Anti-PA ‘intifada’ in Bethlehem threatens Christmas festivities

Student stabbed to death at Jenin university

 A picture taken with a drone shows Palestinian houses and buildings at Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem in the West Bank June 17, 2021. Picture taken June 17, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/YOSRI ALJAMAL)
A picture taken with a drone shows Palestinian houses and buildings at Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem in the West Bank June 17, 2021. Picture taken June 17, 2021.

Residents of Bethlehem’s three refugee camps have been launching daily protests against the Palestinian Authority, coinciding with preparations for Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and the nearby towns of Bet Jala and Bet Sahour.

Some Christian residents expressed fear that the protests in the refugee camps of Dheisheh, Aida and Jibrin – also known as al-Azza Camp – might spread to their communities, ruining Christmas festivities that have already been badly affected since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020.

During the nightly protests during the past week, residents burned tires and blocked streets, demanding the release of several young men arrested by the PA security forces.

The protests began at Dheisheh refugee camp after the security forces arrested a number of young men who raised banners belonging to Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) during the funeral of Amjad Abu Sultan.

Abu Sultan, 14, was shot dead by IDF soldiers in October as he was preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail from Bet Jala at Israeli vehicles on Route 60, also known as the “Tunnels Road.” His body was handed over to the Palestinians two weeks ago.

During the funeral, PA security officers attacked several mourners who were carrying Hamas flags and PFLP banners, according to Palestinian sources.

Later, the security forces arrested several young men from Dheisheh, Aida and Jibrin camps who participated in the funeral, on charges of assaulting a number of officers.

On instructions from the PA leadership, the Palestinian security forces have in recent weeks banned Palestinians from carrying Hamas flags and banners of other Palestinian groups during public events.

The protests first began in Dheisheh camp after the PA security forces last week arrested Mohammed Shaheen, a teenager who participated in the funeral of Abu Sultan. Several camp residents who were summoned for interrogation by the security forces have refused to comply.

“What is happening in Dheisheh and the other two refugee camps is a small intifada [uprising] against the Palestinian Authority,” said a Palestinian journalist from Bethlehem. “The residents of the camp are angry, because they feel intimidated by the Palestinian security forces. The clampdown is targeting supporters of the PFLP and Hamas.”

A PA security official in Bethlehem refused to comment on the allegations.

The official warned, however, that the Palestinian security forces will continue to enforce law and order and prevent scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in the Bethlehem area.

A SENIOR official with the ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas and the PFLP of standing behind the camp protests.

“Hamas and the PFLP are inciting the residents of the camps against the Palestinian Authority,” the official claimed. “This is happening not only in the Bethlehem area, but also in other camps, especially in the areas of Nablus and Jenin.”

The PFLP said in a statement on Saturday that it holds the PA responsible for the latest tensions in Bethlehem. The group threatened to “strike with an iron fist all those who harm the symbols of the PFLP.”

The Bethlehem Municipality, meanwhile, has begun decorating Manger Square and other parts of the city for Christmas.

But some Christian residents warned that the tensions in the nearby refugee camps could spread to Bethlehem, Bet Jala and Bet Sahour.

“The situation in Bethlehem is very tense,” said a Christian businessman who owns an olive wood factory in the city. “We hope that the Palestinian security forces are able to solve the problem with the camp residents before Christmas.”

The tensions in Bethlehem come amid growing scenes of violence on university campuses in the West Bank.

On Saturday, a student was stabbed to death during a brawl at the Arab American University (AAU) near Jenin. The student was identified as Mahran Khaliliyeh, 21. His friends claimed that he was attacked by students affiliated with Fatah.

The university was immediately closed after the incident. A suspect later handed himself over to the PA police in Jenin.

On Friday, another fight erupted at Bir Zeit University between Fatah and PFLP students. The university administration announced that the campus will be closed on Saturday and appealed to all students to abide by the university regulations and laws.

The violence erupted after a number of student groups affiliated with Hamas and the PFLP issued a statement condemning the PA security forces for raiding and searching the university dormitories. Fatah-affiliated students who were unhappy with the statement reportedly beat some PFLP and Hamas supporters.