The violence of Israel’s occupation is both an instrument of control and display of power. At Qalandiya checkpoint last Friday, July 1, the ugly use of force was once again on display.
Waiting in sweltering heat to cross the Ramallah-area checkpoint, thousands of Palestinians hoped to enter Jerusalem to pray on the last Friday of Ramadan. But, they were thwarted by Israel’s occupation forces, which arbitrarily imposed entry restrictions with customary force.
Activestills, a collective of photojournalists, captured dramatic video footage of the resulting chaos. “Men under forty-five years old go home!” one Israeli officer barked over a loudspeaker. “If you keep breaking the law we will use force!” Moments later, he threw a stun grenade into the crowd from the hilltop above, scattering young and old across Qalandiya’s wastelands.
Black-clad Israeli border police on horses galloped into the crowd, in a violent attempt to disperse the terrified Palestinian citizens. Those trying to escape the panicked scene were pushed and shoved by officers on foot, as tear gas and stun grenades punctuated the surrounding area.
Inside the checkpoint, soldiers petulantly waved away Palestinians, denying them permission to cross, while other soldiers angrily berated those who dared talk back. All the while, young members of the IDF, machine guns in hand, stood in raised concrete watchtowers apathetically watching the mass of people, as they slowly moved through the checkpoint’s metal cages and turnstiles.
As with other everyday scenes of humiliation and disempowerment in Palestine, this one inevitably ended in violence.
According to Ma’an News Agency, Muhammad Habash, sixty-three, suffered excessive tear gas inhalation during the Israeli assault and later died in hospital. Israel’s military denied that Habash’s death was the result of teargas, saying he died from a heart attack. Forty other Palestinians were also injured. To whitewash the IDF’s violence, Israeli media reported that hundreds of Palestinians had been “rioting.”
Violence is central to Israel’s oppression of millions of Palestinians. Israel’s system of checkpoints, walls, and permits are designed to streamline control and foster submission. When Palestinians refuse to obey these repressive policies, Israel unleashes physical force to reinforce its domination and subjugation over the population.
For several hours last Friday, Qalandiya lay at the intersection of socio-economic oppression, physical force, and the curtailment of religious rights. The chaotic result does not compare to the horrors of war in Gaza. Nor does it rival the brutal wave of violence that has killed 220 Palestinians and over 30 Israelis since last year.
It does, nonetheless, remind us of the everyday, normalized violence used against Palestinians to reinforce control – and how very dehumanizing it is.