After a week of protests, conditions are ripe for a popular uprising across the West Bank

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 26 Comments
shahuda 2
Demonstrators clash with the Israeli army during a protest against the continued closure of Shuhada street to Palestinians, in the West Bank city of Hebron February 22, 2013.
(Photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

“I hate going to demonstrations at Ofer,” said a Palestinian activist last Thursday alongside a few hundred protesters outside the Israeli West Bank military court and prison. The protest was in solidarity with hunger striker Samer Issawi who had fasted for over 210 days. An hour later the Israeli military lobbed the day’s largest round of gas into the crowd and, not able to outrun the toxic cloud, a handful of protesters were trapped inside 30 meters of opaque white gas. After it cleared paramedics rushed to demonstrators lying unconscious in the street. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported over 60 Palestinians were injured, marking the beginning of escalated demonstrations across the West Bank that have continued over the past week.

In recent weeks Ofer prison has become a hotbed for solidarity actions against the incarceration of Issawi and 11 other long-terms hunger striking prisoners. Due to the terrain these marches are particularly dangerous for Palestinian activists. The Israeli military is able to position themselves on high ground next to the entrance of the prison compound, but demonstrators are caught on below on a access road to the prison’s main gate. On the street leading up to Ofer, where most of the protesters congregate, gas becomes trapped between buildings.

Last week other West Bank cities organized protest tents in solidarity with the hunger strikers, but none faced-off with the Israeli army until Sunday when the autopsy of a Palestinian prisoner revealed to have been tortured to death by Israeli interrogators. Ma’an News Agency reported Arafat Jaradat, 30, died after Israeli authorities broke six bones “in his neck, spine, arms and legs,” when he was in custody under suspicion of stone throwing. The particularly brutal response for a relatively minor offense has sparked the mounting Palestinian anger over Israeli treatment of prisoners.

open shahuda
Israeli forces target members of the media with the “skunk truck,” a water canon loaded with a foul-smelling liquid, during a protest against the continuing closure of Shuhada Street to Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 22, 2013.
(Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Hebron

Clashes with Israeli forces began in Hebron last Friday with the annual Open Shuhada Street march. In the downtown area of the West Bank’s largest city protesters used a maze of alleyways and roads to flee chemicals fired by the Israeli military, including skunk water, flash bangs, tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and live rounds. But like Ofer, Hebron’s streets are seamed with three-story buildings that trap the burning gas.

“It is more damaging to use chemical dispersants in an urban environment, but the bottom line is that it is a weapon of collective punishment,” said Irene Nasser, a Palestinian activist and in her professional capacity a media producer with Just Vision. Nasser described how days after the initial use of the skunk water in particular, Hebron’s residents have suffered from headaches, nausea and vomiting. In fact the entire downtown neighborhood Bab al-Zawyeh including the central fruit and vegetable market was closed due to health risks from prolonged exposure to the toxic liquid. “It was also used to spray the area when large demonstrations weren’t occurring,” said Nasser. “After the main commercial area, Shuhada Street, was completely shut down to Palestinians more than a decade ago, now residents of Hebron are unable to use the current market,” she continued.

While most West Bank urban centers have experienced a relative easing of the occupation since the Oslo Accords, Hebron remains an anomaly with soldiers regularly policing central areas of the city. When protests take place in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and other cities in Area A—the Oslo delineated regions under Palestinian Authority security control—it is the Palestinian police who respond. However, both Palestinian forces and the Israeli military police Hebron.

Oddly the Palestinian security forces in Hebron find themselves on both the receiving end of Israeli fire, and in a collaborative role. On Friday morning before the Open Shahuda Street march was underway, Palestinian police formed a chain between protesters and the army. Then a group of 20 officers retreated to the Israeli soldiers, prompting demonstrators to jeer, “look, they are collaborating, they are coordinating!” Indeed moments later the Palestinian police advanced on the march, beating protesters with batons. In response the Hebron marchers pelted the officers with rocks, ultimately shooing them away until the face off was reduced to Palestinians versus Israelis. But the Palestinian officers that lingered were not excused from Israeli fire, often running to escape chemical dispersants alongside the activists.

The Israeli response

Despite the Israeli military’s heavy ground response over the past seven days of protests, the army communications unit has taken a quiet approach. “Numerous riots summing to a few hundred participants, _#IDF was well prepared with dispersal means & crowd control. No story,” tweeted Peter Lerner last Friday in his only response to the clashes. The comment was made on Lerner’s first day at the helm of the IDF International Media program. Avital Leibovich, who developed a reputation for interacting with commenters on social media during times of Israeli military operations, formerly held the position. Leibovich has since been promoted to Head of the Interactive Media Branch for the IDF.

Warnings over the much anticipated “Third Intifada” has been conspicuously absent from the IDF’s current patois de guerre. Last month top-ranking members of the government were eager to decry a possible uprising. One IDF commander, Yaniv Alaluf, even outright stated it had started. “We’re no longer on the verge of a third intifada – it’s already here. We anticipate many more [clashes] from now on,” said Alaluf. At the time Annie Robbins noted the “month-long series of pronouncements from Israeli sources that Palestinians are launching a Third Intifada,” and questioned why Palestinian sources “who launched Intifadas in 1987 and 2000″ were not “the ones to declare their own uprising.” But since then Israeli officials have dropped the talking point. Instead Israel has taken to appeasing the Palestinian population by releasing the millions of dollars of tax funds it withheld last Fall after the Palestinian Authority achieved UN non-member observer status. On Tuesday 35o million NIS was transferred from the Israeli government to the Palestinian Authority, possibly in an attempt to quell the protests.

On the ground the effect of the Israeli strategy is visible, yet the demonstrations are not subsiding. Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank was bustling today and yesterday. “Everyone got paid their salaries,” noted a Palestinian photojournalist while walking through a traffic jam in the city center on Wednesday.

Indeed there is not end in sight for the now week-long clashes in the West Bank. And unlike the last spike in protests during Operation Pillar of Cloud, no ceasefire can instantaneously calm the storm twirling across the occupied Palestinian territories. Will there be a Third Intifada? It is still hard to predict, but perhaps for the first time in years the conditions are ripe for a popular uprising.

26 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    February 28, 2013, 12:25 pm

    great coverage allison. be safe.

  2. Pamela Olson
    February 28, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I second that — great coverage, and please be safe. I hate going to demonstrations, too. A terrifying, dangerous, and often painful experience with no guarantees that anything will change. My respect for Palestinians and others who go through this day after day, week after week, knows no bounds.

  3. Avi_G.
    February 28, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Allison,

    You’re doing valuable and commendable work. But you’re shooting yourself in the foot (a little) when you use sub-headings like “The Israeli Response”, as though Israel was merely reacting to Palestinians who for no apparent reason erupted in anger.

  4. ritzl
    February 28, 2013, 12:31 pm

    What a sight it would be to see 100K Palestinians walking down Shuhada St. greeting their neighbors. Living.

    • ritzl
      February 28, 2013, 1:05 pm

      Heck, what a sight it would be to see Obama and his press entourage walking down Shuhada street, all the while explaining why Palestinians who live there can’t do the same.

      • seafoid
        February 28, 2013, 3:07 pm

        What a sight it would be to see a million Palestinians joining hands around Jerusalem.

        • ritzl
          February 28, 2013, 8:15 pm

          Totally agree, seafoid. Or any settlement that’s just sitting out there in the middle of Palestinian land. Shiloh for example (one of many…). Demand to use the swimming pools or some such absurdity to highlight the vastly deeper absurdity and/or contrast/amorality of ongoing segregation/colonization/apartheid/hafrada in the 21. C by a self-proclaimed “Western Democracy.”

        • seafoid
          March 4, 2013, 10:20 am

          Wouldn’t it be wonderful? The whole situation is so absurd. Israel doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

      • djhicks2790
        February 28, 2013, 5:33 pm

        I had the same thought of Obama walking down, or up, Shuhada Street. I remember a day when Tony Blair came to town. Sadly he was driven into the Old City above the Ibrahimi Mosque which he visited and then he only walked about a block into the Old City afterwards, hardly time to hear from the shopkeepers gathered round or to see the conditions under which they have to live and work. What a vision to see a walk up Shuhada Street!

        • ritzl
          February 28, 2013, 9:22 pm

          Not being glib, but when Blair visited, however briefly, were Palestinian shopkeepers/residents allowed around him.

          I only ask because it seems to me to be simply human to see and interact with the conditions there, and aspirations of the people, and not have affinity, from a modern “Western” perspective (which is where he would be coming from). The seeming fact that he was publicly unaffected by his experience there would point to some enforced PoV.

  5. W.Jones
    February 28, 2013, 12:46 pm

    Yes, be safe, Allison. God bless.

    I am posting this for humor purposes only. It’s sad:
    link to towerdefence.biz

  6. Citizen
    February 28, 2013, 12:47 pm

    Mmmm, and Obama’s trip to Israel is coming soon… One would think, assuming the Palestinians are really tired of getting mauled while the most influential world ignores their plight, yet again, that something might happen, and maybe that’s what the Israelis have planned and seeded–not sure it might bite them in the ass after the SNL rehearsal on the Hagel hearing.

  7. Bill in Maryland
    February 28, 2013, 1:26 pm

    Excellent reporting Allison, thank you and take care.

  8. giladg
    February 28, 2013, 3:20 pm

    I guess it’s time to put the Ghandi non-violent thing back in the closet. It does not apply to the Palestinian story and it never did. The Palestinians have tried to pretend they are something they are not.

    • ritzl
      February 28, 2013, 8:16 pm

      There should be a movie… “Shrill and Shriller.”

    • Avi_G.
      February 28, 2013, 8:49 pm

      In the closet?

      Israel has put the Palestinian Gandhis in the grave and you’ve helped Israel do the digging.

      link to bilin-village.org

      Silly me. Did I write that Israel and you did the digging?

      No. Israeli forces held Palestinians at gun point to do the digging themselves.

      In 1948, as Israel was ethnically cleansing the Palestinian villages in what is now called Israel proper, it ordered residents of Lyddah to dig graves and then Israeli forces when on to execute the residents as the bodies fell into those graves.

      In Zio-speak you probably call that a ‘clean job’.

      You wouldn’t want me to describe in detail how Israel sealed off with brick walls bodies of men women and children it had executed in the mosque where some 170 residents had taken refuge, would you?

      You’re a caricature of everything that is wrong today with Jewish nationalism.

      You kill and kill and kill innocent, gentle souls and when onlookers cannot take the agony anymore you point and say, “See. We told you so. They’re violent.”

    • Avi_G.
      February 28, 2013, 8:50 pm

      Moderator,

      Could you please delete my comment from 8:30 pm?

      Thanks.

    • Shingo
      February 28, 2013, 10:20 pm

      I guess it’s time to put the Ghandi non-violent thing back in the closet

      Don’t you mean, back into an Israeli prison, where Gandi would surely be today if he was alive in Palestine?

    • ivri
      March 1, 2013, 8:34 am

      Some people sitting comfortably on their armchairs in other places want to see “action”, because they think it will hurt Israel and advance the Palestinians cause. But think about the actual human beings that are expected to do that and what it will do to them. In reality (and I am also reporting from the general arena here – from the co-ethnic city of Jerusalem) a violence fatigue has descended on both Israelis and Palestinians. It is not just bitter memories from the not so distant past but also the abnormal level of recent violence in the general region (for years now) – people are able to see what the real costs are and that it is not just fairy-tale heroism.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        March 1, 2013, 2:59 pm

        Describing Jerusalem as ‘co-ethnic’ (whatever that is) makes it sound as though two or more ethnic groups were living in harmony, when in fact the policy of the Israeli govt has, for years, been to Judaise the city and minimise any Palestinian presence – demographic, cultural or historical.

        And if Israelis are fatigued by violence, they have an awfully strange way of showing it.

    • Sumud
      March 1, 2013, 10:02 am

      I guess it’s time to put the Ghandi non-violent thing back in the closet.

      Hey gilad I’m still waiting for you to provide me with your home address so I can “share” some of your stuff, more details over on this thread:

      link to mondoweiss.net

      Don’t be shy now!

      As for this Ghandi thing – I see Israelis showering unarmed protestors with chemical weapons. What do you see?

    • Memphis
      March 1, 2013, 2:19 pm

      can’t take anything seriously from someone who can’t even spell the man’s name correctly. It’s “Gandhi” not “Ghandi”

  9. ivri
    February 28, 2013, 4:03 pm

    Some people sitting comfortably on their armchairs in other places want to see “action”, because they think it will hurt Israel and advance the Palestinians cause. But think about the actual human beings that are expected to do that and what it will do to them. In reality (and I am also reporting from the general arena here – from the co-ethnic city of Jerusalem) a violence fatigue has descended on both Israelis and Palestinians. It is not just bitter memories from the not so distant past but also the abnormal level of recent violence in the general region (for years now) – people are able to see what the real costs are and that is not just fairy-tale heroism. So those outsiders who are eager to watch some real blood spilling drama for a “great cause” will have to search elsewhere.

  10. yourstruly
    February 28, 2013, 9:33 pm

    will msm cover a third intifada?

    & will the world respond?

    if it does?

    justice for palestine?

    if it doesn’t?

    the struggle continues?

    • yourstruly
      March 1, 2013, 12:07 am

      what’s to be gained?

      a just & peaceful world?

      what’s lost?

      nothing that’s worthwhile?

      wealth & power?

      so long as its fairly distributed?

      along with liberty, justice & equality?

      justice for palestine?

      afterwards, looking back it’ll seem as if, spontaneously, before one’s eyes, the whole wide world begins to change?

      & from then on?

  11. ritzl
    February 28, 2013, 10:03 pm

    Thanks Allison.

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