West Bank glows with anger over Gaza destruction

While the Gaza Strip burns, the occupied West Bank is smoldering, with violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces raising the spectre of a new popular uprising after years of relative calm.

Reuters| Last Updated: Jul 28, 2014, 01:01 AM IST

Ramallah West Bank: While the Gaza Strip burns, the occupied West Bank is smoldering, with violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces raising the spectre of a new popular uprising after years of relative calm.

In just a three-day period late last week, 10 Palestinians died and some 600 wounded during a spate of angry protests against the prolonged military offensive in nearby Gaza.

On Sunday, Israeli police said they foiled a potentially deadly attack when they stopped a car laden with explosives as its driver tried to reach Israel via a West Bank checkpoint, while riots broke out once more overnight in East Jerusalem.

In normal times, such friction would be dominating local headlines, but with all eyes fixed instead on Gaza, where more than 1,050 Palestinians have died so far in 20 days of fighting, the growing tension has been largely overlooked.

If the Gaza bloodshed continues for much longer, Palestinians say, it might prove impossible for Israel or Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to keep the lid on growing rage in the West Bank.

"It`s premature to describe what`s happening as an uprising, (however) the Palestinians have overcome their fear and are pushing towards the Israeli checkpoints," said Hani al-Masri, a political analyst in Ramallah, the de-facto Palestinian capital which lies just to the north of Jerusalem.

More than 10,000 Palestinians marched on the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah on Thursday night, the largest such rally in years, with whole families joining the demonstration.

"To Jerusalem we go, martyrs in the millions!" the crowds chanted. "Our souls and our blood we sacrifice for you, Gaza!"

In the ensuing confrontations, youths hurled stones and aimed screeching fireworks at Israeli soldiers, who shot back with rubber and live bullets, killing a 17-year old and injuring dozens, said Palestinian medics who treated the wounded.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank in a 1967 war. It has annexed East Jerusalem, pulled its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 and offered limited self rule to Palestinians in the West Bank while rapidly expanding its network of Jewish settlements in the kidney-shaped territory.

Palestinians want an independent state in Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Repeated U.S.-led negotiations over the past 20 years have failed to broker a permanent deal. The most recent round of direct talks collapsed in April, with Palestinians livid over more settlement building and Israelis furious that Abbas had signed a unity pact with the Hamas Islamists in Gaza.


Abbas`s own security forces, lambasted by many Palestinians for cooperating with the Israeli army in the West Bank, have taken the unusual step of letting protesters march on Israeli checkpoints and not trying to stop them, as they previously did.

"The current leadership is trying to ride this wave and embrace the call for demonstrations," said analyst Masri.

Israel in turn appears to be responding to the protests with an uncompromising show of force, using a significant amount of live fire, perhaps hoping to scare people off the streets.

The army says it only uses live ammunition when the life of its soldiers is in danger, adding that it was investigating the recent West Bank killings, including those of three teenagers.

Israeli security forces are also facing nightly protests in mainly Arab districts of East Jerusalem, rocket-strewn streets bearing witness to the violence when dawn comes.

A Palestinian teenager was abducted from the streets of Jerusalem earlier this month and burnt alive, in an apparent revenge attack for the killing of the Jewish teens. Three Israelis have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

Two Palestinians were badly beaten in the city overnight on Sunday in a suspected "nationalist" attack by Jewish youths.

Despite the undoubted turbulence, Palestinians said the recent confrontations were largely unplanned and spontaneous, with none of the major political groups in the West Bank looking to organise a structured campaign against Israel.

"The Palestinian Authority has made a political decision to allow people to reach the points of friction with the occupation army, but these confrontations don`t have any staying power," said Ali Saleh, a 30-year old public sector worker in Ramallah.

"It`s linked to the situation in Gaza, and if that quietens down, it will get calm here too."