While Gaza is now in the seventh day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, an hour and a half by car from the besieged strip, a Palestinian was killed overnight in Hebron during clashes with Israeli forces as the army continued a hunt for men wanted in connection to the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens one month ago.
The killing of the teens, who were abducted while hitchhiking in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc June 12, catalyzed Israeli air strikes on Gaza, which have now killed more than 170, and rocket fire into Israel. But the war on the Mediterranean front did not put a stop to the mounting conflict in the West Bank. The region is still in peaked tension, not seen since the second Intifada.
Munir Ahmad Hamdan al-Badarin, 22, was shot with live-fire in Hebron last night. Palestinians emergency responders were ready to take the stricken man to a medical facility. However Israeli forces refused to allow an ambulance to enter the area for 40 minutes, according to the International Middle East Media Center: “Local medics arrived at the scene before the young man died of his wounds, but Israeli soldiers prevented them from reaching him, until he died nearly 40 minutes later,” while awaiting transfer to a hospital.
The clashes that left al-Badarin dead began in the early morning hours when Israeli forces blocked off the region around the homes of two men wanted for kidnapping the Israelis. Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha’s houses are a few streets apart. In the weeks between the youths’ abduction and the discovery of their remains on June 30th, the army came to the houses three times for overnight searches. In the first two searches, men in the families were arrested—a common enough tactic of the Israeli army when trying to pressure an assumed suspect. Israeli courts have backed up the procedure.
By the third army visit, all of the men in the Qawasmeh house were already in jail. According to the family, the army called the Shin Bet, Israel’s security services, and asked for permission to arrest the women. That was turned down.
During that raid every room in both structures were ransacked, and one room in each house was blown up. In the two Intifadas punitive home demolitions were used against the families of a person thought to have committed, or about to commit a lethal crime against an Israeli citizens. The practice is a clear violation of international law and was controversial enough in Israel that when it was about to be reinstated weeks ago a case involving the measure (but a different suspect) went to the high court for debate. Hours before the judges made a ruling soldiers detonated explosives on timers inside of the Palestinian houses in Hebron.
Each of the wanted men lived in apartments inside of larger homes, villa style, that are sub-divided into many flats for different branches of the family. This is a common practice among Palestinians. In Abu Aisha’s case, the army demolished the unit where he lived. In Marwan Qawasmeh’s case, the army destroyed a relative’s apartments, leaving his sibling homeless. When I visited the home hours after it was turned upside down and bombed, no one could understand why it wasn’t Marwan Qawasmeh’s house that was decimated rather than his brother’s.
Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha are the only named persons Israel is searching for in relation to the youths’ kidnapping. Although the Israeli Defense Forces have not disclosed their role in the abduction, what is known is that they went missing from their Hebron homes the evening after the kidnapping and Israel is still searching for them in nighttime incursions. Israel is adamant that Hamas is responsible, although the kidnapping is widely considered to have been a product of a rogue group and was not ordered by the Hamas leadership. At that time, Hamas leaders were busy securing a unity government with the Palestinian Authority. The kidnapping slashed Hamas’s chances of being broadly recognized as a representative of Palestinians.
The families of the two wanted men are largely affiliated with Hamas. Yet association in any Palestinian political party with the exception of ruling Fatah is not a straightforward matter. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have long since banned participation in Hamas. Hamas members today in the West Bank do not hold meetings or plan public activities. A person’s affiliation my consist in loose association or sympathy to a particular group, or sporting their colors on occasion.
Typically, Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank end under the boot of the Palestinian Authority. Riot police do not hesitate to beat and arrest wavers of green flags– the Hamas color. In Nablus in 2012, the Palestinian Authority used live-fire against a Hamas demonstration. The Fatah leadership is deeply concerned about its own longevity. Their public support has waned; they remain in power by pushing back elections and criminalizing political alternatives.
Moreover Hamas is not all that popular outside of Nablus and Hebron. Perhaps if political parties had the ability to publicly present platforms and engage in practical steps to pursue the interests of their constituents, that support would have an ideological basis. But for now throwing your weight behind any political party in the West Bank feels like a process of selecting the lesser evil in a banished, corrupt market.
That is until Hamas in Gaza began launching rockets at Israel, boosting its support in the West Bank. Last week after grad rockets reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the second time since 2012, Fatah supporters rode in a celebratory convoy through Ramallah. Later that evening Hamas backers celebrated in downtown traffic circles of the de facto Palestinian capital. Palestinian Authority police watched but did nothing to suppress the banned party parading through the heart of Fatah’s West Bank.
The heat is rising all over the West Bank. Last night, 11 Palestinian legislators were arrested. In addition to Hebron, the Israeli army also reached al-Bireh, a suburb of Ramallah. On Saturday nearly 1,000 Palestinians demonstrated at Qalandia checkpoint in clashes that persisted for hours. The protesters almost marched through the crossing, with their rocks landing well over the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint, before soldiers responded with live-fire, tear gas, rubber bullets and skunk water. On Friday Palestinian youth from Ramallah clashed with both the Palestinian Authority police and Israeli army near the Jewish settlement of Beit El. Eleven suffered shooting wounds, and fireworks were lobbed at the settlement.