As all eyes are on the Gaza Strip following this week’s firing of a rocket at the Kfar Saba region and the subsequent Israeli military strikes on Hamas targets, the situation in the West Bank seems to be heating up, following a series of incidents in which five Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in the past two weeks.
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah warned that the mounting tensions in the West Bank could grow into a “new intifada” against Israel, especially as Palestinians prepare to mark the anniversary of Land Day on March 30.
Land Day is an annual day of commemoration, for Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians, of the violence that erupted in 1976 in response to the Israeli government’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of hectares of land for state purposes in the North.
Then, six Israeli-Arabs were killed in clashes with Israeli police during widespread protests against the government’s decision.
On Wednesday, Palestinians reported that Sajed Mizher, an 18-year-old volunteer with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, was killed after being shot by IDF soldiers in the Dehaishe refugee camp near Bethlehem.
They said that Mizher was wounded in the abdomen and later died after being hospitalized.
Residents of the camp said that the paramedic was shot while he tried to treat a number of Palestinians who were injured during clashes with IDF soldiers. The IDF did not immediately comment on the incident The PA Health Ministry condemned the killing of Mizher and called on the international community to take immediate action to “protect unarmed civilians in all Palestinian cities.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas later phoned Mizher’s father to offer his condolences.
Mizher was the second Palestinian reportedly killed by the IDF in the past few days. Last week, Palestinians said that the IDF shot and killed Ahmed Manasra, 26, south of Bethlehem. They said that Manasra was shot when he stepped out of his car to help a Palestinian driver who had been shot earlier by soldiers.
The incident in Dehaishe came amid increased tensions in the West Bank following the recent attack at Ketziot Prison in the Negev, where two guards were stabbed by Hamas inmates. One of the guards suffered moderate wounds, while the second suffered light wounds. The prisoners are protesting the installation of devices to prevent them from using smuggled cellphones.
The Prison Service has since imposed severe restrictions on Hamas prisoners, sparking a wave of protests throughout the West Bank.
On Wednesday, eight Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets during clashes with IDF soldiers at the northern entrance to El-Bireh, the twin city of Ramallah, according to Palestinian sources. The Palestinians were demonstrating in solidarity with the prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
Among the wounded was Baha Nasr, a photographer working for the PA’s official news agency, Wafa.
Several Palestinian factions have called for increased protests in the coming days, in solidarity with the prisoners. They also urged Palestinians to participate in rallies and demonstrations planned for Land Day.
The three other Palestinians who were killed in the past 10 days are Omar Abu Lila – the terrorist who killed Rabbi Achiad Ettinger and Sgt.
Gal Keidan near Ariel – and Raed Hamdan and Zeid Nouri from Nablus.
The IDF said that the two men were killed during clashes with soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. They said that several bombs were hurled at soldiers securing Jewish worshipers at the site.
A PA official said that although there was no connection between the various incidents in which the five Palestinians were killed, “it’s clear that the situation in the West Bank is on the verge of an explosion.”
The official said that daily IDF “incursions” into Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps, settler “assaults” on Palestinians, increased tensions in Israeli prisons – and Israel’s decision to deduct payments made by the PA to families of prisoners and “martyrs” from tax revenues and tariffs it collects on behalf of the Palestinians – are the main reasons behind the upsurge of violence.
Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian groups have also been urging Palestinians in the West Bank to step up their protests against Israel.
On Wednesday, Hamas said that the Palestinian “resistance” in the West Bank will continue to “use all methods to confront Israeli crimes.”
Hamas, according to PA officials, is trying to divert attention from its problems at home by inciting Palestinians in the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israel.
“Hamas is seeking to export its crisis to the West Bank,” said one official. “Hamas leaders are worried that the protests against their failed policies and economic hardship will be renewed, and that’s why they are looking for a way out of the crisis they are facing.”.