Palestinian Anger With Israel Is Undimmed, Even With Battle Paused

Unrest broke out in Jerusalem and the West Bank again on Friday, and Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories expressed the need for common cause against injustice.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Less than 12 hours after the rockets and airstrikes stopped on Friday, tear gas veiled Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque and Israeli security forces stormed the holy compound, an echo of the police raids two weeks ago that preceded the deadliest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

In a Jerusalem neighborhood overlooking the mosque, the Israeli police tried to contain a crowd of hundreds of Palestinians carrying the flag of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. The police used stun grenades to chase away protesters who had thrown stones and fireworks at them.

And across the West Bank, Israeli soldiers used rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse Palestinians demonstrating after Friday prayers. In all, the Red Crescent said, 97 Palestinians were injured in the West Bank and Jerusalem on Friday.

An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Hamas and Israel might have hit pause on the formal hostilities of the last 11 days. But the unrest made clear that Palestinians still felt they had plenty to fight for: If anything, the war had only inflamed the Palestinian quest for greater rights and recognition, demonstrators said, with the truce doing next to nothing to address the broader inspiration for the rocket fire and stone-throwing.

“We, as Palestinians, will continue struggling to achieve our freedom,” said Emad Mohammed, 47, a trader from Ramallah, in the West Bank, “because the Israeli occupation of our land and people has not ended.”

Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinian witnesses said Israeli police officers had used stun grenades and rubber bullets to push demonstrators and worshipers out of the compound after Friday prayers, the Israeli authorities said they were responding to hundreds of young Palestinian men who threw rocks and firebombs at them.

But Palestinians said the Israeli retaliation — in Jerusalem on Friday, and more broadly in Gaza — was not only disproportionate, but also distracted from a larger asymmetry, in which Israel held most of the weapons, money and international backing while denying them basic rights.

Though both combatants in the war claimed victory on Friday, the cease-fire was unconditional, neither meeting Israeli demands that Hamas disarm nor improving living conditions for Gaza’s nearly two million residents. It was, in other words, back to the old normal, where tensions were never far from boiling over.

One of the immediate causes of Palestinian anger remained as explosive as ever: Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where several Palestinian families’ fight to stave off eviction has become a rallying cry.

“Just because there’s a cease-fire, doesn’t mean the death & destruction has ended, doesn’t mean the blockade is lifted, doesn’t mean those who lost their entires families will be rectified,” Mohammed el-Kurd, whose family lives in one of the Sheikh Jarrah homes, tweeted. “We must continue to our campaign to end the brutal siege and colonialism.”

Ammar Awad/Reuters

The blockade he referred to was of Gaza, the coastal strip of territory whose entrances and exits are tightly controlled by its two neighbors, Israel and Egypt. Israel says that the restrictions are necessary to prevent Hamas from gaining military capabilities, and Egypt acquiesces for its own complex political and security reasons, among them the fact that it distrusts Hamas’s brand of political Islam.

The blockade means Gazans’ ability to import and export from the territory, access medical care outside of it or even fish off its coast is greatly limited. Water, power, health care and sewage are shaky. Unemployment tops 50 percent. Almost no one can leave.

That reality makes the destruction of the last 11 days not only a personal disaster for thousands of people and a humanitarian concern for Gaza’s population, but also fuel for the next war if left unchanged.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that anyone in Israel, or anywhere, thinks that having an impoverished, besieged, angry, young, traumatized, starved population in Gaza is somehow in anyone’s interest, or could in any way produce stability or safety for anyone,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian affairs. “It just means it’ll happen all over again.”

John Minchillo/Associated Press

After the last cease-fire, in 2014, Israel and Hamas were supposed to discuss easing the blockade in exchange for disarming Hamas, but little progress was made. The damage then was far more extensive. Yet between donation pledges that never turned into actual funds because of international reluctance to support Hamas and Israel and Egypt’s tight restrictions on what materials could be brought into Gaza, the enclave was never fully rebuilt, leaving residents stuck in temporary housing amid a slow-burning humanitarian disaster.

In remarks on Friday, Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, who is in contention to become the country’s prime minister, said Gaza’s prospects would not improve while Hamas focused on militancy at the expense of civilian infrastructure.

The cease-fire should not only be “quiet in exchange for quiet,” it should be “quiet in exchange for hope, growth and moderation,” Mr. Gantz said. “The people of Gaza also deserve the type of quiet that fair employment will bring in the place of the rocket factories that were destroyed. The ability to educate their children is also the right thing for the people of Gaza, rather than the endless hatred fueled and cultivated by their leaders, who have taken them hostage to poverty and hopelessness.”

Hamas controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank. For years, the rivalry between the two groups functionally and politically turned the two occupied territories into separate islands.

But instead of dimming support for Hamas, the 11 days of conflict may have pumped up broader support for Hamas among Palestinians, who waved the group’s green flag in demonstrations across the West Bank on Friday.

Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

In interviews, many Palestinians in the West Bank said Hamas had done more to further their cause over the past 11 days of violence than the Palestinian Authority had for years.

“Hamas has once again proven to its people that it is the only political party that will stand up and fight the Israeli occupation,” said Mutaz Khalil, 30, who took part in a demonstration in Ramallah’s Al-Manar Square on Friday that Israeli soldiers later dispersed with live rounds, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Though the Palestinians’ grievances with Israel remained unsolved by the war, there had still been one crucial result, he said: Around the world, people on social media and in the streets had rallied to the Palestinian cause, forcing a small but meaningful shift in, among other places, the political debate over Israel and the occupied territories among Democrats in the United States.

“I believe that this war has reintroduced our conflict to the world,” Mr. Khalil said, “and has once again illustrated our struggle.”

Rami Nazzal reported from Ramallah, and Vivian Yee from Cairo. Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel.

Source Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/21/world/middleeast/palestinians-unrest-israel.html

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