On Monday 10 April, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 15-year-old Mohammad Fayez Balhan in Aqbat Jaber refugee camp near the West Bank city of Jericho. Undercover Israeli forces infiltrated the camp and took up sharpshooter positions on the rooftops. The soldiers also injured two other young men, and detained a further five.
The murder of Mohammad by Israeli forces brings the death toll this year to at least 96 Palestinians, 18 of whom were children.
#ApartheidIsrael shot and killed 15-year-old child Mohammed Balhan from Aqbet Jabir refugee camp near Jericho.
The #Apartheid forces raided the refugee camp, and shot Mohammed in the head, chest, and stomach killing him in cold blood. pic.twitter.com/AdrE51KGfd
— Stop The Wall (@stopthewall) April 10, 2023
The raid is reminiscent of the massacre that took place in Aqbat Jaber in February. On that occasion, Israeli forces besieged Jericho for 10 days, and snipers killed five people.
The murder of Mohammed happened in the context of the deliberate provocation that occurred at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque last week. Al Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam. On Wednesday 5 April, worshippers were viciously attacked by Israeli police.
The Canary‘s Afroze Fatima Zaidi wrote:
Israeli forces had arrested 450 people by Thursday 6 April.
Friday was no different; thousands of Muslims had gathered at Al Aqsa for prayers. At least 2,300 police officers were in the vicinity of the mosque, and onlookers said that they attacked shop owners and street vendors. Police attacked worshippers and arrested 15 people, including two children. At the same time, Israel’s warplanes bombed Gaza.
A brutal routine
Attacks on worshippers at Al Aqsa during Ramadan are a brutal routine. Israel’s politicians know all too well that these attacks are a provocation. A similar attack in 2021 sparked an uprising across Palestine. In 2000, an attack by Israeli colonists led by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon – who was accompanied by over 1000 police and soldiers – ignited the second Palestinian Intifada (mass uprising). In fact, the ensuing rebellion soon became known as the ‘Al Aqsa uprising’.
The Israeli military often uses holiday periods as a smokescreen for its attacks, taking advantage of the comparative absence of international scrutiny. For example, the bloody 2009 attack on Gaza happened during the Christmas period, while the 2002 invasion of the West Bank happened over Easter.
This last weekend has been bloody, too. Aside from the attacks on Al Aqsa, Israeli troops murdered 20-year-old Ayed Azzam Mahmoud Salim near Qalqilya on 8 April. Settlers rioted near Bethlehem on Easter Monday, attacking Palestinian communities and chanting “Death to Arabs”. Israeli forces failed to protect Palestinians. In fact, they attacked them with tear gas and live bullets.
Tightening the colonial grip on the Jordan Valley
Jericho is the largest Palestinian city in the Jordan Valley, a fertile region which demarcates the West Bank’s border with Jordan. It makes up roughly a third of the West Bank. The Israeli state has a long-held ambition to annex the Valley for itself. Netanyahu temporarily shelved these plans in 2020, in return for a deal with the United Arab Emirates. However, this colonial scheme is still very much alive. On 31 March this year, settlers in the Jordan Valley put up banners ominously stating:
Sovereignty over the Jordan Valley has a national consensus
The Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley faced increased attacks throughout February and March 2023. The Palestinian Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS) campaign reported that Israeli forces demolished homes and confiscated water infrastructure, while Israeli settlers carried out attacks on communities and sabotaged water tanks.
Attacks against rural communities are becoming increasingly violent. JVS wrote that on 25 March:
Abdul Karim Awadeh, a resident from Khribet Homsa [in the Jordan Valley], was assaulted by two Israeli settlers from a new outpost near the settlement Bekaot, leading to wounds on his head and leg. Moreover, they killed one of his sheep. The settlers attacked when he was grazing his herd in the land surrounding the village. The settlers‘ actions follow the strategy of intimidating the Palestinian population into leaving their land in order to facilitate the land grab.
On Friday, in the wake of the brutal attacks on Al Aqsa, a car was attacked by Palestinians close to the Al-Hamra checkpoint in the Southern Jordan Valley. Three Israeli settlers eventually died from the injuries they sustained. The three women killed were reportedly born in the UK, but had immigrated to the illegal colony of Efrat. The settlement of Efrat is just outside Bethlehem, and many of its residents are of British heritage.
Escalating colonial violence
The murder of Mohammad Fayez Balhan should be seen in the context of this escalating colonial violence, provocation, and resistance, spanning both recent years and the many decades preceding them. It is a killing that happened in the midst of a spiral of violence that is being orchestrated by the Israeli state in order to further its colonial aims. One of those aims is to annex the Jordan Valley permanently into the state of Israel.
Israel continues efforts to eliminate the Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley and isolate it from the West Bank in order to create facts on the ground before executing a unilateral plan that will exclude the region from the West Bank.
Since Friday, the Jordan Valley has taken centre stage again. The threat of the annexation of the Valley is a shadow which looms behind the actions of Israeli forces in the area. The people of the Jordan Valley need us not to forget them, and to oppose the tightening of Israel’s colonial grip on their lands.
Featured image via Al Jazeera/YouTube
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