As Gaza grinds on, West Bank deaths mean frustration and grief
RAMALLAH - Residents of the al Amari camp were sombre today as they mourned the death of Mohammed al-Qatary. Killed yesterday by Israeli forces, the 20-year-old is one of 18 Palestinians to be killed in the West Bank since the escalation in Gaza this month.
At his funeral, friends and relatives marched toward Psagot, an Israeli settlement that borders Ramallah. Weeks earlier, settlers took aim at a Palestinian funeral march there. On Saturday, some expected violence, and injuries were reported. But by mid-afternoon, many residents were returning to al Amari. At the camp, the air was grief-stricken – but the sadness of the mourners was not only for Qatary.
“For all the people in the West Bank, their emotions and feelings are with Gaza," Ghaleb al Bis, the gregarious UNRWA Director of al Amari Camp, told Middle East Eye. "The thing happening in Gaza is a big thing, like an earthquake, and it is reflected in people here. What's happening there is not war: it's just destruction, it's revenge.
“We hope that the funeral will pass without accident,” al Bis said. "But the war on Gaza is the reason these things are happening in the West Bank. Like all people in the world we hate funerals, we hate bloodshed. We want to live our lives in peace.”
In the hall where his family and friends ate and mourned together on Saturday, posters commemorating Qatary's death are taped to the walls. One half of the hastily-made print shows the photograph of a serious-looking young man, holding a sports trophy with his hair smoothed back; the other shows a close-up of a beaten, swollen face, his eyes closed in death. There are other posters on the walls, too. On Saturday morning, 40-year-old Nader Muhammad Idriss died from a gunshot wound he received in a clash on Friday, becoming the second, after Qatary, to die in 24 hours. In his home city of Hebron, in the south of the West Bank, stores were shuttered closed on Saturday.
Fresh clashes broke out in the West Bank after the funerals of Qatary and Idriss with Palestinian youths throwing stones and Israeli troops responding with tear gas and stun grenades.
“Since the war started, the people here feel very angry, like they can do nothing,” Anas Saraeta, at Hebron's Youth Development Resource Centre said. The growing count of those killed while protesting the bloodshed in Gaza, he says, increases both the widespread tension and the sense of powerlessness Palestinians feel. Clashes today and over the last month have frequently taken place at checkpoints and near settlements, the physical manifestations of occupation in the West Bank.
“There's more anger, more hate, and people are more charged with negative energy,” Saraeta said. “When people go to clashes, it's not because they have an idea that they can solve something or how they can solve it. They just are angry, now about Gaza, and they want to express that anger.”
'Not about equal sides'
In Ramallah, 17-year-old Dima feels the same anger – and the same frustration. “The war that is happening in Gaza, it's not about two equal sides. It makes us upset. Really, people feel emotionally about it,” she said. “They're using Hamas as an excuse to kill innocent people, and it's not right. We're trying our best to help things, but really it seems impossible. It isn't enough.”
In Ramallah's central Manara Square where Dima participated in a protest, young people wearing “We Are All Gaza” t-shirts – now piled onto market stalls all over the West Bank – chanted and waved flags. Many have been channelling their energy into raising money and collecting medicines and food for Gazans. But that does not alleviate the fury over the bloodshed or a local inability to do anything about it.
“Its very difficult for the Palestinians, especially as some of us are in Gaza and some of us are in the West Bank,” Basma Battat, who owns a restaurant in Ramallah, told MEE. “We think the international community look at to the Israeli people and their lives with different eyes than the Palestinian people. So many of the Palestinian people are killed. What happened yesterday, it's just another case.”
Basma has three children, and worries that they will come to harm in trying to take action over the current situation. “Every day, my daughter says she will go to Ofer prison here, to the protest,” she said. “I try to say she should not, that maybe something will happen, but she says, “you went when you were young”. Now I say, if you have to go, keep safe. Stand behind your tall friends!”
The worst becomes reality
In al Amari, where the worst has become a reality for the Qatary family, grief and frustration are keenly felt. The news of more dead may not dim the desire to reach peace, but it does cultivate a feeling that the current roads toward a solution are dead ends. “If Palestinians cannot achieve anything through the peace process we will make a third Intifada,” Alian Alhindi, a researcher and Hebrew translator from al Amari, told MEE. “In the end, the anger will reach to an explosion."
That explosion of anger is not just about Gaza. "The first thing is a ceasefire in Gaza," Alhindi said. "But the achievement of this request is not a solution. The important thing is a complete solution to the whole of the Palestinian issue."
On Saturday, the refrain that “when there is calm in Gaza there will be calm in the West Bank” is often heard, and the pain of watching the current bloodshed is all-consuming for many here.
But people also know that this is about more than just the current round of bloodshed: deaths like those of the last 24 hours will likely continue, and new tactics, to overcome the powerlessness and frustration of recent weeks, will be explored. Whatever is to come, those in the West Bank sense, it is likely to be long, and difficult.