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Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 15 year old Palestinian during a night raid of a refugee camp in Bethlehem. Two other Palestinians were shot in the foot during the raid, but their conditions are stable. The funeral of Arkan Thaer Mizhar, who was shot in the chest during the raid, took place on Monday. Israeli forces arrested two Palestinians during the raid. During the raid, violent protests broke out in the occupied West Bank, and Israeli responded by using tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to suppress the violence. Although the refugee camp is in a part of the West Bank that is meant to be controlled by Palestine, Israeli forced routinely conduct operations to capture suspected terrorists, and are often met with resistance.
The Israeli army said the two arrested Palestinians were suspected of “terror activity”. An official statement from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said “During the operation, a violent riot was instigated in which Palestinians hurled rocks and threw fire bombs and grenades at IDF soldiers. In response to the threat, the soldiers used riot dispersal means, 0.22 caliber rounds and fired live rounds selectively. There are Palestinian reports regarding a Palestinian that was killed and another that was injured during the activity. The incident is being looked into.” The IDF statement also said the raid uncovered a weapons manufacturing warehouse.
However, other accounts pushed back on the claim that Israel was restrained. One source reported to Al Jazeera that Israeli forces stormed the refugee camp, conducted house raids, and in addition to firing live ammunition, used tear gas and stun grenades on protesters.
The raid in Bethlehem demonstrates a clear disregard for human rights in the name of a “security threat” that may not exist were it not for the Israeli government’s aggressive suppression of Palestinians. This recent operation will do nothing to bring peace to the region. It is wholly unsurprising that Palestinians protested against the Israeli government violating the West Bank’s territorial sovereignty to conduct extrajudicial arrests of Palestinians. Instead of using military force to conduct counterterror operations and violently suppress protesters, the Israeli government should use attempt to use diplomatic channels to cooperate with the relevant Palestinian authorities when combatting legitimate security threats. If genuine engagement fails, the Israeli government should at the very minimum make more substantial efforts to avoid the use of potentially lethal force when conducting operations. Successful implementation of either of these policy changes could eliminate the need for raids that are almost guaranteed to spark violent protests, or at the very least reduce civilian casualties during raids.
The raid on the Bethlehem refugee camp is part of a broader Israeli strategy of extrajudicial detention of suspected terrorists. Approximately 6,500 Palestinians reside in Israeli jails, 500 of whom have been detained without charges. Under the Israeli government’s detention policy, Israel can detain prisoners without charges for up to six months, but detentions can be renewed indefinitely. Six current prisoners are on hunger strike to protest the detention policy. In addition to illegal detention, deadly raids are not a new feature of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Bethlehem raid just marks the most recent of a long string of Israeli operations that often provoke protests that the IDF violently suppresses. In particular, Palestinian youth are often the victims of the IDF’s counter-protest measures. Defense for Children International reported that so far in 2018, 30 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whereas 15 were killed in all of 2017. The Bethlehem raid marks a change from previous violent clashes in 2018, which had mostly been between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza area as opposed to the relatively calmer West Bank.
In conclusion, Israel’s recent raid of the Bethlehem refugee camp fits the IDF’s larger pattern of disregard for Palestinian human rights, and will only raise tensions in the region and exacerbate existing divides. Rather than conduct extrajudicial counterterror operations that result in injuries and lost lives, the Israeli government should attempt a more cooperative, or at least less lethal strategy for dealing with potential security risks.