A fury of violence

As turmoil accompanies the killing of three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian youth, the Palestinian Authority is losing its credibility in the West Bank.

Palestinians riot in Shuafat, an Arab suburb in northeastern Jerusalem, July 2, following the discovery of the body of a missing Palestinian youth suspected to have been killed by Israelis avenging the deaths of three abducted Jewish teens (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Palestinians riot in Shuafat, an Arab suburb in northeastern Jerusalem, July 2, following the discovery of the body of a missing Palestinian youth suspected to have been killed by Israelis avenging the deaths of three abducted Jewish teens
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
In the pre-dawn hours of June 22 during an Israel army raid in the heart of the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), military jeeps were seen parked outside the main PA police station as Israeli soldiers conducted arrests and raided several institutions.
Palestinian officers helplessly peered out the station’s windows and as soon as the army jeeps sped away, dozens of Palestinian youths who had gathered in the streets and hurled rocks at the soldiers turned their anger toward the police station. They hurled a volley of stones while chanting “collaborators,” damaging three police cars parked outside.
The police responded by firing dozens of live rounds in the air, while the youth ran and cowered in alleys.
The following morning, rocks covered the roads and trash bins were still ablaze in al- Manara Square, the busy commercial and political hub of the West Bank.
“It looked like a war zone,” Hala Ansari, an accountant, tells The Jerusalem Report, recalling her drive to work the next day. “The Palestinian Authority is losing its credibility as a defender of Palestinian rights and interests, and that’s not good.”
On June 12, three Israeli teenagers – Gil- Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, – went missing near a yeshiva in a West Bank settlement. Although no one claimed responsibility for the act, Israel accused the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, of kidnapping them.
Israel launched a massive crackdown on the West Bank in search of the trio and put the entire city of Hebron under military closure, sealing off most entrances to the city and stopping residents from entering or leaving. The army conducted hundreds of house-to-house searches, arresting more than 500 people and shut down a dozen institutions.
Six Palestinians were killed by armed forces across the West Bank, drawing angry reactions from Palestinians and condemnations from rights groups, who accused Israel of imposing “collective punishment” on Palestinians.
“Nothing can justify these abductions and murders, which we again condemn. Those responsible must be brought to justice,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International in a statement issued July 1. “But justice will not be served by Israel seeking revenge by imposing collective punishment, or committing other violations of Palestinians’ rights.
Rather, the Israeli authorities must conduct a full, thorough and impartial investigation that leads to the prosecution of those suspected of being responsible in fair trials.”
Two weeks into the search, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) named two Hamas operatives, Marwan Kawasmi and Amar Abu Aisha, from the West Bank city of Hebron, as key suspects.
On the evening of June 30, the bodies of the three teenagers were found near the town of Halhul in the West Bank, not far from where they were abducted.
Though the whereabouts of the suspects remain unknown, the army destroyed their family homes, reverting to the punitive practice halted in 2005 of razing the homes of Palestinians involved in attacks against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a July 1 security cabinet meeting that Israel intends to punish all those involved and deliver a severe blow to the remaining Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, residents say that after weeks of closure, arrests, searches, clashes, and travel restrictions that prevented male residents from exiting the area via Jordan – things will only get worse.
“All we can do is brace ourselves for more blows,” says Musa Jabari, the owner of a grocery shop in downtown Hebron. “We know they’re coming and there’s no one to protect us.”
George Giacaman, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, says the PA faces a crisis of legitimacy and its very purpose, given its inability to protect its people from IDF incursions and operations as well as its continued security coordination with the Israeli army.
“Palestinians never imagined that the PA’s sole purpose would be running civilian issues under occupation, indefinitely,” Giamacan tells The Report. “Therefore, it faces a serious crisis in legitimacy to remain the way it is, which is actually what Israel wants.
The PA was established in 1993, under the interim Oslo agreements, to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the signing of a final peace agreement that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It was meant to “transport the Palestinian people to independence,” according to Palestinian political parlance.
But, as successive efforts to reach a final peace settlement and a Palestinian state have failed amid mutual recriminations and bouts of violence, the prospects of the PA administering an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip are becoming ever more bleak.
Analysts say the PA “cannot afford” to waste 20 more years on negotiations, and the crisis it faces is compounded when Israel increases incursions leading to killings and arrests of Palestinians. “The PA has reached the end of the line, or has neared it,” says Giacaman.
Israel and the PA’s security forces maintain security coordination, which includes meetings and sharing of intelligence. Though the army does not seek permission before entering Palestinian-governed areas, they notify PA forces ahead and Palestinian officers stay out of the way as Israeli forces carry out arrests, searches or raids – a very unpopular practice that draws accusations from Palestinians that the PA’s main objective is to ensure Israel’s security requirements.
In a speech at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 18, PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping and said security cooperation is a Palestinian interest.
“Of course, there are those who blame and condemn us regarding the issue of security coordination, but it is in our interest,” he told Muslim leaders. “It is in our interest for there to be security coordination between us and the Israelis in order for us to protect ourselves and our people.”
Palestinian officials contend the PA is facing “an internal crisis” whereby it is expected to protect Israel’s security interests but cannot protect its own people and they accuse Israel of deliberately weakening the PA and limiting its authorities.
“Though Israel may not want a total collapse [of the PA], it stands to benefit from a weak Palestinian leadership that it can blame for everything, all the while maintaining that it is a leadership that does not deserve a state and is not a peace partner,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Libera-tion Organization’s executive committee.
Joint coordination was strengthened after Hamas, bitter enemies of Abbas’s Fatah party, took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 in a short but bloody civil war that left Abbas in charge of only parts of the West Bank. Shortly thereafter, Abbas’s security forces launched a crackdown on Hamas leaders in the West Bank to prevent a similar takeover there.
Despite the deep-rooted enmity between Fatah and Hamas, the two announced a unity pact in April after seven years of failed reconciliation attempts. On June 2, a new transitional government of technocrats was sworn in and charged with overseeing elections six months later.
Israel, which, together with the US and EU, considers Hamas a terrorist organization because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize its right to exist, condemned the move and urged Western governments to shun the new government. The US and EU, however, pledged to work with it.
Netanyahu suspended peace talks on April 24 after the signing of the pact. US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk, who resigned from his post June 27, named Israeli settlement building in the West Bank as the main reason for the failed talks.
“The whole premise of negotiating is over, that road is destructive,” Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri tells The Report.
“There are limits to how much more they can extend them. When they collapse completely, so will everything else.”
On July 2, a day after Israel buried the three teenagers in a funeral attended by tens of thousands of mourners, the badly burned body of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir was found in a forest near a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Witnesses said Abu Khdeir, 17, was last seen outside a shop near his home in the Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem, just before dawn prayers of the holy month of Ramadan.
A car pulled up and men came out to ask for directions before forcibly pulling him into the vehicle and speeding away, they say.
News of his death, which drew residents to conclude that it was an act of revenge for the deaths of the Israeli teens, set off violent clashes in Shuafat and elsewhere in East Jerusalem.
Hundreds of masked youths hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police, burned tires, destroyed streets lights, and set several light-rail stations alight. Security forces fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at the protesters.
Inside Israel, dozens of Arab rioters were arrested over the weekend of July 5 following violent protests in several central and northern Arab-Israeli cities protesting the death of the Palestinian teenager. Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrations.
Police arrested six young Jewish extremists and said that there was a strong indication that the motivation for the killing was “nationalistic.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu on July 3 condemned the “shocking murder” and said, “We will bring those responsible for this crime to justice.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also condemned the killing, calling it “a horrible and barbaric act.” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, “It is sickening to think of an innocent 17-year-old boy snatched off the streets, and his life stolen from him and his family.”
Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets of Shuafat on Friday July 4 to take part in Abu Khdeir’s funeral. His body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag was carried through a highly charged crowd before being buried in the town’s cemetery. After the funeral, dozens of youths threw stones at Israeli police, who fired back with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
In Shuafat, where streetlights lie limp on the ground, rocks cover the roads and trash bins lie overturned, the teenager’s family said they feel a mixture of sadness and anger at Israeli authorities, who did not do enough to prevent the act and most likely will not do enough to punish the perpetrators, and, at the Palestinian authorities, who are completely powerless to protect them.
“We are all in utter shock by what happened,” Mahmoud Abu Khdeir, Mohammad’s cousin said. “None of us ever imagined that a nice boy who we watched grow for 17 years would come back to us charred.”