Violence spirals in West Bank amid holy site tension and calls for a third Intifada

Munir Hassan Saliman faces daily harassment from soldiers and settlers. (Photo credit: Lena Odgaard)

Only days after both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas spoke at the UN claiming they were committed to deescalate tensions, violence suddenly surged with Palestinian youth calling for another uprising, or so-called Intifada, against the Israeli occupation.

The violence is spiraling, with Friday funeral services for one of the Palestinian victims deteriorating into some of the most intense cashes in this latest round of escalated unrest. Lena Odgaard reports from the West Bank.

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For the past week, protests and violent clashes between stone throwing Palestinian youth and Israeli military forces have spread to an increasing number of places throughout the West Bank.

Casualties have grown significantly since the Israeli parliament recently approved the use of live ammunition against suspected stone throwers – even minors. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Israeli forces have injured at least 1,200 people, 100 with live bullets, and killed seven – including 13-year-old Abdulrahman Obeidallah as he headed home from school in Bethlehem.

At a demonstration Tuesday at the Qalandia checkpoint close to Jerusalem, 70-year-old Samirha Rimawi, banged her cane while on the verge of tears, calling on the international community for support.

“All the time there are killings and our houses are demolished and we face restrictions to pray at Al Aqsa, where is the world?” asks Rimawi.

Tensions flared after an Israeli couple, Eitam and Naama Henkin, were shot and killed last Thursday as they returned to their home in an Israeli settlement close to Nablus in the West Bank. Since then, in a series of stabbing attacks, Palestinian perpetrators have killed at least two more Israelis and wounded more than fifteen.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu banned Palestinians from entering the Old City of Jerusalem for two days and Thursday installed metal detectors at entrances. The clamp-down feeds Palestinians’ fear that Israel is planning a takeover of the holy site Haram Al-Sharif, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

“It doesn’t matter if they kill us. We will do anything for Palestine and for Al Aqsa,” says 21-year-old Bassel Obeid.  Like many others Palestinian youth, he has lost faith in the Palestinian leadership’s ability to negotiate peace and find a non-violent way to end the Israeli occupation.

“We are rising up as one,” explains Obeid. “If Abbas is against us and against the intifada, we will refuse his words and start the intifada.”

Thursday, President Abbas said publicly he won’t allow Palestinians to be dragged into more violence with Israel. But especially among Palestinian youth, frustration with the lack of political improvement are high, and tension has been simmering for months.

Last year’s war in Gaza, in which more than 2200 Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed, is still a fresh wound for most Palestinians. And in the West Bank this year alone, Israeli forces have killed at least 25 Palestinians, and Israeli officials say Jewish extremists killed a mother, father and their baby in an arson attack without any repercussions for the perpetrators.

In the village of Urif, close to Nablus, 60-year-old Munir Hassan Saliman turns over a bucket of empty tear gas canisters and lets them fall to the ground, saying soldiers threw them in front of his house the day before – while his children were there.

Saliman is working on a new house at the edge of the village,  close to the Israeli settlement Yitzar which has a reputation for housing some of the most aggressive Israeli settlers.

He says he faces daily harassment from soldiers as well as settlers.

Though the international community deems Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal – they have grown rapidly in recent decades. In several areas, the surrounding native Palestinian communities face ongoing settler violence where groups of Jewish extremists burn their fields, uproot crops and attack houses, cars and residents.

In video taken in recent days and released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israeli vigilantes are escorted by soldiers as they set Palestinian trees and fields on fire.

“They came here with the soldiers,” Saliman says as he points to the black burned-out hill opposite his house.

Many speculate that a large scale Palestinian uprising, a so-called third ‘Intifada’ is on its way. At Tuesday’s protest, however, political leader of the Fateh party, Amir Shuman, rejected this for now. He said that, so far only a small number of Palestinians have taken to the streets. But if the situation deteriorates, he fears the worst.

“We are speaking about a miserable condition in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and we want to give peace a chance, but if Netanyahu can’t understand that message maybe the Intifada will come,” says Shuman.

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