The War in the West Bank
Photo: Israeli military firing tear gas at Palestinian youths at Qalandia checkpoint, 19 November 2012.
This past week while the world was watching eight days of air strikes on the Gaza Strip, the West Bank erupted in unexpected protests at every major checkpoint and city, leaving three Palestinians dead and at least 200 arrested including government officials, in an incursion by the Israeli military.
The less reported clashes in the West Bank began raging on November 15, the day after Ahmad al-Jabri, the second in command of al-Qassam Brigades, was assassinated by an Israeli missile that incinerated the Hamas official in his car. Within hours the West Bank Palestinians initiated their own struggle against the Israeli occupation forces that spanned the entire duration of the Gaza bombing, with lulls only during school hours and late at night. But halfway through the week, Palestinian schools and universities went on strike, which extended the hours of popular resistance.
Palestinian youth retreating towards Qalandia refugee camp after Israeli forces fire dispersents.
Palestinian youth throws a rock at Israeli forces.
On a normal day under Israeli occupation, at the Qalandia checkpoint, the militarized gateway into the West Bank, there are about eight soldiers who range in appearance from lack of interest to annoyance. But during times of political tensions the number jumps to around 20, suited up like a life-size G.I. Joes in green. Yet during the past week Qalandia was controlled by three units of around 10 soldiers who broke off into smaller groups in the village and the refugee camp of the same name.
Although there is organized non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, it is a misnomer to classify the fighting at Qalandia as pacifist. Still, the disproportional force is obvious to anyone who sees it. The Israeli military uses weapons that if used in the United States would send crowds fleeing. Here the ammunition is dodged, ducked — and at times, plopped into a slingshot and fired back. The youth responded to the military entering their neighborhood by throwing stones and shooting dynamite in homemade launchers constructed from cardboard. In a region that is de-militarized beyond the Palestinian Authority police force, these tools are the only weapons at the youths’ disposal. And this past week they used their handicrafts against live fire that was shot indiscriminately in a populated area.
B’tselem reported two days ago that in total since November 15, 39 were injured in the West Bank, 16 from live fire.
Israeli forces climb on the roof of a Palestinian business.
Israeli border police aim weapon at Palestinian youth in front of Qalandia main terminal.
Meanwhile at Qalandia, the shops with metal gates over their doors near the checkpoint that were forced to close early became sanctuaries for children and other pedestrians who walked home, or waited for taxis in a thick atmosphere of tear gas. Each day of the air strikes on Gaza, Qalandia was covered in tear gas. One butcher on a corner before the checkpoint had a window smashed through by a tear gas canister that choked the two people inside of the small shop, until the smoking dispersant was thrown outside. But even after, the gas in the store was unbearable for the rest of the day.
Throughout the week, by 5 pm, it became impossible to stand on the sidewalk without watering eyes and coughing. To aid people on their commutes, the Red Crescent Society parked by the shared taxi stand, distributing cotton balls doused in rubbing alcohol that could wipe the gas residue from peoples’ noses.
Inside of the East Jerusalem, groups of Israeli border police were armed with guns that launched tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. The police even scaled the roofs of Palestinian-owned businesses in order to have a closer range to throw rocks and shoot dispersants at Palestinian youth. Photographing from the rear of the clashes, I sensed some humor in the adult men weighed down with protective amour and over-sized weapons cumbersomely scaling a one-story building. They had difficulty tossing rounds of tear gas to one another and I saw at least three fall to the sidewalk.
On the fifth day of clashes, November 19, one Palestinian journalist wearing a press jacket and a helmet was injured in the arm while crouching in a half-built house between the crossfire of the IDF and the shebab.
Elsewhere in cities like Hebron, or al-Khalil in Arabic (named the friend of God after the resting place of the religious patriarch Abraham), there were reports of not only the military, but armed settlers contributing to violence that spread through the city.
During the Gaza attack, deaths and grievous injuries were reported nearly every day in the West Bank. And, departing from the normal youth resistance to the occupation, a cross-section of Palestinian society protested–from women, to the educated-Ramallah activists, to residents of less politically engaged cities like Birzeit. Even regularly unmaned road blocks were met with stones. Addameer, a prisoners rights organization reported the harsh response of the Israeli military to an action near a settlement outside of Ramallah, where those arrested were blindfolded and berated:
On 15 November 2012, a group of young women protested at the illegal settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, to call for an end to the attacks on Gaza. Of the fifteen protesters, eight were arrested. The women were shackled and blindfolded, and subject to a barrage of harassment, including calling them dogs, bitches, other humiliating insults and taunting them. They were treated aggressively, with their blindfolds being tied so tightly as to cause pain to the skull, as well as being held in various painful positions. Each woman endured an interrogation by male IOF soldiers, who denied them water, screamed at them, threatened to physically beat them and attempted to provoke them by laughing and singing loudly in Hebrew.
Palestinian youth fires dynamite at the Israeli border police.
Two Palestinian youth take cover from Israeli tear gas canisters.
The popular resistance and the Israeli crackdown on protests in West Bank stands apart from both the Palestinian and Israeli military response during the last bombardment on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Indeed there was a swell in political activity, with at least two demonstrations a day in the notably blasé café capital, Ramallah, and some of the demonstrators praised rockets launched at Tel Aviv. Still only a fraction of the population was mobilized. The past week of clashes was a far cry from the anticipated Third Intifada, but unlike the construction of high rises and foreign donor aid, which dominated the energy of the Palestinian leadership over the past two decades, now the political landscape nods once again towards a model popular resistance. In turn, Israeli officials will once again have to deal with the reality that people living under occupation will not be pacified by force.
Rocks thrown at the Israeli military by Palestinian youth.
All photographs were taken by the author on November 19, 2012 at Qalandia, East Jerusalem.