‘Israel is starting to spread its fingertips; if we have an intifada we’ll cut their fingers’
Thhe support of young Palestinians for uprising is not equalled by that of their elders
A Palestinian child wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a UN school in Beit Hanoun, in the Gaza Strip, cries in Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya yesterday. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
In his window-frame workshop off a narrow alleyway in Al-Amari, one of Ramallah’s sprawling refugee camps, Assad Shahran is bent over a work table, distractedly scraping broken glass from the grooves of a metal frame. His attention keeps waning; every few seconds he glances at the small television on the wall, which is showing live images of Gaza from Al-Aqsa TV, the Hamas network.
The 27-year-old proudly describes himself as a Hamas supporter, and says that by its actions in Gaza the militant group is “defending the rights and dignity of all Palestinians”. He has attended the protests that have been held in Ramallah every day for the past fortnight, and is getting ready for a night-time march from the refugee camp to the Israeli army checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem. He knows it will probably turn violent. “People have nothing to lose any more,” he shrugs.
It wouldn’t be Shahran’s first confrontation with the authorities. In 2006 he was jailed by the Israelis for 19 months after he threw a Molotov cocktail at a soldier. His brother was among more than 1,000 prisoners who were released in 2011 as part of an exchange deal with Israel for the return of Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held by Hamas for five years. Now, as he watches events unfold in Gaza, he is convinced of the need for another intifada, or uprising.
“The young generation wants one,” he says. “The older people are demoralised after the first and second intifadas. They’re burned.”
But now, he believes, the time is ripe for a rebellion that would “restore our dignity, our self-esteem, which the Palestinian Authority has worked very hard to suppress.”
Concrete shelters With a population of almost 10,000, the Al-Amari camp is one of the biggest in the West Bank. Established by the Red Cross in 1949, after the foundation of the Israeli state, to cope with the influx of Palestinians from the cities of Lydd, Jaffa and Ramla, as well as a number of other villages, the camp is linked to the municipal electricity and water grids but ventilation and overcrowding are chronic problems. Families live in concrete shelters less than a metre apart.
Assad Shahran’s views are not uncommon in the camp, at least among his own generation. Eighteen-year-old Mohammed Ahdel, an articulate student who is preparing to take up a scholarship in security studies in Russia, says his allegiance is to the Fatah faction of the Ramallah-based Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but he still declares pride in the “Gaza resistance” and is angry about ongoing “security co-ordination” with the Israelis by the authorities in the West Bank, which he thinks makes Israeli proxies of the Palestinian police. He, too, would like an intifada. “Israel is starting to spread its fingertips and toes into the West Bank. If we have an intifada, we’ll cut their toes and fingers,” he says.
The Gaza war is uppermost in the minds of young people such as Shahran and Ahdel in Al-Amari this week, but the deeper causes of their anger are closer to home. Both have grown up under the occupation, and mention its effects on their daily life unprompted: the Israeli checkpoints that restrict their freedom of movement; the roads they and other Palestinians cannot use; harassment from the military; and the eastward push of the Israel settlers, which has turned the countryside near Ramallah into a tense and highly fortified patchwork of antagonistic communities.
“I have been to Jerusalem once – in 2005,” Shahran says of a city just half an hour’s drive to the west. “I cannot pray in the Aqsa mosque. Wherever you want to go, you face checkpoints, and we get harassed here in the camp all the time.”
‘Our young people will die’ Not everyone in the camp agrees that it’s time for a violent rebellion, however. “I think an intifada is due, but I hope it won’t come,” says Suhaila Jaber, an elderly woman doing her morning shopping. “Our young people will die and our situation will only get worse.”
In central Ramallah, the streets are bustling with shoppers stocking up for Eid, which falls this weekend. The municipal authorities have put up posters declaring “We are Gaza” and from a loudspeaker at a CD stall on Manara Square come the lyrics of a rap song in praise of the Palestinians of Gaza. “You Zionists,” goes one line, “you may be raping our lands, but our fighters have shown you the kind of people we are.” The odd passerby claps along with the music.
Yet in the relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan city centre, where people have more to lose, there is considerably more concern about the potential for the crisis in Gaza to set off a violent reaction here in the West Bank.
In the White Shoe, his footwear shop on Manara Square, Abu Zeid says he wants to live “side by side, in peace, with Israel”. A third intifada would be disastrous, he believes. “We just want to live like the rest of the world, to live happy lives like everyone else,” he says. “
Disillusioned In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has come in for heavy criticism in recent weeks. Having appeared sidelined by the crisis in Gaza, Abbas in recent days has fully endorsed the demands made by Hamas as conditions for a ceasefire – a shift that was seen as a direct response by Abbas to anger on the street. Some feel disillusioned with the authority. “That’s not surprising,” says Palestinian-Canadian businessman Khaled Al Sabawi, who says his family’s criticism of the Palestinian leadership last year resulted in the illegal detention of his father for nine hours.
Mohamed Al Sabawi, whose publicly listed investment, insurance and renewable energy firms employ hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank, was accused of “insulting” Abbas when he called for his resignation. “There is no tolerance of dissent,” says Khaled.
‘Hypocrisy’ of EU states In his office at the Fatah Foreign Relations Commission, the Palestinian former foreign minister Nabil Shath is visibly seething over Israel’s actions in Gaza. Palestinians are “mad as hell” about Israel’s behaviour and the “hypocrisy” of some European states.
“The only pressure on Israel is by international airlines,” he says, referring to the temporary suspension of flights in and out of Tel Aviv this week.
Closer to home, Shath sees growing radicalisation on the streets and can offer “no guarantees” that there won’t be a reaction in the West Bank.
“I’m only concerned about an armed intifada. If there is a peaceful popular intifada, that gives me no reason for concern. I think it’s the minimum that people can do.”