Palestine Theater

Israeli forces clash with Palestinian Christians

Palestinian Christians clashed with Israeli forces following Sunday mass on Aug. 30 when demonstrators, including priests, marched to protest renewed work on Israel's controversial separation wall in the Christian-majority town of Beit Jala in the occupied West Bank. The march, the latest in a string of protests, moved through neighborhoods in the Bethlehem-district town where Israeli forces are extending the separation wall, which is considered illegal under international law. Israeli forces shot tear-gas at protesters and physical altercations broke out when troops attempted to suppress the protest. Two protesters were arrested for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers guarding the construction zone, police said.

Palestine and Vatican in UN flag fracas

The ongoing dilemmas over Palestinian statehood took a new turn this week as the Vatican objected to a Palestinian Authority request for the two observer states to the United Nations to be allowed to raise their flags at its headquarters. The Palestinian leadership called on the UN to adopt a resolution approving the raising of the Palestinian and Vatican flags alongside those of the member states. In an Aug. 28 statement, the Holy See said it would abide by any resolution, but noted that since the its founding in 1945, it has been a tradition that "only flags of member States are displayed at the UN headquarters and offices." The statement seems to be aimed at placating Israel, which harshly criticized the Vatican in June after it formally recognized a Palestinian state, signing its first bilateral accord with the Palestinian Authority, concerning the activities of the Church in the Palestinian territories. A vote on the flag resolution, sponsored by 21 countries, is to take place Sept. 15. Among the co-sponsors are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan. An Israeli Foreign Ministry official dismissed the resolution as a "cheap and unnecessary gimmick."

West Bank violence following 'price tag' slaying

Violence was reported across the West Bank and Jerusalem July 31, as Palestinians protested the "price tag" killing of an 18-month-old infant in Duma, near Nablus. The 18-month-old was killed an arson attack when suspected Israeli settlers smashed the windows of two homes in Duma, throwing flammable liquids and Molotov cocktails inside and catching the homes ablaze. The infant, Ali Saad Dawabsha, was trapped inside the family's home as the fire spread. The child was burned alive. His parents and four-year-old brother were left with severe burns. Graffiti near the scene of the attack said "Price tag," "Revenge" and "Long live Messiah the king" in Hebrew. Israeli authorities, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, condemned the attack as "terrorism."

Israel razes Negev Bedouin village —for 86th time

Bulldozers backed by Israeli forces destroyed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev Desert on July 2 for the 86th time in the last four years. "Israeli bulldozers forced their way into the village under the protection of dozens of Israeli forces," Attia al-Asam, who heads the regional council of "unrecognized" Bedouin communities in the Negev, told Turkey's Anadolu Agency. Israeli forces surrounded the village and displaced the population before demolishing the homes, the local leader added. Saleem al-Wakili, a 57-year-old Bedouin resident, added: "It is the 86th time they destroyed my house and I will rebuild it tomorrow. The Israelis are trying to exile us from our land by demolishing our homes, but they will not succeed."

UN Gaza report finds evidence of war crimes

A report released June 22 by the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict finds that both Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes during the 51-day conflict. The death toll among Palestinians is put at 2,251, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 299 were women and 551 children. A further 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,436 children, were injured, of whom 10% suffered permanent disability. Some 18,000 housing units in Gaza were destroyed in whole or part; much of the electricity network and the water and sanitation infrastructure was incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and many ambulances damaged. Many Palestinians were uprooted from their homes or temporary shelters multiple times; at the height of hostilities, the number of internally displaced persons reached 500,000, or 28% of Gaza's population. The report notes that casualty figures gathered by the United Nations, Israel, Palestinian authorities and non-governmental organizations differ, but states that "the high incidence of loss of human life and injury in Gaza is heartbreaking."

Jewish extremists attack revered church in Galilee

An apparent arson attack damaged the revered Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha in northern Israel overnight, authorities said June 18. The Byzantine-era shrine, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, is where Christians believe Jesus fed the 5,000 in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. Father Matthias Karl, a member of the Benedictine Order which oversees the site, said an external atrium was "totally destroyed" in the blaze. "The church, thank God is in good condition," he told AFP. Graffiti in Hebrew was left on another building within the complex, reading, "The idols will be cast out"—a quote from the Aleinu prayer, pointing to the work of Jewish extremists. Wadie Abu Nasser, an adviser to the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, said the attack would reverberate throughout the Christian world. "Israel's global image will be harmed," he told Israeli public radio."When you put one and one together, between the graffiti and the arson, you can reach a conclusion regarding the potential suspects." Police said 16 settler youth from the "Samaria" region of the West Bank were detained and questioned in the attack, but later released. Tabgha was targeted in a previous attack in April 2014, in which church officials said a group of orthodox Jewish teenagers damaged crosses and attacked clergy. (Times of Israel, Times of IsraelAFP, AP, June 18)

Israel frees Palestinian parliament speaker

Israeli authorities on June 9 released the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duweik, following a year in administrative detention. The Ahrar Center for Prisoners and Human Rights Studies said that Duweik, 67, was released from the Ofer prison near Ramallah after paying a fine of 6,000 shekels ($1,565). Duweik, who is a member of Hamas, was detained from his home in Hebron during a massive arrest campaign in June 2014, known as "Operation Brother's Keeper," which was carried out in search of three missing teenage settlers. During the campaign, which lasted until June 30 when their bodies were found, Israel arrested hundreds of Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas, including leaders and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Palestine's parliament. Commentators suggested that Israel's real motive had been to drive a wedge between Hamas and Fatah, which earlier that month formed a national unity government.

SCOTUS rules in Jerusalem passport case

The US Supreme Court ruled (PDF) June 8 in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that the Constitution gives the president the exclusive power to recognize foreign sovereigns. Seeking to have his place of birth listed as "Israel" on his passport, Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky and his family appealed lower court decisions that refused to grant his request on the grounds that, since 1948, the US has not recognized any country as having sovereignty over the holy city. In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court upheld the lower court's finding that § 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (PDF) was unconstitutional for violating the president's sovereignty in foreign relations. The law, through which Congress ordered the State Department to list Israel as the place of birth for US citizens born in Jerusalem if requested, was previously invalidated (PDF) by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2013. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito as well, urged that the law was not repugnant to the Constitution, as the document divides foreign relations power between the president and Congress.

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