Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated across the West Bank on Tuesday to protest the recent US announcement that it no longer believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law. Groups of protesters clashed with Israeli security forces in several flashpoints.
Around two thousand people gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah by midday. They had set ablaze posters of US President Donald Trump as well as Israeli and American flags. Schools, universities and government offices were shuttered and rallies were being held in city centers around the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“The biased American policy toward Israel, and the American support of the Israeli settlements and the Israeli occupation, leaves us with only one option: To go back to resistance,” Mahmoud Aloul, an official with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, told the crowd in Ramallah.
Demonstrators held signs reading: “Trump to impeachment, (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to jail, the occupation will go and we will remain on our land.”
At Israeli checkpoints near Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, dozens of protesters threw stones at Israeli forces who responded with tear gas. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The protests came just hours after the death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody following a battle with cancer. Organizers had also called for the demonstrations - planned since before his death - to call for the release of Sami Abu Diak, 35, to allow him to die at his family’s side. Israeli officials denied the request.
Organized by Fatah, the demonstrations protested the Trump administration’s announcement on Israeli settlements last week. The decision upended four decades of American policy and embraced a hardline Israeli view at the expense of the Palestinian quest for statehood.
Israeli leaders welcomed the US decision, while the Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians. Israel says the fate of the settlements should be determined in negotiations, even as it steadily expands them.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had specifically announced that the US was repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion.
That opinion had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded US opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength, depending on the president’s position. President Ronald Reagan, for instance, said settlements were not inherently illegal, though he called them unhelpful and provocative. Other administrations had called them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.”
Abu Diak, the Palestinian prisoner, died in an Israeli hospital early Tuesday, according to Israel’s prisons service. In a statement, it said he was serving three life sentences for voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping, among other charges.
He was linked to the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah faction and was arrested in the early 2000s, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. He was allegedly involved in the killing of three Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israeli security forces.
The Palestinian Authority had reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him.
Previous deaths of terminally ill Palestinian prisoners have sparked protests and accusations of medical negligence on the part of Israeli authorities.