Fireworks burst at the separation wall, lighting the heads of Israeli soldiers who are poised ready with loaded guns. Overhead, flare guns also brighten the scene at Qalandia checkpoint, quickly followed by shots from Israeli snipers that race into the burgeoning crowd. In the middle of the haze and chaos Palestinian politician Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is clear in his definition of the events unfolding around him, “The Intifada has started. This is the Intifada! Peaceful and nonviolent but as you have seen, they encountered us with gunshots,” Barghouti told Mondoweiss. Amidst his words, molotov cocktails hit the military watchtowers, while young men scrambled by in a desperate attempt to get the wounded out of the line of fire.
At around 9 p.m. last night, the streets of Ramallah started to flood with Palestinian protesters, all of them heading in the same direction — Qalandia Checkpoint. One of the biggest protests the West Bank has seen since the end of the second Intifada took place, with a march of several thousand Palestinians towards the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. The march was to demonstrate solidarity with the people in Gaza who have been under heavy bombardment for the past two weeks. That bombardment has been part of Israel’s latest military incursion, Operation Protective Edge, and has resulted in the death of over 800 people. Conservative figures state that at least 70% of the casualties are civilian, among them nearly 200 children.
“The unity is stronger than ever”, explains Barghouti. “And what Israel is doing will not stop us. We know that Netanyahu started this war to break the unity but he will not succeed, especially now.”
The protest occurred during Laylat Al-Qadr, the holiest night for Muslims during Ramadan. Shabab, (young Palestinian men) sorted out their kuffieyhs and readied themselves for the upcoming clash with the Israeli army, while marching together with families, elderly and children – a picture of unity on the streets of Ramallah, analogous to the unity government talks and recent Palestinian politics.
“Actually I thank Netanyahu because he united us”, a Palestinian man, who wished to stay anonymous for security reasons, told Mondoweiss during the march. “Now Hamas is not alone anymore, all the people are united. As you can see: we have old men, young men, boys, girls – everybody is here today. Just to say that we are one.”
The rare scene changed abruptly when the protesters reached Qalandia checkpoint where dozens of IDF-soldiers waited ready to fire, their M16s steadied on concrete blocks. Within minutes, the protest turned into an ugly shooting spree, fleets of ambulances ran non-stop to carry wounded Palestinians to the crowded and chaotic hospitals of Ramallah. Capabilities were exhausted with over 250 injured, resulting in scores of people using everything they could to carry the wounded, from their own cars, scooters, bypassing trucks, to medics carrying injured Shabab on their bare backs.
At the forefront of the demonstration, around 200 Palestinian protesters clashed with soldiers for several hours throwing rocks, fireworks and molotov cocktails. The Israeli soldiers replied with rubber coated steel bullets at the beginning. Shortly after, the high-pitched whizz of live ammunition could be heard – and hundreds of Palestinians lay down on the ground to avoid getting hit by the live rounds. Within a few hours, the battle had cost the lives of at least two Palestinians, with five in a critical condition.
“It doesn’t matter how many people of us they kill, it doesn’t matter how many houses are going down: they [Hamas] are doing the right thing for us”, says Joe, a Palestinian-American. “That is why all these people are here today. But what really hurts us is that everybody [in the international community] is with Israel, like Ban Ki-moon and Obama. The Israeli army got about 50 soldiers killed and we got 700 people killed, but everybody is talking about the dead Israelis. This is not right. This is not fair.”
The clashes in solidarity with Gaza lasted until the early morning. While mosques in Bethlehem and elsewhere used their speakers to call for blood donations for Ramallah hospitals, the PA police had to block the entrances of the Palestine Medical Complex as hundreds of Palestinians tried to stream through the entrance in order to search for their loved ones. Meanwhile, inside the hospital locals spoke of floors drenched in blood.
“We [the party Mubadara] believe that what Israel is doing in Gaza is an act of massacre, genocide and ethnic cleansing”, Barghouti said. “These are definitely war crimes and Israel has to be taken to the International Criminal Court for that.”