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 1987 when Palestinian
refugees from a camp in the north of Gaza clashed with Israeli soldiers following
the death of several Palestinians after an Israeli settler's car plowed into
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 that lasted for several
years. This followed years of Palestinian resentment and bitterness toward 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
Several hundred left-wing Israelis marched through the streets of Tel Aviv
toward 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 Ha'aretz 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
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
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 toward the nearby Israeli military
checkpoint of Beit El.
While the more cautious in the crowd stood back, the young men headed toward
waiting Israeli military jeeps and tanks, started to sling stones at them, and
set tires 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 the 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 toward the emergency room.
(Inter Press Service)