Gaza Carnage Sets West Bank Aflame

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Gaza Carnage Sets West Bank Aflame

by
Mel Frykberg

A Palestinian girl is carried into Shifa hospital in Gaza City following the strikes. (Hatem Moussa/AP)

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Anger,
shock and revulsion at the continuing carnage in Gaza has ignited
spontaneous demonstrations and riots across the West Bank and Israel,
sparking concerns of a possible third Palestinian uprising or Intifada.

More
than 300 Palestinians were killed and at least 900 wounded following an
intensive Israeli air bombing campaign over the Gaza strip through the
weekend.

This followed a barrage of rockets fired by Palestinian fighters at
Israeli towns and cities bordering the coastal territory in the last
few weeks which caused some damage but no casualties.

Hamas leader-in-exile, Damascus-based Khaled Meshaal, has
called on Palestinians to rise up against Israel. The Palestinian
Authority (PA) in the West Bank called for a three-day strike in
sympathy with Gaza's plight.

Following Israel's aerial assault, one Israeli was killed and
several wounded in retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza Saturday
afternoon. This was Israel's first fatality in many months.

The first Palestinian Intifada broke out in December of 1987
when Palestinian refugees from a camp in the north of Gaza clashed with
Israel soldiers following the death of several Palestinians after an
Israeli settler's car plowed into their vehicle.

The Palestinians claimed the victims were deliberately mowed
into, while the Israelis said it was the result of a traffic accident.

Following the initial clash, rioting and protests spread spontaneously
to all of Gaza and the West Bank, leading to a popular uprising which
lasted for several years. This followed years of Palestinian resentment
and bitterness towards a brutal Israeli occupation.

Israeli-Arabs, descendants of the Palestinians, clashed Saturday with Israeli police throughout Israel.

In the Bedouin village of Rahat in the Negev desert, around 400
residents protested the attacks, while mosques throughout the town
broadcast prayers of mourning. Many Bedouins, descendants of a nomadic
tribe, join the Israeli army, where they are valued for their tracking
skills. They are regarded as traitors by fellow Palestinians.

Several hundred left-wing Israelis marched through the streets
of Tel Aviv towards the Israeli defense ministry headquarters chanting
"No to war, yes to peace".

The left-wing protesters carried signs saying "Israel's
government is committing war crimes", "Negotiation instead of
slaughter", and "Lift the siege from Gaza".

Several Israeli protesters were arrested. Matan Kaminer an
Israeli student who took part in the protest told the Israeli daily
Haaretz that "no one can tell us that slaughtering the citizens of Gaza
is meant to protect the citizens of Sderot and Ashkelon (two Israeli
towns bordering the Gaza strip)."

An Israeli police officer was deliberately run over by a
Palestinian in East Jerusalem as groups of Palestinian youths clashed
with police in the city, stoning them and setting dumpsters on fire.

Palestinian protesters from West Bank towns and refugee camps took to
the streets and marched on Israeli checkpoints and Israeli settlements.
Many were injured by rubber bullets -- marble-sized metal balls covered
in half a millimeter of rubber -- and tear gas shot by Israeli Defense
Force (IDF) soldiers.

In Ramallah hundreds of protesters from the various
Palestinian factions waved banners and flags, and decried the Gaza
slaughter. They called for unity and for Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail
Haniyeh and West Bank Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to
bury their differences and put the Palestinian cause above their
personal politics.

Many in the crowd waved Fatah flags, associated with Abbas and the PA,
showing clearly their empathy with fellow Palestinians despite the
political divide between the two Palestinian territories.

IPS joined the demonstration as it marched around Ramallah
city. In the crowd were people from all sections of Palestinian
society. Elegantly turned out middle-aged women from Ramallah's
Christian minority marched side by side with tough young men from the
surrounding refugee camps.

Grandmothers, journalists, factional leaders, and mothers with
toddlers walked linking arms with a scattering of international sympathizers based in the cosmopolitan central West Bank city. Many
countries have representative offices to the PA in Ramallah.

This was one of the largest demonstrations that Ramallah witnessed in the last few years of conflict.

"I couldn't just sit at home. I felt overwhelming anger at the
situation in Gaza and I needed to show my solidarity," Munther, a young
computer programmer from the Palestinian Legislative Council who voted
for Abbas in the last election told IPS.

As the crowd circled the city center, the Palestinian police
looked on quietly and stood back. But when the demonstrators marched on
the Muqata, the government headquarters of the PA where Abbas was in
his office, the mood of the Palestinian security forces changed.

On approaching the Muqata's entrance the crowd was met by
Palestinian soldiers who took up positions and held their weapons at
the ready. But the Shebab, or youth in Arabic, decided to head towards
the nearby Israeli military checkpoint of Beit El.

While the more cautious in the crowd stood back, the young men
headed towards waiting Israeli military jeeps and tanks and started to
sling stones at them, and set tyres alight to block the road.

The Israelis responded with tear gas and rubber bullets,
injuring a number of youngsters who were rushed to nearby hospitals in
Palestinian ambulances.

This IPS correspondent helped two youths injured by rubber bullets to hospital. They were shot as they stoned the soldiers.

As dozens of Palestinian riot police arrived on the scene to
disperse the protesters, one of them remarked that the police arrival
had been coordinated with their Israeli colleagues on the other side of
the checkpoint.

"They are nothing but quislings and a militia of the Israelis.
Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and who do they aim their
weapons at? Not the Israelis but us, their brethren protesting the
slaughter," said one of the youths.

"There will be more protests tomorrow and I will be back," he
added, as he stepped out of the taxi and limped towards the emergency
room.

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