Israel-Hamas conflict: Violence flares in occupied West Bank
Israel's ongoing airstrikes in Gaza since 7 October have fueled Palestinian protests in the occupied West Bank
The street leading to the Jamal Abdel Nasser Mosque is full of people on this Friday afternoon. Worshippers, men and children, are several rows deep along the storefronts full of plastic toys and leather goods. Some have spread small rugs on the asphalt. Others use scarves or cardboard boxes, or even kneel to pray directly on the road as the imam's voice sounds from the mosque loudspeakers.
The protest that follows the sermon may be another reason why so many people are here today. In the Israeli-occupied central West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinians have been closely following the events in Gaza and how the world has responded. In recent weeks, various groups in the Palestinian territory have repeatedly called for protests, and today is no exception.
As the prayer ends, the crowd slowly starts moving toward the main street. This protest is not particularly large, but the many flags, posters and shouts of "Freedom for Palestine!" leave no doubt about the demonstrators' convictions.
Growing anger at the Palestinian Authority
They are angry at many things: the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Western solidarity with Israel, Israeli occupiers in the West Bank and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. The latter is internationally recognized and governs parts of the West Bank in cooperation with Israel, but is seen by many to be weak, corrupt and ineffective — especially in the current situation.
Standing on the sidelines is Sabri Saidam, deputy secretary general of Fatah's central committee, who says the West is mainly to blame. He recalls Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recent speech at the United Nations in New York, and the warning he gave that the world was failing the Palestinians.
"The Palestinian Authority has the responsibility and obligation to protect its people. But Israel is making its actions null and void. Israel is putting up hurdles," he told DW.
Solidarity with Hamas in West Bank
His Fatah party and militant Hamas are historically enemies. And yet in the crowd, among the Palestinian flags and yellow Fatah banners, there are also a number of green Hamas flags.
Hamas, which the Israeli military has said killed at least 1,400 Israelis, both soldiers and civilians, during the October 7 attacks and which abducted about 200 hostages, is classified as a terrorist organization by many Western countries, including Germany and some Arab states, along with the European Union.
But for many Palestinians here in the West Bank, like professor Isla Hijab, the group is seen as the only voice they have left. At first she doesn't want to talk to DW, explaining that the German broadcaster is biased and Zionist. Eventually, she is persuaded. "We are not terrorists. We have been fighting for our rights for more than 70 years now," she says, adding that Hamas is part of Palestinian society and should be accepted as such.
But Germany and other countries have double standards when it comes to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, she says. "We have been colonized, brutalized, you know. Genocide now in Gaza and Western media are just closing their eyes on what is going on to keep repeating like parrots that Israel has the right to defend itself," she says.
Fear for loved ones in Gaza
Many people in the West Bank have family in Gaza. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, more than 4,300 people have already been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza in response to the Hamas terror attacks.
Palestinians in Ramallah have either lost loved ones or live in fear that they might. Hiyam Mouhammed Ibrahim, an elderly woman whose daughter lives in Gaza, is among them. She stands at the edge of the protest, dressed all in black, clutching a handkerchief in her left hand.
"They are bombing buildings with civilians in them, a disgrace. Why are they doing this? My daughter said to me, 'I'm shaking, I can't stand the bombing, every day, every hour bombs. We can't sleep'," she says, her voice wavering. She can't forgive the Arab states, either. "They left us all alone," she says, before collapsing into the arms of someone standing nearby. She's given water, before the paramedics attend to her.
Deadliest year on record in West Bank
While the recent events in Gaza have caused anger and despair among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the situation had already significantly deteriorated for many there even before the Hamas attacks on 7 October has been the deadliest year since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs began keeping such records in 2008.
Leading up to the Israel-Hamas war, OCHA reported more than 29 Israelis died in clashes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem by the end of August, most of them Jewish settlers. Meanwhile, 189 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the Israeli military or armed settlers by 19 September , according to OCHA. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law by both the International Court of Justice and the United Nations.
And in the two weeks since the war began, dozens more Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. One reason is the expansion of military operations, in which hundreds of Palestinians have also been arrested so far. But violence by Jewish settlers has also increased significantly. The Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq reported this week that at least 80 Palestinians, including 20 children, have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and armed settlers since 7 October
Shots fired as protest breaks up
The central traffic circle near the mosque is soon empty as the protest moves toward an Israeli checkpoint. Only some of the original demonstrators are still participating, among them masked youths. Some 200 meters (about 650 feet) away from the Jewish settlement of Beit El, the group gathers around a gas station. Red Crescent ambulances are parked off to the side, accompanied by paramedics wearing high-visibility vests that read in Arabic and English, "Don't shoot, I am not a target, I am a health care provider."
Some of the young protesters set fire to car tires, with the black smoke meant to obscure the view of Israeli soldiers who have taken up positions on the high concrete walls of the settlement. The situation is tense. A small boy wearing a yellow headband rolls a tire into the fire and moves away. Occasionally, a masked youth emerges from the crowd to slingshot a stone toward the soldiers, though it's unlikely he could hit anything from this distance.
One of the boys throwing stones is just 14 years old. When asked why he is here, he says he wants to defend his country and show the Jews that there is resistance and people who love their country.
The Israeli military is not only observing the situation, but also firing shots. The whipping sound of bullets echoes across the square in front of the gas station. A man goes down, and is immediately helped by other men onto an ambulance that rushes to the scene. Blood is clearly visible next to the gas pump. Later, the Israeli Defense Forces tells DW in a statement that "live fire," among other things, was used to "disperse the riot."
At the end of the day, the Red Crescent counts 16 wounded people in Ramallah alone.
Published: 23 Oct 2023, 9:23 AM