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Turning Point? Largest West Bank Protest in Decades Raises Spectre of a 3rd Intifada

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Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has triggered the largest West Bank protest in years, with more than 15,000 people marching Thursday from Ramallah toward Jerusalem. Two Palestinians were killed and more than 200 were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition. We go to the West Bank to speak with journalist Amira Hass, Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories. “There were whole families, and women and men, traditional and modern, and middle-class and workers. Everybody went very determined to show that this is enough,” Hass says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the West Bank, which saw the largest protest in years Thursday night. Up to 50,000 people were said to have marched from Ramallah towards Jerusalem. Two Palestinians were killed and over 200 were wounded when Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition. More protests are happening in the West Bank today.

For more, we are joined on the telephone from Ramallah by Amira Hass, the Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent decades living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.

Amira, describe the protest last night.

AMIRA HASS: It was less than 50,000, but it was really high-spirited. Everybody felt that there is a big change now happening. Everybody who—the people who went, there were whole families, and women and men, and traditional and modern, and more upper—middle-class and workers. Everybody went, very determined to show, not so much to the Israelis, I think, but to the Palestinian Authority, that this is enough, that their unforgivable silence, especially during the first week, and their inability to say that this is the people that is being murdered in Gaza, and it’s not a dispute between Hamas and Fatah, that this has to be stopped. This is how I see it. Of course it was also a message to the Israelis.

And today, as you said, there are demonstrations all over. I just returned from a very silent, very—not depressed, but stressed funeral of the guy who was killed in that yesterday. It’s a kid that’s 17 years old from Qalandiya refugee camp. And people feel that there is—it is a turning point. That’s for sure. That’s a turning point in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, there are demonstrations. In Jerusalem, youngsters, I heard, forced their way to al-Aqsa, because they are not allowed to get into prayers into al-Aqsa, so they forced their way through the police checkpoint. So things—certainly things are changing, and things are changing because people also are so shocked by what is happening to their people in Gaza, and they are unable to do a thing for them.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the Israeli military response to the protest, Amira?

AMIRA HASS: I went a bit late. I mean, I wasn’t, of course—I wouldn’t have gone to near the checkpoint, but I know that, OK, youngsters reached the checkpoint rather early, when the demonstrations started some three or four kilometers to the north. And they started with clashes, but they were—as a friend told me, there was no danger to the life of the soldiers, but the soldiers immediately started shooting live ammunition and a bit rubber-coated metal bullets. So kids—when I was walking towards the place, I’ve already heard several ambulances going back and forth, carrying people who were injured.

And later on, I was in the hospital, because a friend—a child of a friend of mine was wounded. But also I would have gone there anyway. And all people who were injured, most of them were injured in the legs. And you saw youngsters limping and then being taken care of. Those who were less serious went to other hospitals, and those who were more serious were operated on.

I know of a young woman who is—who maybe she was there near the checkpoint, very near, and she was hit, and she might lose her leg. There is another woman—women participated. Many women were also near the checkpoint, very near the checkpoint, and were probably targeted because it was not—it was shooting by snipers. So this was the response of the army.

Later on, I understand that there was some—one of those stupid shooting to the air from the part of some Palestinians. We don’t know who. And this gave the army an excuse to say that, oh, the people they shot, they started the shooting, which is of course false.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, you have been covering the territories for decades. The word of a ceasefire coming through, with Secretary of State Kerry in Cairo, what are your thoughts on what it means? And what is Hamas calling for, and the Palestinian people, as well?

AMIRA HASS: You know, the truth is that I didn’t even follow it in the last few days, this, because it’s impossible to follow everything, and I try to be in contact with my friends in Gaza to get—to hear from them what is happening, and then to write. So I leave these political things a bit aside, especially in the last two, three days.

But in general, some things are evolving in the sense of the discourse of Palestinians about what demands should be. And it’s very interesting because the demands of Hamas started now after several years in power. They started to reconnect with the West Bank. And this is the big change. Probably they did it because they understood that Egypt is not—I mean, they have lost all of these relations with Egypt after the putsch against the Muslim Brothers. And this was one of their big mistakes, as I see, during—after they were victorious in the elections in 2006, strengthened their hold on Gaza, played into this fantasy that Gaza can be a separate entity and a state or a mini—or a quasi-state, and they can run like a government, actually repeating the mistakes of the PA before and now, and thus enhancing this disconnection between Gaza and the West Bank, the disconnection mostly of the communities of the—[no audio]


AMIRA HASS: And the PA did the same thing—yeah. The PA did the same thing. So what is happening now, their discourse is: They demand to lift this closure and reconnect also with the West Bank. This is a big change.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “lift the closure,” lift the siege, the blockade, explain what exactly that is.

AMIRA HASS: Gaza is not under siege since seven years only. I mean, Gaza has been under very severe terms of restrictions of movement and a disconnection from the world actually since the beginning of the ’90s. This is also something that people tend to forget, and I am always very angry about that. And Hamas made some kind of a political monopoly about it, saying that the closure started when they came to power. Yes, it intensified, but it started much earlier, because [no audio] to disconnect Gaza and the West Bank.

So now Hamas, still, when they talk about lifting the closure, they cannot really imagine opening to the West Bank, the [no audio] opening the borders for raw material, the passages to having raw material enter in Gaza, to have some economical life, and to have some connection to the world through Gaza—through Rafah. But other people, what they understand is that—and people in Gaza, what they understand, they want to go back and live and be Palestinians in this country and go back to the West Bank and have the connections with the West Bank. So this is a discourse developing or coming back to the fore.

We don’t know. I mean, this is the main—you know, like the Israeli minister of what’s so-called defense said just recently—he said, “Oh, yeah, I don’t mind that Abbas’ people will be guarding the Rafah checkpoint, but I will never let Abbas go back and rule Gaza,” which means we don’t want Gaza and the West Bank be one unit. We don’t want it. I mean, the Israelis, the Israeli government doesn’t want it, and hasn’t wanted it since the beginning of the ’90s.

So, will this develop into a political discourse and political analysis, political strategy, that changes this? I cannot tell. It’s too early, because one of the things that we see missing is really—not a leadership, but a group which has the confidence of the people and that can organize and can lead now all this upsurge of anger and disgust with what is happening in Gaza and people who are fed up with this occupation. So, there is no group now, no reliable group, that can lead this and strategize this phenomenon. And this is what’s worrying me.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, I want to thank you for being with us, Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories. She’s speaking to us from Ramallah, where a mass protest took place just last night and are expected to continue today. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go back to Gaza City to speak to a doctor from al-Shifa Hospital about what’s been happening inside the hospital walls. Stay with us.

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