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Protests and Rage Spread to the West Bank After Tense Week in Jerusalem

With Muslims and Jews observing major religious holidays, violence in Jerusalem has spread to the occupied West Bank after a bloody week at a contested holy site.
September 23, 2015, 8:50pm
Photo by Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

With Muslims and Jews observing major religious holidays, violence in Jerusalem has spread to the occupied West Bank after a bloody week at a contested holy site in the Israeli capital.

Clashes broke out in the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces after the funeral of a Palestinian university student who was shot by an Israeli soldier. The Israeli military says the soldier shot 18-year-old Hadeel al-Hashlamon on Monday after she attempted to stab him, but eyewitnesses gave the Associated Press a different account of the incident. One Palestinian witness said al-Hashlamon began to comply after soldiers at her in Hebrew to step back at a checkpoint. The Israeli military told the AP that she ignored the commands and pulled out a knife. No soldiers were wounded in the encounter.

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The clashes on Wednesday are the latest in more than a week of high tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since Monday, Israeli police have increased their presence around the Old City of Jerusalem near the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on top of a site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur started Tuesday and lasts until Wednesday evening. Muslims also observed the holiday Eid al-Adha on Wednesday.

Related: Anger Grows in Jerusalem as Israel Intensifies its Crackdown

Israel has also blocked Muslim men under the age of 40 from praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque, and closed Palestinian crossings in the West Bank and Gaza until Wednesday at midnight. Clashes have been taking place in Jerusalem between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces since last Sunday, when Israeli security forces raided the compound outside of al-Aqsa ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

After a meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned of consequences if Israel continued its crackdown at al-Aqsa. "What is happening is very dangerous," Abbas said, adding that it could lead to "a new Intifada, which we don't want."

Palestinians are not only protesting Israel's actions at al-Aqsa, but also increasingly against the crackdown from their own government, the Palestinian Authority (PA). A public opinion poll released on Monday found that two-thirds of Palestinians do not support the PA and want Abbas to resign.

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The poll, published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey, found that a majority of Palestinians oppose increased repression of dissenters and the heavy deployment of PA security forces in areas throughout the West Bank.

On Friday, video footage captured PA forces beating up Palestinian demonstrators in Bethlehem. Two days later, demonstrations took place again against the PA, with protesters calling for Abbas to step down. Palestinian security forces responded by shooting at demonstrators with live fire, an incident that was also caught on camera.

Related: Palestine's Flag Will Now Fly in Front of the UN

Many Palestinians see the PA's crackdown as a way to further consolidate their rule by limiting any opposing parties, such as the PFLP or Hamas, said Abed Al-Qasi, a Palestinian who lives in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.

"The government tries to make it seem it like a PFLP problem, but it's not," said Al-Qasi, who filmed the video of protesters being shot at on Sunday. "It is a problem the people have with the government, it is the young people who are protesting, who are angry against Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]."

This is not the first time that anger toward the PA has bubbled up. The government is often criticized for its close security collaboration with Israel, but, according to Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst and former advisor to Abbas, this round of protests is significant because unlike in the past, people are specifically calling for Abbas to resign and calling out his increasingly authoritarian methods.

"People just don't feel safe at all," Buttu said, adding that Abbas "deliberately goes after anyone who dissents against the way he has been ruling."

Corruption is also rampant inside the PA, and, despite repeatedly promising to step down, Abbas has not held elections since 2005.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928