Four thousand five hundred Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails went on a hunger strike Sunday to protest the death of Arafat Shalish Shahin Jaradat in Megiddo Prison the day before, amid a wave of clashes in the West Bank that has been stoking Israeli concerns of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Palestinian officials on Sunday morning warned that another popular uprising was indeed unfolding, but asserted that protesters would stick to the path of nonviolence.
“The death of the prisoner is the culmination of an already tense situation,” Kadoura Fares, a former PA minister and the head of the Palestinian prisoner’s club, told Maariv. “All of the incidents reveal a clear trend – we’re facing an intifada. The hunger-striking prisoners and the tense demonstrations, the violent clashes during which Palestinian civilians are killed, and the frozen peace process – all indicate that we’re sitting on a barrel of dynamite.”
“It may very well be that Jaradat’s death will turn out to have been the match that lit it,” he added.
Jaradat, 30, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday afternoon, according to Prison Services spokeswoman Sivan Weizman.
Following the announcement of Jaradat’s death, prisoners briefly rioted in the Ofer Prison in the West Bank. In Hebron, Palestinian protesters clashed with security forces, who dispersed them using teargas. One soldier and two Palestinians were lightly injured.
The Israeli government categorically demanded from the Palestinian Authority that it calm the West Bank unrest, Israel Radio reported. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy to the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho, conveyed the message. The prime minister also reportedly instructed the government to transfer millions of dollars in tax money collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf last month,so that the non-transfer of funds couldn’t be used as a pretext for allowing the riots to continue.
Mustafa Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian Authority parliamentarian, also warned of a new intifada, but said that any outbreak of violence would be due to another incident over the weekend, near the settlement of Esh Kodesh, where Israeli settlers allegedly shot a Palestinian.
“We suffer constantly from the settlers’ harassment,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s obvious that the settlers were the ones who shot at the Palestinians. But they aren’t to blame; the Israeli government is to blame… [for] giving them the power to keep up their terrorist activities.”
Israel and Netanyahu would be the ones to “suffer the consequences of the intifada that will break out” due to the shooting, he warned.
Settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost denied on Saturday that they were responsible for the wounding of the Palestinian man during clashes near the West Bank village of Qusra, near Nablus.
Senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub denied allegations that the Palestinian Authority was stoking the protests, and expressed hope that cooperation with Israel would stave off the violence.
“I say on behalf of the entire Palestinian leadership that we won’t initiate any bloodshed,” he told Israel Radio, asserting the Palestinians’ right to “nonviolent resistance.”
“Extremists on both sides” were behind the recent outbreak of clashes, said Rajoub, lumping together hard-line Israeli settlers and militant Palestinian organizations.
“Gangs of thugs are leading both of us [the Palestinians and Israel] to a situation where we will all be losers,” he said. “I want to say to all Israelis: Your right-wingers will not draw the Palestinian people into violence. I hope there will be a joint intifada, a joint spring, between the Palestinians and the peace camp [in Israel] that believes in peace and coexistence with two states for two peoples,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority’s position was that protests must remain nonviolent and that there should be no return to the kind of violence that reigned during the Second Intifada, he asserted.
During that conflict, which broke out in September 2000 and lasted almost five years, some 1,000 Israelis and over 3,000 Palestinians were killed.
“Not a single person should be killed, no matter who he is or what his beliefs are,” Rajoub said.
Despite Palestinian reassurances of nonviolence, Israeli officials are concerned that the protests, which resumed in several hot spots around the West Bank Sunday, could be a harbinger of lethal violence.
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) warned that the clashes would not abate without real effort on the part of Netanyahu to rekindle the peace process.
“The time for fooling around is over,” Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio, noting that the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama likely indicated fresh US pressure on Israel to pursue a peace agreement.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he was “shocked” at the death of Jaradat, the Palestinian prisoner. A statement issued by his office called on the Israeli authorities to uncover the “true cause” of his death as soon as possible. On Saturday night, defense establishment officials invited the Palestinian Authority to take part in Jaradat’s post-mortem examination.
His death is seen as another source of rage for Palestinians who have already been stepping up demonstrations in protest of Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners, especially four long-time hunger-strikers, including one whose health is rapidly deteriorating.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.