Stones or bullets? Palestinian leadership seeks to keep lid on clashes

Friday 09/10/2015
Clear strategy to support resistance, but not to fan flames of violence

RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - Stones or bullets? For now, the Palestinian leadership hopes protesters have learned lessons from the second intifada and stick to the former in clashes with Israeli security forces, officials say.

During that uprising, from 2000 to 2005, armed Palestinian security forces confronted the Israelis.

But now, as youths clash with soldiers amid fears that this month's unrest will spiral into a new intifada, a Palestinian security official in the occupied West Bank said they were "being vigilant to ensure firearms are not used".

On the ground, Palestinian police and intelligence are allowing young people to throw stones, journalists noted.

But they are also ensuring that those who join the protests do so without resorting to guns that are widely available, especially in refugee camps.

Ramallah, West Bank seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), learned the lesson of the previous intifada the hard way.

A few months after popular protests erupted in 2000, gunfire began to accompany the stones of slingshot users.

Israel responded by deploying tanks, reoccupying most of the West Bank, and for the first time since 1967 used warplanes against the Palestinians.

It devastated infrastructure in the Palestinian territory and laid siege to the headquarters of then leader Yasser Arafat.

Ten years later, it would appear that the Palestinian leadership realises it has more to lose this time around.

The Palestinians have gained observer status at the United Nations, where on October 1 their flag was raised for the first time in a symbolic gesture as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged the world body to grant them full membership.

Palestinian security services spokesman Adnan al-Damiri confirmed the decision to keep a lid on the latest unrest.

The decision was taken "at a political level. A recourse to the use of arms in confrontations between the people and the soldiers of the occupation is forbidden," he said.

He said there was a "clear Palestinian strategy to support a popular resistance movement", but not to fan the flames of violence.

Abbas, who denounced the militarisation of the Palestinian struggle during the second intifada, has said he opposes the same thing happening again and urged the security forces to take the "necessary measures" to ensure this.

Essam Bakr, who coordinates 13 Palestinian movements that meet weekly in Ramallah, said they agree with this policy.

He said rejecting further militarisation was unanimous because it would "give the occupation an excuse to use its tanks and open fire on the Palestinians".

The Palestinian leadership's control is limited to the West Bank where it is also highly contested. And it is not allowed to operate in Jerusalem, where much of the trouble is taking place.

The PA also has no hold over Israeli Arabs who have staged their own actions in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The authority is also at loggerheads with the Islamist movement Hamas and its unchallenged domination over the Gaza Strip, and which has openly called for more unrest.

Gaza and the West Bank may be separated by Israeli territory, but both are meant to constitute a future Palestinian state.

Hamas is also active in the West Bank, and Israel has accused a cell of the movement there of being behind the October 1 murder of an Israeli settler couple in front of their children.

Hamas hailed the killings, but did not claim them.

Until Friday, Gaza and Hamas, which fought a summer war with Israel in 2014, had been largely removed from the current unrest.

But since then, nine Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers along the border and a pregnant mother and her two-year-old child were killed in an Israeli air strike in response to rocket fire from the enclave.

Hamas said on Friday that a third intifada was already under way, and that it would play a part in it. The first intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993.

On Sunday, it warned Israel against "foolishness" after the overnight air strike which a Hamas spokesman said "shows the occupation's desire to escalate".

Hard-hit by the 2014 war, Hamas may not itself have any interest in things escalating, analysts believe.

Which leaves Islamic Jihad, the other Palestinian Islamist movement. Its political leadership recently refused to endorse a video by its armed wing extolling suicide bombings.