Palestinians marched on the Qalandia checkpoint, rocks and Molotov cocktails flew, and Israel Defense Forces soldiers responded with gunfire and tear gas. It's 2014, but today it all looks achingly similar to 2000, the year the Second Intifada, or "uprising," broke out.
Five West Bank Palestinians have been killed by IDF troops since Thursday night: two on Thursday night in Ramallah, and three more in the cities of Hebron and Nablus. A sixth Palestinian was killed by gunfire from a settler near the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus, Israeli Radio reported.
“You’d better believe this is the start of the Third Intifada,” said Raed Froukh, 22. Froukh was part of a group of about 200 young Palestinians who threw rocks at Israeli soldiers Friday near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah – five minutes from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and then ran for cover when the troops began shooting in the direction of the youths.
“Israel has been killing our people in Gaza, is refusing to allow us pray in the al Aqsa mosque, and is now shooting live bullets at demonstrators," said Froukh. "I think this will be worse than the first two intifadas which we witnessed. And as you can see, it’s all the factions coming together to fight the occupation and show resistance everywhere we can.”
The outburst of Israeli-Palestinian violence comes against the backdrop of intense diplomatic activity, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Thursday, Hamas and the secular Fatah faction, led by President Abbas, presented a rare unified position, outlining joint demands for a ceasefire: First, they want Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Second, they want Hamas-affiliated Palestinians, released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange deal but re-arrested by Israel last month after the kidnapping and killing of three West Bank teenagers, set free once again. There are several other demands, including allowing Gazans to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: they used to be permitted there, but some haven't left Gaza since the Second Intifada almost 15 years ago.
Israel, meanwhile, has a different condition: The complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. That would prevent Hamas from preparing for that seems like an inevitable next round of fighting, given how frequently conflicts between it and Israel have cropped up in recent years. Israel's disarmament demand mirrors that of 28 European Union foreign ministers, who also called for Hamas to be stripped of its arms this week.
Demilitarization, though, is a key sticking point standing in the way of a cease-fire deal. Gershon Baskin is an Israeli peace activist who has been involved in other back-channel cease-fire and prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas. He said that asking Hamas to lay down all of its weapons is clearly a non-starter for the Palestinian side.
“Israel has defined its demands of ceasefire, which are probably totally unrealistic,” Baskin said. “Israel wants a demilitarization of Gaza, and if that is their demand, they probably won’t get a cease-fire.”
But neither has Hamas shown flexibility on the other demand, that of an immediate end to the violence. It has patently rejected Kerry’s proposal for a two-stage cease-fire – an immediate cessation of all hostilities followed by a five-day or one-week period to negotiate the exact terms. Meanwhile, Israel's cabinet on Friday also rejected Kerry's idea, according to Israeli media.
While Kerry and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, kept trying to find the right cease-fire formula, the fighting plodded on. The IDF continued to attack Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Friday, and Hamas kept lobbing rockets into Israel.
Still, the world's attention on Friday turned to the West Bank, on a day poised for upheaval. The bloodshed in Gaza, with the death toll standing at 832 Palestinians (and 38 Israelis, most of them soldiers), has West Bank Palestinians outraged. Throughout the week, Palestinians in the West Bank had been gearing up to hold a rally, dubbed the #48Kmarch, to protest IDF actions in Gaza. That demonstration, which attracted thousands of Palestinians, came after recent rioting in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood of northern Jerusalem under Israeli control. Those protests followed the death of a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. The murder was allegedly committed by Israeli extremists in revenge for the June 12 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank – Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'er – which prompted Israel to launch a campaign of night raids and arrests around the West Bank. Following the raids and arrests, Hamas in Gaza began launching rockets at Israel daily, and about a week later, Israel launched "Operation Protective Edge," its invasion of Gaza.
Thursday night and Friday also happened to be Laylat al-Qadr – usually translated as "Night of Destiny" or "Night of Power" – one of the holiest days of Ramadan. The killing of two Palestinians during the protests led Fatah and other Palestinian factions to declare Friday a “day of rage in support of bleeding, besieged Gaza.” Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip urged Palestinians to use the moment launch a new intifada against Israel.
Samira Hamdan, 36, was one of many Palestinians who hung back and watched the slightly younger and mostly male Palestinians charge at the Israeli soldiers with rocks outside Ramallah, then attempt to escape to safety when the shooting ensues – a well-worn dance of years past.
“I am saddened to say that it really does feel like this is the Third Intifada,” she said. “This means more deaths and harsher conditions than ever before. But it’s not just Gaza or Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It’s the night invasions of homes, the re-imprisonment of released prisoners, and more deaths which have caused the Palestinian people to explode.”
- with reporting by Rami Nazzal in Ramallah