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The joint Israeli-PA crackdown on the West Bank

In the hours leading up to dawn on Sunday, Israeli occupation forces invaded Ramallah, took over the Palestinian Authority police headquarters near the Manara Square, and fired at the hundreds of Palestinian youth spread out on the main streets who threw rocks at the armoured jeeps. As the army withdrew temporarily, the youth descended upon the PA police station with rocks and insults, shouting “traitors” at the police officers who were inside the station the entire time; the latter responded by firing copious amounts of live ammunition in the air and then at the protesters, before they were re-joined by the Israeli army.

As the sun rose, the streets were left trashed, in flames and deserted. One man, 30 year old Mohammad Atallah Tarifi, was found dead on the roof of a nearby commercial building, where he apparently bled for hours before dying. An autopsy report concluded that a bullet from an Israeli M15 rifle killed him. In Nablus, another man, Ahmad Al-Shinno, from Al-Ain refugee camp, was also shot and killed by Israeli forces who fired four bullets in his body and prevented any ambulance from reaching him for over an hour.

This brings the total number of Palestinians killed in the last ten days in the West Bank to five. Ever since the alleged kidnap of three settlers in Hebron on June 12, the West Bank has undergone nightly rounds of raids, arrests, killings and terror, all carried out by the Israeli occupation army.

Hebron has faced the brunt of the attacks. The largest city in the West Bank, with a population of 680,000 Palestinians, has witnessed massive raids on civilian homes, cemeteries, Islamic charitable societies and wells. Men up to the age of 50 years are prevented from traveling outside the West Bank via the only border crossing available, the Allenby Bridge. Mohammed Hirbawi, the president of the Palestinian Businessmen’s Forum in Hebron was quoted saying that up to $12 million worth of trade is being lost daily in the city. The northern entrance has been closed by concrete barriers and the Container checkpoint, which separates the north and south of the West Bank, is closed off to anyone from Hebron.

The three missing settlers are being exploited by Israel as a cover for its largest military invasion of the West Bank since the second intifada. Almost 400 Palestinians, the majority affiliated to Hamas, have been arrested over the past ten days, including 20 Palestinian Legislative Council members. Furthermore, 75 former prisoners released in the October 2011 prisoner deal have been re-arrested, in an act described by former minister of prisoners’ affairs Issa Qaraqe’ as “immoral and illegal revenge“.

It should be noted that neither Hamas nor any other political movement has claimed responsibility for the missing settlers. Yet that did not stop the Israeli army from raiding academic institutions across the West Bank, such as Birzeit University in Ramallah, the American University in Jenin and the Polytechnic University in Hebron; soldiers proceeded to break into the offices of the Hamas student group and steal flags and other assorted paraphernalia. Israeli officials have capitalised on the disappearance of the three settlers by seeking to decimate the Hamas movement in the West Bank. Israeli army radio referred to the large scale incursion as “uprooting everything green in the West Bank”, mentioning the official colour of Hamas. In the words of Israeli lieutenant Peter Lerner, “We are committed to resolving the kidnapping and debilitating Hamas terrorist capacities, its infrastructure and its recruiting institutions.”

Dubbed by the Israelis as Operation Brother’s Keeper, there were reports which signified that this military invasion was pre-planned and not about securing the release of the three settlers. The main priority is to undermine and weaken Hamas, which Israel has certainly relied upon its proxy, the Palestinian Authority, to do.

Since signing the reconciliation treaty between Fatah and Hamas on April 23, the PA has not relented on its crackdown of Hamas members and supporters. This is especially exemplified in the rampant repression of the Palestinian Authority security services in shutting down, obstructing or suppressing any protest or show of support for the approximately 200 Palestinian hunger strikers, who are protesting against their illegal detention without charge and have gone more than 60 days without food.

The PA arrested Islamboli Budeir, a well-known activist for the prisoners, and himself a regular prisoner of the PA preventative security forces, in Tulkarem on June 5. A couple of days later, a women’s protest from the same city in support of the hunger strikers and Budeir was suppressed brutally by the PA, with thugs attacking Ikhlas, the wife of Hamas leader and long-term prisoner Abbas Sayyid, and tearing the abayas (cloaks) off the other women. Israel and the PA are collaborating to undermine the reconciliation treaty which, if anything, underlines the weakened position in which Hamas finds itself due to the collusion of the PA-Israel-Egypt triad against it. The Egyptian destruction of the tunnels through which smuggled goods could get through to the besieged population of the Gaza Strip had detrimental and massive repercussions; they served as a crucial lifeline. Abbas himself has proclaimed that the Rafah border to Gaza will remain closed until PA presidential guards are situated there, thus setting himself explicitly, along with Egypt and Israel, as a perpetrator of the siege which is a collective punishment of 1.7 million Palestinians in the territory.

However, it is inevitable that the joint Israeli-PA campaign to decimate Hamas in the West Bank will backfire. The US-sponsored Fatah coup against Hamas in Gaza 2007 began on June 9 and lasted for five days. By June 16, every Fatah stronghold and security building was under the control of Hamas, and the weapons procured from Egypt that had crossed into Gaza with Israeli approval at the end of 2006 were in the hands of the Islamic Resistance Movement. History may repeat itself, but not necessarily always in the exact way. The invasion of the West Bank has only drawn more contempt and scorn for Abbas and his security forces, which are viewed as collaborators with the Israeli occupation. Mahmoud Abbas’s statement at the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Jeddah last week, where he committed himself to the safety and recovery of the missing settlers and demonised Hamas and resistance in general, was met with ire from the Palestinians.

Two thousand Palestinian homes have been broken into and raided; some homes have been turned into Israeli military outposts in Hebron; five Palestinians in the West Bank have been murdered by Israel; almost 400 have been kidnapped by the occupation; and on Sunday night in Ramallah the PA police, standing brazenly alongside Israeli soldiers, were firing live ammunition at Palestinians. There is growing outrage that these acts are not carried out by Israel acting alone, but are aided and abetted by the Palestinian security forces, who operate as Israel’s proxy militia.

Mahmoud Abbas should remember one thing; never underestimate the anger and dissent of the people. Tightening the screws on affiliates and supporters of Hamas while simultaneously invading and collectively punishing an entire population will undoubtedly backfire into something much more, such as a popular uprising. There is a real possibility that the nightly confrontations between the Palestinians and the occupation authorities will usher in a more explosive mobilisation of people power.

 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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