Palestine: Prisoner Torture Ignites West Bank Flashpoints

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Palestinian demonstrators wave their flags under a covered passage during a protest in support with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails in the northern West Bank village of Araba, near Jenin, on 1 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - Saif Dahlah)

By: Abbad Yehya

Published Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ramallah – In the occupied West Bank, protests took a dramatic turn after Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat was tortured to death in Israeli custody.

Over the past few weeks, ongoing rallies have protested the mistreatment of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, but Jaradat’s death escalated events to the point where many are reminded of the first weeks of the 2000 intifada, when hundreds of Palestinians flocked to Israeli army checkpoints, armed with stones and Molotov cocktails.

“In the clashes taking place near Ofer Prison, the youths only call an ambulance when someone is hit with live ammunition,” said a Red Crescent paramedic. “But for those hit by rubber bullets or tear gas, it is simply not possible to deal with all their injuries.”

The paramedic was referring to the sheer magnitude of the confrontation currently taking place with the occupation forces in Ramallah, the old city of Hebron, and in other parts of the occupied West Bank.

While the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) security forces try to stop protesters from reaching flashpoints across the West Bank, several Palestinian factions are seeking to catch up with the angry street, even if belatedly so.

Yet demonstrators chant slogans that denounce the stances of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian factions alike. They have called on Palestinians to engage in efforts to save the prisoners, particularly after Jaradat’s death.

The clashes seem to be fiercest in Hebron when compared to other flashpoints, like the Qalandiya checkpoint south of Ramallah and the Huwwara checkpoint south of Nablus.

One protester remarked that “Oslo was just an attempt to force us to travel several kilometers before we could reach the occupation forces.” Indeed, confrontations are now restricted to the entrances of residential conglomerations in the West Bank where Israeli forces are deployed. This is unlike in the past when the Israeli army was present inside Palestinian cities, as well as refugee camps.

Palestinian Prisoners Fuel Protests

Amid both ominous and hopeful talk of a third intifada, the ever escalating issue of Palestinian detainees held by Israel remains the main driver of protests.

The Israeli army conducts habitual arrest campaigns, detaining Palestinians for long periods of time without disclosing information as to their whereabouts or charges. In many instances, lawyers are barred from visiting their clients.

This has prompted Israeli and Palestinian figures to stress that a failure to address the detainee issue would lead to further escalation.

It is in this context that Qaddoura Fares, chairperson of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, has stated that “the Palestinian side has sought to coordinate with the Israeli Shin Bet to contain the clashes, but to no avail, as Israeli politicians are preoccupied with building a coalition government.”

The protesting Palestinian youths are far removed from the statements being made by the so-called peace camps on both sides. They are also unconcerned by the remarks of PA officials about Israel deliberately provoking an escalation prior to US President Barack Obama’s anticipated visit.

Even as the PNA forces seek to contain any demonstrations that could pose a threat to the occupation army, the ongoing protests have redeemed the forms of popular resistance exercised by Palestinians during the first and second intifadas. It is no secret that the occupation army seeks to avoid aggravating the confrontations by steering them away from major roads that link cities together.

In order to contain the crisis, Israeli political analysts have proposed that Israel release a batch of Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli press has also carried explicit calls to spare Israelis a third intifada, and to restore calm to the West Bank.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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