West Bank Protests: Waiting for a Tipping Point

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Sadly, the spark needed for popular demonstrations proved to be premature, even with three martyrs in the West Bank. (Photo: Dylan Collins)

By: Linah Alsaafin

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Protests in support of Gaza have spread throughout the West Bank and occupied territories, leading to three deaths at the hands of the Israeli army and numerous arrests. Can the protests sustain momentum to press for real change, or will they fizzle out?

Ramallah – As the first week of Israel’s latest military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip drew to a close, 134 Palestinians have been killed and 1,100 injured.

While the Israeli codenamed “Operation Pillar of Defense” continues in Gaza,residents of the West Bank have also marked the death of three: Hamdi Fallah, 22, from Hebron; Rushdi Tamimi, 31, from the Ramallah village of Nabi Saleh; and Nabil Ahmad Nabil, 20 months, from Turmus Ayyah, a resident of Qalandiya.

The indiscriminate bombing of the Gaza strip, in which entire families such as the Dallou and the Hijazi families have been killed inside their own homes, has triggered a response from the West Bank that has been unprecedented in recent years.

The usual reaction from the West Bank to Israeli bombings of Gaza is characterized by reticence, indifference, or inaction due to fear of repression by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.

This time around however, protests erupted across the West Bank. Granted they have not yet swelled to mass demonstrations, they have been persistent and have carefully chosen their target locations: occupation checkpoints, illegal settlements, and prisons.

The silence in the West Bank has to some degree been “shaken off,” to use an Intifada term. Protests are no longer confined to city squares, and protesters have marched toward the sites at the nexus of the Israeli occupation.

The result has been the killings of three. On Saturday, 17 November 2012 in the village of Nabi Saleh, Rushdi Tamimi was protesting against the air strikes in Gaza when he was struck with a rubber bullet in his back. A live bullet was then fired at his hip, which tore through his intestines. Despite being prostrate, one Israeli soldier butted Rushdi on the head with a rifle, and fired another rubber bullet into his stomach. Two days later, he passed away.

On 19 November 2012, Hamdi Fallah was with a group of protesters in Hebron who were setting off fireworks in the direction of the Israeli occupation army near Halhul bridge. The army shot him four times; twice in the stomach, once in the knee, and once in the face. The day before, a 20-month-old baby Nabil Ahmad Nabil died from asphyxiation after a tear gas canister was fired into his family’s home in Qalandiya following clashes at the checkpoint. Original reports stated that Nabil died from fire burns, but this proved to be inaccurate.

Protests in support of Gaza picked up on Wednesday night. After gathering at Ramallah’s Manara Square, the protest proceeded down Nablus Street towards the Bet Il settlement. During the second Intifada, Bet Il and the Qalandiya checkpoint witnessed heavy action between protesters and the Israeli occupation army.

PA security forces, decked out in full riot gear, met the protesters halfway down the street and prevented them from advancing. Some young men were beaten, and those who had cameras were forced at gunpoint to delete their footage.

The next day, eight young women who raised posters in support of Gaza were arrested after climbing the wall of the military barracks of Bet Il, which prompted another protest attempting to reach the settlement. Protesters who arrived late were grabbed by PA preventative security forces, beaten inside their vehicles, and dumped on the other side of the city.

The same day, three protesters were injured by live ammunition as they demonstrated in northwest Ramallah, outside of Ofer prison.

On Friday, other cities were galvanized into action. While Hamas in the West Bank called for protests in Ramallah – a rare sight of green Hamas flags fluttering in the PA’s capital city – it ended unsurprisingly in minor clashes with Fatah.

Protests in Jenin and Nablus moved away from the main city centers to the Jalameh and Huwara checkpoints, where youths circumvented the PA security forces and threw rocks at the Israeli soldiers who responded in typical heavy handed fashion with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The following days witnessed more checkpoint protests, with eight arrested at the Huwara checkpoint, including Aya Jheir, 22, who was filmed trying to run away from the soldiers. In Bethlehem, demonstrators reached Rachel’s Tomb and the Israeli occupation army fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

Salwa Hammad, a youth activist from Tulkarem, said that on Monday night a school was surrounded on all sides by the Israeli occupation army, and 15 Palestinians were injured from rubber bullets or tear gas. The next morning, the PA preventative security forces were dispersed on Tulkarem’s streets.

In Jerusalem, multiple protests were held at the Damascus Gate. During the night, protests spilled into the Shufat refugee camp and the Beit Hanina neighborhood, where live ammunition was used in the former and four Palestinians were arrested in the latter.

The 1948 occupied territories have also taken to the streets in support of Gaza. Demonstrations occurred in Akka, Um al-Fahim, and Nazareth. Haifa witnessed a number of protests, with one staged inside Haifa University. The head of the Haifa Municipality sent a letter to the university administration asking them to suspend all the Palestinian students who demonstrated.

On paper, the stage looks set for change, but are these protests sustainable? If there’s a ceasefire in Gaza, would the protests automatically cease?

After all, Palestinians in the West Bank should be demonstrating against the occupation that they live under, and not wait for the Gaza strip to be bombed in order to do so.

The funeral processions for the two martyrs on Tuesday produced similar scenes, but on varying scales. A few hundred marched in Tamimi’s procession in Nabi Saleh, with the Israeli occupation army staged at the village’s entrance as mere provocation. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition were all used as the mourners turned into protesters, but this died out after a couple of hours.

In Hebron, Hamdi Fallah’s body was buried after noon prayers, his funeral procession attended by thousands. Large scale clashes between rock-throwing youth and one of the world’s strongest militaries continued for hours and spread throughout the city.

Sadly, the spark needed for popular demonstrations proved to be premature, even with three martyrs in the West Bank.

This is partly a result of the tight security coordination between the PA and Israel, as well as the local PA government media that stress points of national unity and sympathy as a cover to deflect support of Palestinians for the armed resistance.

Tamimi’s death, which is properly called martyrdom, was not announced immediately, and rumors from the Ramallah Hospital oscillated between him being in good health and nearing death on Monday.

Similarly, the Ramallah hospital wouldn’t confirm the cause of Nabil’s death – suffocation from a tear gas canister that broke in his home – and did not dispel the alternate narrative that Nabil died from burns. This is a far cry from the outrage and large protests that occurred when 4-month-old Eman Hiju was shot by an Israeli sniper in the second Intifada in Gaza.

The West Bank is not entering the next Intifada, at least not yet. What is certain is that this time around, the protests that have taken place against Israeli checkpoints, settlements, watchtowers, and soldiers (and to a lesser extent against the PA security forces). The protests have broken through the indifference encouraged by the PA’s neoliberal policies, even if it’s just on a small scale.

The real test of courage would be to channel these efforts and actions into a sustainable united front, not brought about from the old men in the outdated national, leftist, and Islamic factions, but from the youth who have protested diligently in support of their brethren in Gaza over the past week.

Comments

r.i.p. rushdi

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