Belfast (Special to Informed Comment) – I was horrified to watch the February 22 Israeli army assault on Nablus where I was born. I grew up on its outskirts and completed my secondary education there. I yearn for its beautiful old city, renowned for Turkish baths, a traditional olive-oil soap industry and old markets filled with the aroma of spices, fruits, vegetables, freshly made falafel and the traditional Knafeh dessert.
Nablus is considered one of the world’s oldest cities, possibly built 9000 years ago. The Palestinian News Agency Wafa site states that the ancient Canaanites built Nablus in 4500 BC then it was re-built by the Romans in 72 CE. Its ancient archeological sites are a reflection of its rich history including a site that dates back to the bronze age, showing a Canaanite temple and a defensive wall. During the Roman era, the city had horse racetracks, a theatre and amphitheatre. There is also a church built on the site of Jacob’s Well in the 4th century CE where Christians believe Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Nablus also has various mosques and landmarks that relate to different periods of its Islamic history including a mosque built in the 7th century CE. Other buildings relate to the Mamlouk and Ottoman era, most notably its historic khan or souk which was built in the 16th century and is still a busy market.
It is a city of great culture. The renowned Palestinian poet Ibraheem Tuqan (1905-1941) was from Nablus. One of his poems became Iraq’s national anthem. His sister Fadwa (1917 – 2003) was influential in modernising Arabic poetry. Al-Najah National University in Nablus is the largest Palestinian university. There is a healthy peaceful co-existence between its Muslim majority, its Christian minority and its small ancient Samaritan community. Smoking shisha (hookah) is common amongst Nablus women.
On February 22, the news started coming about the Israeli raid on Nablus at about 10:00 am local time, which is different from previous raids in the middle of the night or early morning. It became obvious, since I know the area well, that they planned a massacre, provoking the people with this brazen incursion so that they would have a pretext for a harsh crackdown. The city has a busy market, and a number of schools are a stone’s throw away from it. Eleven Palestinians were killed including a child and three elderly men. More than 100 were wounded, some of whom are still in the intensive care unit. This was the third massacre within a month after Jenin and Jericho.
With this incursion, Israel slapped the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the face. The PA had bowed to American pressure to withdraw a draft UN Security Council resolution against the continued building of Israeli squatter-settlements in the West Bank in exchange for Israel announcing a temporary halt to such new construction. Squatter-settlements are a violation of International Law and the Oslo Accord signed by PLO and Israel in 1993, which was supposed to lead to a Palestinian state by 1998.
While US official policy is to create a Palestinian state on the land occupied by Israel in 1967 (about 22% of historic Palestine) alongside Israel, which was created by Britain in 1948 on about 78% of Palestine after ethnically cleansing over half of the Palestinians. Washington, however, paradoxically keeps blocking any UNSC resolution against the settlements. These vetoes de facto endorse the building of illegal squatter-settlements on the land where the Palestinian state should exist, and the US makes no real effort to stop Israel. Indeed, only one day after the Nablus massacre, Israel humiliated the US by approving building 7000 housing units, which will cut the West Bank in two.
Instead of responding to Israeli aggression, the Biden administration went further in supporting Israel’s far right government by putting more pressure on the Palestinians. Blinken acted as if he was the Israel security minister by pressuring the Palestinians to accept a security plan prepared by American Lieutenant General Michael Fenzel, which requires the PA to fight the resistance groups instead of deterring Israel from raiding into Palestinian territory. To put this in context, it is as though America had demanded that Volodomyr Zelensky in Ukraine fight against the anti-Russian resistance groups, and insisted that he protect the Russian soldiers who invaded Ukraine, all while arming and financing Russia.
Despite Israel’s proven untrustworthiness on this issue, the PA still went to the Aqaba security summit in Jordan on February 26, attended by Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the US. A resolution was agreed upon to reduce the level of violence and for Israel to suspend planning more illegal settlements for four months. A few hours later, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that settlement construction will continue. His far right National Security Minister who lives in an illegal settlement, Itamar Ben-Gvir, dismissed the decisions of the summit by saying “whatever happens in Jordan stays in Jordan.” The squatter-settlements are always illegal in international law, but the summit statement makes it sounds as if they are illegal for the only the next four months.
During the summit, events on the ground exposed its flaws. As a result of the Nablus massacre, two Israeli settlers were shot dead in Huwara just outside Nablus where an Israeli soldier executed a Palestinian last December. As a result, Israeli squatters attacked Huwara and other towns. Hundreds of Palestinians cars and properties including a school were burned, one Palestinian was killed and hundreds were wounded. Although the Israeli army accompanied the violent settlers to protect them, the army senior command later denounced the squatters’ violence as “terrorism.”. Even the PA deployed its security mainly to block unarmed Palestinian protesters who came out in solidarity with Huwara from reaching a disputed site in Nablus, which is often visited by Israeli settlers.
In other words, the PA and Israel protect the illegal Israeli squatters but offer no protection to the Palestinians. A Palestinian child from Huwara summed up the events of that night by saying that he thought it was going to be the last night in his life. He also said that settlers harassed him often and one day Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at him while he was just walking in his village.
Obviously, the US is dealing with the issue as a security matter that can be resolved by deploying more guns. In reality, it is a political issue. Washington can only genuinely work toward a just peace by treating the Palestinians as human beings equal to the Israelis and by shifting US foreign policy from knee-jerk, total support for Israel, including its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, toward a policy based on applying International Law and the UNSC resolutions.