One killed in protests as Israeli army takes control of Ramallah city center for first time since 2007

The de facto capital of the West Bank was laid under siege in the early morning hours as both the Israeli army and Palestinian Authority police attacked Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah in a coordinated effort, with one killed by Israeli live-fire. Not since 2007 had the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) taken control of the city’s downtown, typically a nexus of commerce in the occupied Palestinian Territory.

Although there has been longtime security coordination since the establishment of the Palestinian civil administration in 1994, this was the first instance of both Israeli and Palestinian forces working in armed conjunction to suppress Palestinian protesters. A source close to the Palestinian District Commander Office told Mondoweiss that the Palestinian Authority police were notified in advance that the Israeli army would enter the downtown Ramallah area.

Overnight Israeli soldiers killed Mahmoud Atilla Ismael, 27, shooting him in the head with live-fire during the clash. A second Palestinian was killed in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. In Ramallah another, Alaa, 21, was also shot with a live round in the head, although the bullet only grazed his skull. “The doctor told me ‘you are lucky, it’s nothing, it just touched your head,’” he said. Alaa was struck when 50 meters from the Israeli army throwing stones. “I tried to run but I found that my head was wet when I touched it.” He then collapsed on the street, waking hours later in Ramallah public hospital.

The scene in Ramallah, which lasted three hours, began at 1:00 am when the IDF first entered the Ramallah area by surrounding a private school administered by a Hamas-affiliated charity in the adjacent town of al-Bireh. Al-Bireh is a municipality divided in two, part a leafy suburb, and part a middle-income former Hamas stronghold. The IDF then entered a second neighborhood in al-Bireh, where they were met by stone-throwing Palestinian youths.

Meanwhile in downtown Ramallah at 1:15 am seven Israeli army Jeeps and two border police vehicles blockaded the city’s sleepy central traffic circle, al-Manara. “They went straight to the police station,” said Mohammed Othman, a human rights activists who photographed and filmed a video of the incursion. Othman saw as soldiers moved through vacant streets to the roof of the police station.

Othman watched as the Israeli army closed the roads circling the Palestinian security building, but youths on foot were able to flood the center of town within the hour. “The kids started going towards them and throwing stones.” Approximately 300 Palestinians had reached the area of the police station by 2:00am. The army fired teargas and sound grenades every few seconds for nearly an hour, before they began firing rubber bullets.

Around 3:00 am the Israeli army appeared to retreat from the center of town. After motoring beyond the first corner of al-Manara circle, the youths directed their attention to the Palestinian Authority and stormed the exterior of the police station, pelting it with rocks. Not before two minutes passed, the Palestinian Authority appeared firing live rounds into the air, every few seconds.

Within ten minutes the Israeli army returned in apparent armed assistance to the Palestinian police force, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at a distance of three blocks from their Palestinian counterparts. Both forces, Israeli and Palestinian, were attacking the Palestinian people on the streets. “The Palestinian Authority is a bitch,” protesters yelled as they hurled broken cinder blocks.

“Since 2006, 2007 this is the first time the Israelis reached the Palestinian police station,” said Othman, explaining the protesters went on to attack the building with rocks out of frustration that their security forces did not protect them against Israeli fire. “This made the people very angry at the Palestinian Authority, it caused conflict between the people and the Palestinian Authority, he said continuing, “this is why they lost respect and trust from the people.”

After the clashes between the Israeli army, the Palestinian Authority and the residents of Ramallah subsided many who were still awake from the overnight conflict congregated at the Ramallah hospital. Trucks full of armed Palestinian police drove onto the compound and arrested one youth from inside of the medical complex. Undercover police also surrounded a youth questioning him about the whereabouts of his younger brother.

The Israeli army’s taking of Ramallah comes after more than a week of the largest military operation in the West Bank since the second Intifada. The turmoil began following the reported abduction of three Israeli youths from an intersection in the West Bank, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. In total, over three hundred have been arrested and five killed with thousands of additional Israeli soldiers patrolling major West Bank cities daily.

Allison Deger, June 22 2014