Jericho, the oasis at the center of Israeli-Palestinian violence
By Joan Mas Autonell
Jericho, West Bank, Mar 14 (EFE).- Jericho, a Palestinian oasis where calm used to reign, has unexpectedly become a flashpoint for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with spasms of violence not seen in decades.
A popular vacation spot for Palestinians and a tourist attraction for Christian pilgrims, the West Bank city has been one of the most peaceful areas in the region, remaining stable amid the ups and downs of over five decades of Israeli occupation.
However, the soaring violence in the West Bank that left more than 80 Palestinians killed in violent incidents with Israelis so far this year has spread to the city, in what many analysts say is a sign of growing discontent among the Palestinian population.
Tension is currently concentrated in the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp, where an armed resistance group made up of local youths emerged at the beginning of the year. According to Israel, it has been attacking Israeli settlements and preparing for other assaults.
This had led to a series of clashes in Jericho as intense as those in Nablus and Jenin, the epicenters of the Palestinian armed resistance in the northern West Bank.
Dalal Iriqat, a Palestinian lawyer who grew up in Jericho, says that “what was happening in the camp seemed very strange at first.”
But this “reflects years of apartheid and racism” established by Israel, she tells Efe, adding that conditions have worsened with the current right-wing government helmed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Between January and March, the city saw several raids the Israeli army and clashes between troops and armed local youths became common. Palestinian deaths increased, as did attacks against Israelis.
Six residents of Aqabat Jaber – five of them were suspected members of Hamas’ armed wing – were killed amid clashes with Israeli forces in less than a month, while an American-Israeli was also killed two weeks ago in a shooting attack allegedly carried out by Palestinians who lived in the camp.
Israel has tightened control at the city’s entrances and exits and even blocked several roads, leaving Jericho “besieged,” according to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), that accuses the Israeli authorities of applying “collective punishment” by nearly paralyzing the city for weeks.
“Life used to be good here,” says a 15-year-old boy who had never experienced such levels of violence in Aqabat Jaber, while his neighbor Moayyed, 26, tells Efe how a part of his house was blown up by missiles fired during an Israeli raid last month.
LONGING FOR NORMALCY
Before the outbreak of violence there were not many militants living at the camp, several residents tell Efe, and the Israeli forces have either arrested or killed the majority, raising hopes among some that a semblance of normality will soon return.
But the Israeli raids have continued this month. On March 1, a 22-year-old civilian died after he, according to neighbors, was shot in the middle of an army operation.
He suffered “a flagrant violation of the right to life,” according to the Red Crescent emergency service.
“They took him to a military car and he passed away shortly after,” the organization said.
When asked by Efe, the Israeli army said that “the circumstances of his death are being reviewed,” without giving further details about the deceased.EFE