As tensions reach breaking point, Israelis are arming themselves and Palestinian children are seeking revenge

As tensions reach breaking point, Israelis are arming themselves and Palestinian children are seeking revenge

Jerusalem pet store supplier Tai Nizar picked up a 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol and weighed it in his hand.

At just 620 grams, it was light and compact and sat comfortably in the palm of his hand.

Mr Nizar, a Jewish Israeli, was in the process of buying a gun that was smaller and easier to conceal than his current weapon, so he could defend himself against a new wave of violence in the region.

He pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes and pulled the trigger.

Five shots rang out, at the sprawling Kaliber 3 counterterrorism and security academy in the Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion in the occupied West Bank, through a paper target hanging in front of a rocky hill.

“A bigger weapon could be a target,” he said.

“If someone sees a bump [under my jacket]they know you might have a weapon, you might be attacked first.”

Mr Nizar, a licensed gun owner, lives in Jerusalem but travels across Israel and the West Bank for his work.

He is one of a growing number of Israelis investing in a new weapon at the urging of the Israeli government, following the worst year of bloodshed in the region in more than a decade.

“I have to be armed for my protection, for my environment’s protection,” he said.

“If I see a terrorist attack, I can stop it immediately.”

A year of bloodshed

According to the United Nations, 14 Israelis and 86 Palestinians have been killed since the start of 2023 as of March 22, after a year of spiraling violence that has included a wave of Palestinian attacks and almost nightly Israeli military raids in the West Bank.

Israel said most of the Palestinians killed were associated with militant groups.

Last month, Israeli troops killed 11 Palestinians, including at least four gunmen and four civilians, and wounded more than 100 people during a raid in the Palestinian city of Nablus.

It was the single deadliest incident in the West Bank in two decades.

In January, a 21-year-old Palestinian man shot and killed seven people outside a synagogue in an East Jerusalem settlement on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The synagogue attack came just 24 hours after 10 Palestinians were killed in a shootout in an Israeli military attack in the West Bank city of Jenin.

The dead Palestinians included mostly armed militants and at least two civilians.

At least 34 Palestinian children were among those killed by Israeli forces last year, according to the United Nations. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

In response to the rise in attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hard-right Israeli government has pledged to arm thousands more Israeli citizens to be a first line of defense.

Every day, more than 400 people come to the Kaliber 3 facility to train in weapons handling, tactical combat and self-defense.

The customers include soldiers, government workers and an increasing number of civilians, such as Mr. Nizar, who are flocking to buy handguns, according to the academy’s vice president Itzik Fuchs.

Itzik Fuchs says he has seen an increase in people wanting to defend themselves amid increasing violence. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

“People want to be more protected,” Mr Fuchs told the ABC.

“In the last year, with more of the attacks that we’ve had in different places, we have a lot of requests from people who want to apply for a license for weapons … so that when they walk in the street, they can be safer. “

The plan to make it easier for educated Israelis to obtain gun licenses is being spearheaded by Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right extremist whose Jewish Power party is part of the coalition that recently became the most formed a right-wing government. in Israel’s history.

Mr Ben-Gvir was previously convicted of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism against Arabs, and banned from serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) because he was deemed too dangerous.

He repudiated some of his past behavior and said that in cabinet he would serve the whole of society.

His wife, Ayala Ben-Gvir, a proud Israeli settler in the West Bank who is armed, was among the civilians at the Caliber 3 gun shop when the ABC visited.

She was there for a lesson in cleaning her gun – a task she compared to a trivial fact of life.

“You have to clean your weapon once in a while. Don’t you clean your house?” she told the ABC.

But with both Israeli settlers and Palestinians engaged in escalating violence, critics fear a new ‘wild west’ mentality is taking hold.

Why was Jana, 16, killed?

The formation of the new Israeli government last December sent renewed panic and anger through the occupied West Bank, already reeling from a dramatic and violent upsurge in Israeli military operations.

Jana Zakarneh was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper at her home in Jenin in December. Her family says she was playing with her cat at the time. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Last year, Israeli forces killed more than 150 Palestinians in the West Bank, including militants and civilians – the highest number since the United Nations began systematically recording deaths in 2005.

Israel said its forces were responding to threats of planned, and actual, attacks on Israelis by Palestinians.

The attacks left 31 people dead in Israel and the West Bank last year, according to the IDF.

The collateral damage is serious. At least 34 Palestinian children were among those killed by Israeli forces last year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

UN experts condemn what they describe as an excessive use of force by the Israeli military, and rampant Israeli settler violence against Palestinians.

While Israel says some of them were armed militants, others were caught in the crossfire.

Jana Zakarneh (16) was shot four times by a sniper while she was on the roof of her house. (Supply)

One of those children, 16-year-old girl Jana Zakarneh, was shot in the head last December when an Israeli army strike sparked a clash in the West Bank city of Jenin.

An Israeli sniper shot Jana Zakarneh four times in the head and torso while she was on the roof of her house.

A day later, the IDF said an “initial investigation” found that she was “hit by inadvertent fire directed at armed gunmen on a roof in the area from which the force was fired”.

However, the IDF also claimed that Jana was on the roof looking out for local gunmen during the military raid.

It provided no evidence for that claim.

Her family found her in a pool of blood on their roof. They reject the IDF’s finding that the shooting was unintentional and say she was not keeping an eye out for militants.

Her father, Majdi Isam Saeed Assaf, told the ABC he barely sleeps now as he mourns his daughter, who he described as a keen student who dropped out of school to care for her seriously ill mother.

Majdi Isam Saeed Assaf says he can barely sleep as he mourns his daughter Jana, and fears for his surviving son. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

“I didn’t realize what had happened,” he said.

“It was only when I lifted her head that my hand went through her head and I realized.

“They were shooting at her everywhere.

“They could see her. They could see she was a girl. Sharpshooters can see exactly. They knew full well she was a girl. She played up there for over an hour.”

Jana used paint to mark her handprints on the wall of her home months before she was killed. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Mr. Assaf said she was on the roof playing with her cat.

The IDF said a drone filmed the incident but did not respond to the ABC’s request to release the vision.

In its statement a day after the death, the IDF said, “the allegation that security forces deliberately shot at uninvolved civilians is implausible and without foundation”.

It said it was continuing to investigate the death and was “remorseful[ted] any harm to uninvolved civilians”.

A new generation joins the fight

The surge in military search-and-arrest raids in cities such as Jenin in the West Bank is driving a new generation of militants to seek payback.

Jenin and the city of Nablus have become hotbeds for armed militants who are openly feted in the streets as the crisis-ridden Palestinian Authority loses control of those cities.

The streets of Jenin are decorated with banners, posters and signs with the faces of so-called martyrs, who were killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

The streets of Jenin are decorated with banners dedicated to armed militants killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Their deaths are celebrated in pictures hanging from the necklaces of local girls and women, and plastered on scooters around the city.

The city’s residents are being urged to take up arms by powerful militants such as the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, designated a terrorist organization by the US, European Union and Australia.

“We are driven to defend ourselves all the time and keep what is left of our land,” said Deyaa abu Waad, spokesperson for Al Aqsa Brigades, in an interview with the ABC.

“We call on our brothers to take to the streets and start a new Intifada for the rights of the Palestinians.

“We’ve had enough of this waste of time from the UN pretending to sort out our situation peacefully and we haven’t seen anything in the last 25 years.”

With the peace process stalled for nearly a decade, a generation raised under occupation is heeding that violent message and taking up arms.

As critics fear a new era of vigilantism and revenge on both sides, the US government is calling for a de-escalation of the violence.

The United Nations envoy in Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, has meanwhile called on the world community to reverse declining international support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) so it can have the resources to regain control of Jenin and Nablus.

Many Palestinians are now deeply disillusioned with the peace process and fear that the violence will only escalate.

Majdi Isam Saeed Assaf, the father of Jana Zakarneh, now fears for the future of his only remaining child.

“I am afraid for my son, I am afraid that the army will come and kill him,” said Mr Assaf.

“The world sleeps. They do nothing. They are in denial.”

Fears are growing that the rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians could soon spark another conflict. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

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