(Editor’s Note: This report was filed before last night’s demonstration at the Qalandiya checkpoint.)
As the death toll rises by the hour in the besieged Gaza Strip, the rage in the occupied West Bank rises in tow. Protests have been growing in number and frequency across many West Bank cities including Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah, Tulkarem and many more. Rocks from protesters and bullets from the IDF now regularly mix in the air every night, coupled with the sound of ambulance sirens racing injured protesters to the nearest hospital. Nightly reports of more young men and boys shot in their legs by rubber-coated-steel-bullets and live ammunition have become commonplace across the West Bank.
Mohammed Rabah, from Hebron, has been out on the streets every night protesting against Israel’s current assault on Gaza. Although the protests and subsequent clashes have been intense throughout the Hebron district and outlying areas, it has been the protests in the city-center that have been the most fervent.
“People are on the streets every night everywhere, there are hundreds of people out in Hebron, but it’s really the most people in Bab-al-Zawyeh [the city-center]. It’s every night—I don’t see an end,” Rabah said. “We start with chants and shouting for Gaza, and then the soldiers will come out and fighting happens. They shoot [tear-gas], and sound grenades and bullets and we throw stones and Molotovs, it sounds like a war-zone here. Every night there is someone shot in the leg or the foot. They always shoot our legs.”
Hebron is known for being a Hamas West Bank stronghold. On June 12th three Israeli teenager settlers went missing near the city and were found 18 days later, in a shallow grave near an outlying village. During Operation Brother’s Keeper, the Israeli military operation charged with finding the three Israelis, the focus was on Hebron and its Hamas supporters. Many speculate that the murder of the three teens had a great deal of influence in sparking the current operation in Gaza.
Rabah said he believed that because of this, the IDF is cracking down on Hebron protests more violently than in other West Bank cities.
Like Hebron, in the city of Bethlehem protests have been ongoing for three weeks, beginning first with anger over the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and then manifesting into anger over Israeli actions in Gaza. The protests have typically involved over 200 young men from the three refugee camps – Aida, Azza, and Dhesiheh – albeit in recent days many women have also been joining in.
On Monday protest numbers topped 1000, with different political factions and civil society movements joining together in protest at what’s happening in Gaza and later in celebration of Hamas’ alleged capture of an IDF soldier.
Clashes across the West Bank have been long and dangerous, it’s common for three or more protestors to be shot with live ammunition in the legs every night at each demonstration, while dozens of teargas canisters are fired off in a matter of seconds at clashes. When an IDF jeep is deployed, protestors scatter into nearby alleyways, side streets, and homes immediately, as a jeep itself can shoot of 60 rounds of teargas in a row, leaving the streets completely engulfed in white clouds. On occasion protesters have passed out in the streets, having to be dragged inside nearby houses to be revived by the ever ready and present Red Crescent medics.
The IDF have not been the only problem facing the marches and protests in solidarity with Gaza however, the Palestinian Authority in full riot gear have also been attempting to put down the demonstrations.
Palestinian Authority steps in
“Now we are facing them [Palestinian Authority] and the Israelis,” said Ayman, a resident of Bethlehem who did not feel comfortable sharing his last name. “I know they want to come out here to arrest us, if it gets bad they will start catching people. The PA doesn’t stop us though, they can’t. We are not afraid of them. I can’t understand them. We are here fighting for Palestine, doing what we can to be with Gaza, and they want to work with the Israelis to put us down? I find it disgusting.”
The PA’s campaign to quell protests has largely been met with violence and resistance by protestors across the West Bank, who often throw rocks and Molotov cocktails directly at the PA who come out to dispel the youth.
A PA police officer monitoring one of Bethlehem’s protests told Mondoweiss that the PA was just concerned for the safety of protestors.
“These kids keep getting shot. Go visit Beit Jala Hospital [the nearest hospital] and see, every night kids are there because they got hit with the tear gas canister or they suffocated from the gas, or god forbid they are shot,” the officer said. “We are looking out for them, for them to be safe. That’s all.”
When asked whether there was any truth the implications that the PA was working with the IDF, the officer said that was “crazy” and that the PA is only looking out for its own citizens well-being.
In Ramallah the PA have attempted to quell protests albeit they have been largely unsuccessful, as has been the case in Bethlehem. The PA may turn up in numbers, but they are vastly outnumbered by local protesters intent on showing their solidarity and one-ness with Palestinians in Gaza.
Protests more than clashes
While clashes in Ramallah generally happen near Qalandiya Checkpoint and Refugee Camp, peaceful marches have also taken place on a regular basis in Ramallah’s city center during the day. With people marching and holding signs that denounce Israel’s campaign in Gaza and encourage the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In the village of Bil’in, made famous by its popular resistance movement documented in Oscar nominated film Five Broken Cameras, protests have been inventive and poignant. On Friday, village residents dressed up as Gazans injured from Israeli airstrikes, with white clothes stained with red paint, during their march down to the Separation Wall.
As the Israeli bombing and shelling in Gaza continues, Ayman, Mohammed and their fellow demonstrators are defiant, saying they will continue to try and do their part on the streets of their respective cities. Although Ayman, like many others believe the protests and his role is symbolic more than anything, he still regards them as an important aspect of the resistance.
“I don’t think protesting helps so much, I don’t know what we can do that will help, but we should be doing something,” Ayman said. “We should be making sure that everyone knows that what is happening in Gaza is so wrong, and that we support Gaza.”