitutional crisis looms in Israel

Following seven months of protests the Israeli Knesset on July 24 passed the first of its proposed and highly controversial reform bills. The bill seeks to restrict the Supreme Court’s powers, limiting its ability to overrule legislation.

The vote was 64-0, with every member of the ruling coalition voting for the reform, as all 56 members of the opposition left the room in protest. Coalition members were seen taking celebratory selfies with Yariv Levin, the current minister of justice. (Jurist)

Chair-elect of the Israel Bar Association Amit Bechar said in a live-streamed meeting that the Association will petition the Israeli Supreme Court to strike down the legislation—portending a showdown with the government. (Jurist)

US slams Ben Gvir's Tisha B'Av Temple Mount visit

The United States slammed as "unacceptable" National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir's visit to al-Aqsa Mosque compound on July 27, to mark the Tisha B'Av. The Biden administration "stands firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem," a spokesperson for US Embassy in Jerusalem said.

The move also sparked condemnations from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt.

His walk across the compound together with the visit there of over 2,000 Jews sparked fears that Israel was violating the status quo that regulates the religious site. Since 1967 Muslims have had the sole right to pray on the Temple Mount, which they call al-Haram, al-Sharif, while members of all other faiths including Jews, can visit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sworn that he is committed to preserving the status quo. There is, however, a growing movement on the Israeli right to allow for Jews to pray at the site. Ben Gvir's visit to the Temple Mount was his third since taking office in January. (JP)

Anti-Hamas protest in Gaza

Thousands of Palestinians assembled on the streets of Gaza to express their discontent with the Hamas government on July 30. The demonstrators voiced frustrations over the territory’s struggling economy, severe power outages, and high cost of living. (Jurist)

Israeli officialdom feels the fear

Both the threat of military reservists refusing to report for duty and of a cut-off of US military aid in response to the government's judicial reform is clearly registering in Israeli political circles. 

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly pushed back against fellow coalition lawmakers who have decried both protesting Israeli Air Force pilots and US President Joe Biden’s administration for their opposition to the government's judicial overhaul.

During a closed-door briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Gallant reportedly said: "The air force is built on two components: American planes and Israeli pilots. If you have an alternative for one of them, let me know." (ToI)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 10 responded to popular pressure and reversed his decision to fire Gallant over criticism of the judiciary overhaul. (AP)

Lebanon: deadly fighting in Palestinian refugee camp

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 12 people, including one civilian, have died and 50 have been injured in the conflict at Lebanon's Ein El Hilweh Camp. Supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Islamists have been fighting in the camp since late July after a failed assassination attempt on an Islamist leader. (Jurist)

Israel: high court hears petitions against judicial reform

The Israeli Supreme Court convened Sept. 11 to hear petitions against a judicial reform amendment which would annul the country's reasonableness standard. The hearings center around numerous petitions filed by individuals and groups, significantly including Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara and the Israeli Bar Association. The government is being defended by private attorney, Ilan Bombach, because Miara refused to represent the government. (Jurist, NYT)

Israel high court hears arguments on 'incapacitation' provision

Israel's Supreme Court heard arguments on Sept. 28 over an "incapacitation amendment," which imposes restrictions on the government’s ability to claim that the prime minister is unable to fulfill his duties. The government passed the amendment back in March, ahead of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu's corruption trials. (Jurist)

Netanyahu : 'We are at war'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the country is "at war" and ordered a call-up of reservists after Palestinian militants fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip, invaded several towns in southern Israel, and took several "hostages and prisoners of war." Israel has responded with air-strikes on Gaza, and nearly 300 people have been killed on both sides, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials. The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the conflict. (NYT, CNN, Al Jazeera)