Israel escalates its repression, stoking the fires of division
A week of Palestinian frustration with Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem and state provocations at Palestinian national and religious sites culminated last weekend with four young men from the Nablus region killed in suspicious circumstances. The grief and outrage at Sunday's funeral in the village of Iraq Burin over the fatal shootings of 16-year-olds Muhammad and Useid Qadus was made more severe as news of two more deaths in the nearby village of Awarta spread through the procession.
The Qadus cousins were shot with live ammunition in the chest and head during a riot the previous day, instigated by soldiers sealing residents in their homes in an attempt to secure the main village road for use by settlers in the West Bank. Despite evidence of live rounds being fired, including X-rays showing an M16 round lodged in Useid's brain, the army has claimed that they fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
"The two boys lived with the settlers attacking their land and family," said Majida al Masri, a politician in Nablus and politburo member for the leftist, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told me. No sooner had the bodies been put in the ground than a line of funeral attendees headed back toward the Nablus hospital, this time to get information on the shooting of two farm boys by the army while they worked near the Itamar settlement.
"They were working in the field and the army shot them five times. It's a straightforward execution and there is no reason for it," Mustafa Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian politician, told me as he paced at the emergency room entrance, waiting for the bodies of a second set of cousins, 18-year-olds Muhammad Faysal and Salah Kamel Qawariq, to arrive. The dismay expressed by Mr Barghouti, who launched the Palestinian National Initiative, spread through the crowd as people waited well over an hour for the ambulances, delayed by the military, to arrive. "The two boys were in Israeli custody when they were killed," charged the head of the Awarta village council, Hassan Awad, shortly after the boy's bodies were brought into the ER. "They were working in their land near the settlement and all the witnesses say that five minutes after they were captured, shots were heard."
Both the Israeli army and the Shomron regional (settlement) council gave conflicting and changing reports about the events. While the premise of the army's version of events was that Muhammad and Salah attacked a lone soldier on a road, the story changed from the boys attacking with pitchforks, to axes to garden picks, to a bottle of rocks and a syringe. The settlement council claimed a knife was used. While there was no sign of Israeli reporters at the funerals or the hospital, most Israeli media reported the army's version of events unquestioned, relying on the claims of a military spokesperson.
Nablus was a centre for Palestinian resistance during the second intifada and punished by settlers and the military as a result. As I approached Awarta in the midday heat, tyre fires blocked the main entrance road. Teenagers with keffieh's and shirts hiding their faces had begun to throw stones at nearby soldiers and military jeeps. At the home of Salah Qawariq, women of the village packed the garden and the living room, attempting to console his grandmother while coping with their own grief. Several women told me about how the army refused to let the villagers take the bodies, only later turning them over to Palestinian ambulances.
I had asked Mr Barghouti at the hospital if the four deaths on top of a week of Palestinian civil unrest were indicative of the beginning of a new Palestinian revolt. "If you mean like the first intifada, a non-violent popular uprising, then yes. There is co-ordination among all the groups to not use arms," he told me describing a grassroots revolt emerging from the base of Palestinian society. As youth clashed with soldiers in Hebron last Wednesday, following a day of rage where Palestinians across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets, the Palestinian Authority arrested 10 Hamas members in the West Bank.
"The PA is sending mixed messages, not the people," Mr Barghouti commented. While his emphasis on tactical co-ordination across political factions seemed exaggerated at best, the former PA information minister and opposition candidate to Mahmoud Abbas understood the grass roots energy of this unrest. The crescendo of Palestinian rage in the face of expanding Israeli displacement and negation of their rights has exceeded the scope of even the internationally focused popular committee-led protests against Israel's wall and settlements. But Israel understands the situation, the despair that they are stoking and the divisions in the Palestinian political elite.
Feigning ignorance, the Israeli government has officially turned its back to the situation, claiming that there is no emerging popular uprising. Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu has been in Washington announcing in the same breath that Israel will give Palestinians no rights but is the only willing partner for peace. Mr Netanyahu's divide and conquer strategy now depends on PA security to keep the Palestinian public in check. As it expands settlements and kills teenagers, while forcing the Palestinians to contain their rage, Israel intends to deepen the fractures within Palestinian politics.
However, Palestinians today are more disillusioned with their political establishment than at any time in recent history. With a global public increasingly critical of Israel's actions, many have little to lose in joining a new generation of leaders, cutting its political teeth on the barricades. Jesse Rosenfeld is a journalist based in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Ramallah. He is editor of thedailynuisance.com