Total IDF closure of West Bank for Israeli holidays, followed by IDF build-up in preparation for Palestinian demonstrations this weekend

The tension is thick enough to cut with a knife.

The Israeli Defense Ministry declared a total closure of the West Bank from Sunday just after midnight until Wednesday just after midnight, to allow Israelis to commemorate Remembrance Day on Monday, in honor of those who have died in Israel’s wars, which segued immediately into Independence Day on Tuesday, to celebrate the creation of the State of Israel [according to the Jewish calendar].

Many visited the West Bank for picnics and barbeques, in ease and comfort. Checkpoints all around the northern West Bank town of Nablus were shut down to give extra reassurance to Israeli settlers and their friends and families. Israeli flags were everywhere, flying from windows, balconies, lampposts, and from plastic holders fixed on the front windows of both sides of their cars, like dogs’ ears.

The holidays passed uneventfully, apart from a mini-demonstration staged by the brother of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit at the important televised official ceremony on Mount Herzl during the transition from Monday’s sadness in Israel to Tuesday’s joy.

On Wednesday, as Israelis returned to work, the IDF began to deploy in watchtowers along The Wall, in preparation for demonstrations called by Palestinians for Nakba Day on March 15, to mark the catastrophic dispossession — much of it forced — of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians in the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The return, or right to return, of those Palestinians and their descendants is something that has been under discussion for the subsequent 63 years.

Most Israelis are adamantly opposed.

Some say, with emphasis, that this would mean war.

Others say they cannot allow any deterioration of their own lifestyle, which they are convinced would be in jeopardy with any significant Palestinian return.

Most Israelis say they don’t want to even see any Palestinians.

Proposals discussed at the unsuccessful Camp David peace talks in late July 2000 envisaged the return of Palestinian refugees only to a future Palestinian state, with strictly limited and symbolic “family reunification” of between 10,000 and 100,000 Palestinian refugees who would be allowed to enter Israel.

The recent Israeli Peace Initiative, signed by a group of some 70 Israeli ex-military, ex-security, and other officials, contains a distinctly ungenerous proposal to recognize “the suffering of the Palestinian refugee since the 1948 war, as well as of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries”.

This would apparently creates an accounting balance [of zero] on both sides of the ledger.

The Israeli Peace Initiative also notes “the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions”.

The demonstrations planned this weekend by Palestinians and their supports are scheduled to take place globally — and some, perhaps many, will be on the internet.

There has been intense speculation in recent weeks about these demonstrations — which could be the first large-scale direct confrontations between demonstrators who have declared their dedication to non-violence and Israeli forces at checkpoints in the West Bank and in Gaza, as well as at the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders.

No one knows how many will turn out, how sustained their effort will be, or what will be the response…

On Friday 13 May, a coalition of Palestinian youth groups has announced they will be holding a training session in non-violence in Qalandiya refugee camp ahead of a planned demonstration at the massive and monstrous checkpoint on 15 May, during which time, they say, they intend to enter Jerusalem and “1948 areas” — peacefully, of course.
Also on Friday 13 May, marches were scheduled along Israel’s borders with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

UPDATE: clashes between Israeli military, police, and private security for Israeli settlers (on the one hand) and adolescent male residents of Silwan, on the south-eastern edge of the Old City of East Jerusalem escalated quickly on Friday afternoon. A 16 or 17-year-old, Mourad Ayyash, was shot in the abdomen, and suffered massive blood loss while medical care was delayed due to a police cordon around the area; he died later in hospital after hours of surgery. According to an email from Jonathan Pollack for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, the bullet came from a pistoMinor clashes were contained on Friday afternoon — with dozens of protestors detained — in an arc of East Jerusalem neighborhoods from Silwan to the Mount of Olives to Issawiya to Shuafat Refugee Camp to the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. On Saturday at mid-day, there were what Israeli media reported were “violent” clashes at the boy’s funeral procession from his home in Ras al-Amoud to a cemetary outside the Old City Wall (just north of Silwan).

On Saturday 14 May, a demonstration is scheduled to be held in Walajee, ajacent to the north/western edge of Bethlehem, to protest the imminent completion of The Wall and further loss of Palestinian land there. Demonstrators may also be intending to enter Jerusalem — without permits — but peacefully.

UPDATE: There is a demonstration on Saturday afternoon in Yaffa, an Israeli coastal city once home to tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled in 1948, south of Haifa.

On Sunday May 15, the main anticipated demonstration will be at Qalandia checkpoint, which will certainly be shut down for most of the day.

Journalists get mad

A group of Palestinian journalists in Bethlehem are mad as hell — and they aren’t going to take it any more (?)

Ma’an News Agency reported today that as a result of what happened at a demonstration at the main Bethlehem checkpoint yesterday (see our earlier report here, protesters and journalists were hit from both sides), “reporters will officially hand over a letter to the PA demanding that those security officers suspected of assaulting journalists be reprimanded. If the PA fails to respond to the letter, journalists say they will boycott all Palestinian official visits in Bethlehem during Easter, particularly that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abdul Nasser An-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Ma’an that he and the body’s secretary-general fully support the protest. On Monday, PA and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally who were voicing dissent against the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees [a group of 10 Palestinians who were arrested on Sunday while trying to go to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday religious observances, but without a permit]… Journalists said PA forces not only prevented them from covering the rally, but assaulted members of the press. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces, resulting in a sit-in near Rachel’s Tomb by journalists”. This story can be read in full here.

The main Gilo checkpoint into and out of Bethlehem was reportedly closed today until further notice.

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee issued a communiqué today by email giving this report:
“Fifteen demonstrators were arrested by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel’s Tomb last Sunday, protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day … After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. [Another account said that a group of demonstrators surprised the Israeli Border Police who were massed on the Jerusalem side by turning to the side and passing through a huge sliding metal gate that was opened to allow the passage of Israeli military vehicles, but no mention of that in this communiqué…] They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem. It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years … All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge. While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge … The Army had also used concussion grenades to disperse a demonstration in support of the ten arrestees in Bethlehem today. One demonstrator was lightly injured after a grenade hit his back”.

Meanwhile, other Palestinian journalists are mad as hell because some of their colleagues accepted an invitation by The Israel Project media advocacy organization to spend a day in Tel Aviv, cafe-hopping, being invited to lunch, shopping in malls, and meeting with an Arabic-language-speaking IDF spokesman… This is reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post One of the Palestinian invitees was teased about it, but in a supportive way, by one of his close friends on Facebook last week…

More Israeli Police than Palestinians in East Jerusalem this Friday

There was an unprecedented deployment of Israeli police at street intersections and all around the north side of East Jerusalem’s Old City today. There were some big guns carried in each group.

The authorities said they anticipated major demonstrations denouncing the attacks on Gaza.

The white blimp was back — hovering, in a clear blue sky on a sunny but cold day, just over the Israeli police station next to the Israeli post office, near the Herod’s Gate and Damascus Gate entrances to the Old City.

Herusalem Security Blimp - Sept 2007

The same Jerusalem security blimp shown hovering in sky in photo taken from the grounds of the Augusta Victoria hospital in September 2007

There were more police than people, one shopkeeper on Salah ed-Din Street told me at what was nearly tea-time. He said the area had been quiet all day. He did note that there were even two Magen David Adom ambulances — Israeli Red Star of David — parked beside the traffic circle between the American Consulate in East Jerusalem and the main East Jerusalem bus station, outside the northern perimeter of the Old City’s wall, just in case.

But, it was all quiet. There was actually much more action on the first day of the airstrikes just last Saturday.

Haaretz — which could see much more than I could — reported that there were demonstrations in Tehran, Damascus, the Sinai cities of el-Arish and Rafah, and also that “Small protests erupted as well in the Palestinian territories. In an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem, a group of youths threw stones and large blocks while Israeli anti-riot police on horseback dispersed them. Three dozen Palestinian women marched out of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate chanting, calling for revenge and urging Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to hit Tel Aviv with missiles. Police dispersed the crowd. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands demonstrated in solidarity with Gazans, calling for Palestinian unity and accusing Arab leaders of silence over Israel’s bombardment”. This report can be read in full here.

There were some reports of an Israeli policeman “lightly injured” by stone-throwing at Shua’fat — meaning the refugee camp, and not the village — and this must be the “Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem” referred to in the article in Haaretz. The refugee camp has been quite deliberately isolated behind The Wall and a checkpoint, though it still is formally part of greater municipal Jerusalem.

Ma’an News Agency later posted its own compilation of demonstrations, which can be viewed here.

YNet reported much the same as I did just above — but YNet came to the conclusion that there were “Violent riots in Jerusalem”. The YNet report was subtitled: “Clashes break out between Arabs, police throughout capital. Protesters throw stones, Molotov cocktails at officers during rallies against Gaza operation”.

YNet also reported in the same story that “The Jerusalem police will stay fully deployed throughout the weekend” — making them happy for all the overtime pay they will collect, and also bringing greater joy to all the inhabitants of East Jerusalem for all the random security checks they can hope to endure. This report can be seen in full here .

The Jerusalem Post did not exaggerate in the alarmist way that YNet did. Its report said there were only “minor clashes”.


The U.S. Consulate sent out a Warden Message to warn American citizens of “Possible Demonstrations in Old City and Environs Friday, January 02, 2009” — but the message only arrived by email at 1:05 p.m. on Friday, too late to have been of any use, had there actually been demonstrations around the Friday prayers held just before that time.

In any case, the Warden Message was sent to alert “U.S. citizens of the possibility of a large demonstration Friday, January 2, 2009, in the Old City and other possible demonstrations throughout East Jerusalem in protest of the ongoing situation in Gaza. There is expected to be a heavy police presence in and around the Old City throughout the day … Access restrictions to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and a heavy police presence may spark disturbances at entry points, to include the Damascus, Herod’s and Lion’s gates, in addition to random security checkpoints setup throughout the areas leading to the Old City. Heightened awareness should continue to be practiced when approaching established and random security checkpoints throughout the Jerusalem area, where crowds and the possibility of spontaneous disturbances may occur. American citizens should exercise caution, stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. In addition, the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. Conflict and violence can occur and spread rapidly and unpredictably in the Gaza Strip. The State Department strongly recommends that American citizens refrain from all travel to the Gaza strip and that those already in Gaza depart immediately. This recommendation has been in effect since the deadly roadside bombing of a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza in October 2003. It applies to all Americans, including journalists and aid workers. No U.S. government official travel is permitted inside the Gaza Strip at this time”.