Mass arrests, clashes follow settler shootings

Israeli police arrest demonstrators at a protest in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

On 1 September the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security forces launched an unprecedented arrest campaign against Palestinians affiliated with the Hamas party in the occupied West Bank. The arrest sweep followed attacks earlier in the week against Israeli settlers in Hebron and Ramallah.

The PA’s Preventative Security Services and the General Intelligence Services arrested and detained at least 350 Palestinians from all West Bank governorates, according to a press release from the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

Four Israeli settlers from the Beit Hagai settlement were killed on Tuesday evening near the city of Hebron, when they were shot dead while driving on Route 60, the highway that connects Jerusalem to the settlements in the southern occupied West Bank. Approximately 24 hours later, two Israeli settlers were shot and injured in their car while driving near Ramallah and the Kochav Hashachar settlement.

The al-Qassam Brigades — Hamas’ armed wing — claimed full responsibility for both attacks, according to Ma’an News Agency. Ma’an reported that the al-Qassam Brigades released a subsequent statement describing the shootings as a “normal and legal response to Zionist aggressions on the Palestinian civilians” and “part of the repelling operations against the occupation assaults on the Gaza Strip and West Bank” (“Hamas claims Ramallah attack,” 1 September 2010).

Al-Haq says that the Palestinian Authority’s arrest campaign against individuals affiliated with Hamas across the West Bank was “executed without the proper arrest warrants” and violated several laws related to arrest and detention rights and procedures.

“The total number of persons arrested without a legitimate warrant is likely to be significantly higher,” Al-Haq added. “However, it is not possible to obtain an exact figure of the detainees as no record is being kept of persons detained and released within 24 hours. Hundreds of people currently remain in detention.”

On Thursday, 2 September, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the PA detained an additional two Palestinian men from the Hebron area, alleged by the PA to be in connection to Tuesday’s attack (“Palestinian authorities: We’re arrested two suspects …”).

The settler shootings and the heavy crackdown on Hamas supporters comes as US-brokered direct talks are taking place between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in Washington, DC. All opposing Palestinian political parties, including Hamas, have been disallowed by the PA from participating in the negotiations process. Last week, PA forces interrupted and dispersed a conference in Ramallah, attacking dissenting political officials and activists.

Al-Haq stated that “the sweeping and arbitrary nature of the arrests of political opponents demonstrates that these measures are fueled by political expediency as opposed to genuine security concerns. In fact this campaign is part of a pattern of oppressive policies adopted by the Palestinian Authority to stifle political dissent and to generate a sense of intimidation within Palestinian society.”

The group added that it “condemns this arbitrary use of power by the Palestinian Authority and reiterates that the rule of law and the fundamental rights of individuals must not be sacrificed on the altar of political interests.”

Meanwhile, in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on 1 September, hundreds of demonstrators, including Palestinian residents of Silwan and Israeli and international activists, confronted attendees of a conference aimed at promoting “archeological” interests in the neighborhood.

An increasing number of Israeli settlers have regularly taken over Palestinian homes in Silwan, under the cover of an Israeli archaeological institution, Elad, which has led the charge to push Palestinians out of the area and re-brand Silwan as the “City of David.” Elad was the sponsor of Wednesday’s conference in Silwan.

Journalist Joseph Dana reported on his website that Israeli border police and special forces, called Yasam, “were deployed and allowed to use physical violence to prohibit the protesters from getting close to the entrance.”

“The protest stayed completely nonviolent as Yasam forces repeatedly attacked protesters, threw them to the ground like rag dolls and arrested them,” wrote Dana. “At one point, a settler literally drove his car through the protest, almost running over a number of people” (“Israel vs. Israel …,” 2 September 2010).

Wednesday’s demonstration follows previous clashes and arrests in Silwan last week. On Monday, clashes broke out when Israeli municipal police, border police and intelligence officers raided several neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, arresting and detaining Palestinians accused of participating in clashes the previous week, according to Ma’an. Residents of the neighborhood reported that last week’s clashes began after Israeli settlers broke into the local al-Ein mosque on 26 August (“Clashes reported in Silwan,” 30 August 2010).