A rise in violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is feared following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to make it easier for Israelis to acquire firearms.
On Saturday, Netanyahu said he would expedite gun permits for Israeli citizens and to step up efforts to collect “illegal weapons”.
His office also promised new steps to “strengthen” illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The announcements were made after a meeting of Netanyahu’s security cabinet – filled with hardline politicians – over two shootings that included an attack in occupied East Jerusalem.
Seven people were killed in the shooting outside an East Jerusalem synagogue on Friday.
The shootings took place towards the end of a month of growing confrontation and follow an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin that killed nine Palestinians and exchanges of fire between Israel and Gaza. In all, Israeli forces have killed 32 Palestinians this month.
The new Israeli government, inaugurated last month, is the most right-wing in the country’s history and has sparked fears for Palestinians living under illegal Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and in Israel proper, as well as left-wing Israelis.
Part of the new government are national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, both outspoken about their intention to expand illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of Palestinian land, and are notorious for inciting violence against Palestinians.
Both are settlers living deep inside the occupied West Bank.
“You have the minister of national security who has made it very clear that he believes in killing Palestinians, you have a minister of finance who has made it clear that [Palestinians] are here only temporarily,” Haifa-based analyst Diana Buttu told Al Jazeera.
“And you also have a prime minister who’s making it clear that people should be armed and they’re going to do nothing to stop the killing of Palestinians. You can see the recipe is that more and more Palestinians are going to be killed.”
According to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry, more than 200 Palestinians were killed in 2022. The United Nations said it was the deadliest year for Palestinians in 16 years.
Among those killed was Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. While reporting, she was shot dead by Israeli forces with a bullet to the head during a military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin in May.
Last month, Al Jazeera Media Network submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
“In none of those instances [of killed Palestinians] – not one – was there an investigation opened that led to charges, not even in Shireen’s case, probably the most investigated murder we’ve ever seen,” Buttu said, adding that in more than 90 percent of attacks that settlers perpetrate against Palestinians, “the police does nothing, the army does nothing, they just close off the file, there are no charges that are laid”.
Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said Netanyahu’s plans to approve more gun permits for Israeli citizens come as Israeli police were also encouraging those with existing licenses to carry their guns.
“While Netanyahu is urging Israelis not to take the law into their own hands, he’s also putting more weapons into those very same hands,” said Bays, who went on to describe the measures as “collective punishment” and “a clear breach of human rights”.
Yara Hawari, senior policy fellow at think tank Shabaka, told Al Jazeera the announcement is “a worrying escalation that will no doubt lead to more attacks and more extrajudicial killings of Palestinians”.
“With this move, Netanyahu is giving the green light for all Israelis to inflict violence upon Palestinians with full impunity,” said Hawari.
Buttu added that Israel is already “armed to the teeth” and “shooting at Palestinians is very common”.
“It’s not at all uncommon to see Israeli settlers walking around with not just handguns but with assault rifles,” said Buttu. “It’s quite common whether it’s at the mall, on the bus, on the train, in religious places to see people carrying weapons.
“The problem here is that it’s not just a question of arming people. It’s that this government has always given Israelis a green light to go ahead and shoot at Palestinians”, whether it’s on the level of the police or army, she said.
As part of the punitive measures against Palestinians, Netanyahu also said that the homes of suspected assailants will be sealed ahead of demolition “in order to exact an additional price from those who support terrorism”.
His office said social security benefits for the families of attackers will also be cancelled.
Buttu said the government is “not just trying to arm people, but trying to extract punitive measures not just against individuals, but against their families”.
“Now it’s also taking it a step forward, of trying to strip them of their citizenship, trying to strip them of any national rights.”
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