On Friday, the Israeli military laid out plans for a three-day West Bank closure of crossings aimed to last through the duration of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The decision comes after a shooting in Tel Aviv on Wednesday in which four Israeli civilians were killed by two Palestinians, who are cousins, disguised as Hasidic Jews. Since the attack, one gunman has been shot and the other was apprehended by Israeli authorities.
According to NorthJersey.com, the Israeli army said that border crossings will remain open for “medical and humanitarian” purposes. The exceptions are also extended to Muslim Palestinians who wish to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, as the month of Ramadan also begins.
Also reported on Friday, thousands of Palestinian worshippers were allowed through border crossings for prayer. The services ended peacefully.
The closure is expected to affect up to 83,000 Palestinians who had their permits frozen after Wednesday’s attack and have relatives in Israel. The Israeli military moved to impede movement to and from the West Bank village of Yatta, where Wednesday’s shooters were from. Checkpoints were also set up to monitor movement.
Closures of the West Bank, under Israeli military occupation since 1967, often precede Jewish holidays if tensions in the area are spiking around those times.
I24 News reports that the move has not come without some condemnation, as French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Aryault issued a warning to Israel that a closure carries the potential to make things worse.
“The decision by the Israeli authorities today to revoke tens of thousands of entry permits could stoke tensions which could lead to a risk of escalation.”
The UN, while condemning the attack in Tel Aviv, levied criticism against the Israeli government. UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein charged that the closures would affect thousands of Palestinians and constitute a measure of “collective punishment,” a highly controversial series of methods that Israel uses in response to attacks and provocation by Palestinians. Hussein added that the closures could also “increase the sense of injustice and frustration felt by Palestinians.”
The Israeli government drew sharp criticism in 2014 when its collective punishment protocol led to the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, 65 percent of which, according to the UN Human Rights Commission, were civilians.
In response to the West Bank closure, the U.S. State Department issued a message of caution to the Israeli government.
“We understand the Israeli government’s desire to protect its citizens… we strongly support that right, but we would hope that any measures it takes are designed to also take into consideration the impact on Palestinian citizens that are trying to go about their daily lives.”
In addition to the West Bank closure, Israeli officials are also pressing for further action such as halting the policy of returning the bodies of Palestinian militants to their families and the faster destruction of homes belonging to the fighters.
Responding to the criticism from the United Nations, the Jerusalem Post carried statements by Israel’s diplomatic mission to the UN.
“The OHCHR is using the murder of innocent Israelis to attack Israel. Once again, instead of putting itself by the side of the Israeli victims, it settles for a forced, weak condemnation, and rushes to defend the terrorists.”
Such responses by Israeli government officials are nothing new. In light of the contention, PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about pressing on.
“We will take the necessary steps to attack the attackers and defend those who need to be defended.”
The Palestinian Authority condemned the attacks but added that it is against attacks against civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli.
“We condemn violence and attacks against civilians on both sides, whatever the justification.”
The mayor of Tel Aviv has also drawn criticism in the wake of the attacks for statements made about the nature of the occupation in an interview with Army Radio.
“We exist as a state, perhaps the only state in the world, in which another people is under our occupation without having the rights of citizens, while throughout the years our leaders say that this territory is, as a matter of fact, collateral. The fact is that the suffering we already endure has still not made us understand the change we have to make… you cannot keep people in a reality where you occupy them, and think that they will, just like that, reach the conclusion that everything is fine and they can keep living that way.”
The current West Bank closure is scheduled to end on Sunday.
[Photo by Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP Images]