Palestinians and Arab Israelis were participating in a general strike across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday in protest of Israeli policies toward Palestinians.
The participants were set to protest Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, as well as recent Israeli actions in Jerusalem, in marches on Tuesday afternoon and evening.
“This is the first time we’re seeing almost everyone participate in the strike. We’ve tried it before, but we’ve never seen this result,” said Castro Othman, a resident of Tamra in northern Israel.
Othman ascribed the high level of participation in the strike to the dizzying pace of events in recent days: an Israeli police raid on the Temple Mount, a site deeply holy to both Muslims and Jews, after Muslim worshipers rioted; widespread civil unrest in Israeli cities, with Arab and Jewish mobs targeting one another; and open hostilities between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel that the IDF responded to with hundreds of airstrikes.
“We feel like we’re in an existential struggle,” Othman said.
Both Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which enjoys limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, called for their members to participate in the strike.
Hamas also called for protesters to conduct marches toward Israeli checkpoints and where soldiers are deployed — so-called “friction points” — and clash with Israeli forces.
Calls to participate in the strike quickly went viral on Arabic-language social media, seeming to spread from inside Israel to the West Bank and Gaza on Monday. Red signs calling for a strike popped up in towns across the country.
On Monday, the Fatah movement encouraged its members to participate in the general strike, which the Palestinians termed a “day of rage.” The Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah, also allowed its public sector employees to strike on Tuesday, with the exception of health care professionals and a few other groups.
Wadi Ara mayor Mudar Younes, who directs a union of Arab local municipalities, called it an rarely-seen moment for Palestinian unity that crossed the Green Line.
“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that such a general strike began inside [Israel] and spread to the West Bank and Gaza,” Younes said.
Younes agreed that the past few years had seen a period in which Arab Israelis had focused more on their own internal concerns rather than the Palestinian issue.
“I can’t say that the cause vanished exactly, but it wasn’t on the surface. But with everything that happened — in Sheikh Jarrah, Jaffa, Damascus Gate, the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the stagnation ended,” Younes said.
“People said ‘the Palestinian cause, won’t happen, won’t go anywhere.’ That’s over now,” Younes said.
The strike comes as Israel and Hamas enter their ninth day of open hostilities. Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza toward Israeli cities and towns; Israel has responded with widespread airstrikes on terror targets.
Over 200 Palestinians died in the current round of fighting, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry; the IDF says many were terrorists, and civilian casualties were inevitable given that Hamas embeds its fighters and commanders in residential areas. Ten people in Israel, among them a five-year-old boy, have been killed by Hamas fire.
Palestinians and Arab Israelis live under three different governments — Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. The strike was an attempt to show national unity at a time of crisis.
On Tuesday morning, large parts of downtown East Jerusalem were quiet, with shops near Damascus Gate and the Old City uncharacteristically shuttered.
In the central Arab Israeli city of Kafr Qassem, the vast majority of shops also closed down, local activists said.
“Since the morning, we’ve been out and about inside the city. There’s near-total adherence to the strike,” said Sayyid Abd al-Wahid Issa, who directs a committee of activists.
In some northern Arab cities and towns across Israel, locals set up makeshift stands near the town entrances to encourage residents to participate in the strike.
The Arab High Follow-Up Committee voted on Sunday night to participate in the mass strike in Arab cities and towns around Israel on Tuesday in protest of Israeli policies, including what they deemed “continued aggression against Gaza and Jerusalem.”
The committee, a political body that unites Arab Israeli policymakers across the political spectrum, said that it would coordinate “peaceful activities” with the help of local municipalities and activists.
The Follow-Up Committee also condemned Israeli policies in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, as well as mob violence against Arabs in cities and towns across the country. Israel has seen significant civil unrest in recent days, especially in mixed Jewish-Arab towns.
The decision to join or ignore the Arab Israeli strike split the Islamist Ra’am party. Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas was reportedly opposed to the move, according to the Arabic-language Radio Nas station.
Abbas, who is dealing with growing internal dissent in Ra’am, was conspicuously absent from the meeting of the Arab Israeli leadership that decided on the strike. Another Ra’am parliamentarian, Mazen Ghanaim, who took his place, voted in favor of the strike.
Late on Monday, the Islamic Movement — of which Ra’am is the political wing — announced that it had decided to participate as well.
“The Islamic Movement calls on the people of our Arab community and our Palestinian people to fully and broadly adhere to tomorrow’s strike… in protest and rejection of the Israeli aggression against our people,” the Islamic Movement said in a statement late on Monday night.