Israel’s strategy for de-escalating violence isn’t working

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians is once again intensifying. With stabbings, shootings, and riots piling up in the occupied territories, hostilities have been pushed to a boiling point. The death toll in October alone has now climbed to 52 Palestinians and 8 Israelis (39 of these deaths have occurred in the last two weeks), making this one of the bloodiest months of the conflict for 2015.

The recent explosion of violence re-escalated in September, when Israel announced its decision to ban two Muslim protest groups — Morabitun and Morabitut — from the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in both Jewish and Islamic cultures, announcing that “anyone participating in the organizations’ activities, organizing them or funding them is subject to punishment by law.” Israel has claimed that the banned groups are dedicated to a program of harassment, and worry that they are violent, though Haaretz has noted that the protesters are generally elderly men and women.

On September 13th, Israeli forces raided the Mount and clashed with Palestinian youths, who threw rocks and flares at them. From September 14th through 18th, clashes continued between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters. During this time, a large number of Palestinians were injured, along with several Israeli soldiers.

On September 17th, as the violence continued, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Attorney General to allow the use of deadly force against stone-throwers in East Jerusalem. The next day, following still more violence, Israel announced a ban against Muslim men under the age of 40 on the Mount.

If that was supposed to somehow stymie tensions between the two groups, well, it didn’t. The next day, the violence escalated. On September 19th, rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza strip, and landed in the South of the country with no casualties. Though thought to have been launched by associates of the Islamic State, there is no clear consensus on who the perpetrators were. Israel announced that regardless of whether “those doing the shooting are rogue gangs from global jihadi groups,” it would be Hamas who would be held responsible. Israel then responded by carrying out several bombing raids against Gaza, targeting a number of Hamas military encampments.

Israeli flag

Israel via Shutterstock

Throughout the remainder of September, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians continued in the Old City and near the Temple Mount. During October, escalating episodes of stabbings and stone-throwing attacks culminated in Israel announcing an increase in the penalties for stone-throwing–making the minimum penalty for such attacks four years in prison. 

The international community has made small attempts to play peacemaker. On October 16th, the UN Security Council held a meeting to discuss the growing tensions in the conflict. Much of the criticism at the meeting was directed at Israel, whose increasingly heightened restrictions on Palestinians has fueled anger. In particular, critics faulted Israel’s intensified program of establishing checkpoints throughout occupied Palestinian villages, which have noticeably agitated the indigent population and blocked off important resources like hospitals and routes to and from places of employment.

Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant General for Political Affairs at the UN Department of Political Affairs, pointed an additional finger at the ongoing Israeli occupation, and was quoted as alleging that:

The occupation and diminishing prospects for achieving Palestinian Statehood had transformed simmering Palestinian anger into outright rage…a reality that had been compounded by dire economic circumstances and expanding settlement activities.

Yet after the violence over the past few weeks, Israel has only intensified restrictions on Palestinian activity. According to the Associated Press:

Palestinians in Jerusalem, more than a third of the city’s population, have awoken to a new reality: Israeli troops are encircling Arab neighborhoods, blocking roads with concrete cubes the size of washing machines and ordering some of those leaving on foot to lift their shirts to show they are not carrying knives.

Israel has also responded to attackers by bulldozing their homes,part of a new policy established by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Like most moments in the 70+ year conflict, Palestinian casualties greatly outweigh Israeli casualties. Most attacks against Israeli soldiers have come in the form of rock-throwing; Israeli retaliation tends to be with gunfire. Here, it’s easy to ask who’s to blame, and that question inevitably dovetails into a sounding chamber of limitless debate. Yet putting blame aside for a minute and focusing instead on that oft-talked about diplomatic ideal known as the “peace process,” there seems to be one thing that’s clear: Israel’s timeless strategy “for peace,” (applied here like it’s been applied so many times before) — of subduing the Palestinians by further and further tightening the screws of subjugation and authoritarian punishment — does not appear to be working.


Lucas Ropek is a journalist based in Massachusetts. He worked for the Working Families Party in NYC on issues of income inequality and worker rights. His interests include U.S. foreign policy, pop-culture, and freedom fries.

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