Tuesday, July 15

Bethlehem clashes rage for ten days against Gaza bombing

Bethlehem protests began after the murder of Abu Khdeir, but they have manifested into a collective rage against the death toll in Gaza - 
Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery
BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Usually the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank is quiet at night. But for the past ten nights it has been a chaotic scene of clashes. Ambulance sirens mix with tear gas in the air, and live ammunition zips down the main road in Bethlehem as it is fired toward demonstrators. These clashes have now become a nightly occurrence, with no end in sight.
Fires usually begin to blaze immediately after residents break their fast for the holy month of Ramadan, at sunset. Tyre smokescreens are lit up in desperate attempts to stop the Israeli army from directly targeting particular protestors, while molotov cocktails are set afire and chucked at the Separation Wall. The wall at eight meters high is twice the height of the Berlin Wall which once divided Germany and is a constant reminder of the continuing Israeli presence in Bethlehem.  
The wall initially acts as a shield for dozens of armed soldiers who wait behind it before opening the large gate to confront the clashes raging on the other side.
Clashes in the mixed Muslim-Christian city, usually last for at least four hours every night and in recent days have pushed Palestinian Authority police to appear. When they do, however, they are able to do very little and stand armed but largely impotent against young men wielding rocks. This is in sharp contrast to the Israelis who have moved increasingly from utilising tear gas and rubber-coated-steel-bullets, to instead shooting off deadly live ammunition. In recent days, at least 20 protestors have been shot with live fire, mostly in the feet and legs. 
Much of Bethlehem is in so-called area A of the West Bank and as such is supposed to be under full Palestinian control, but Israeli forces often to enter the area regardless and make frequent incursions from their bases inside the wall. 
Tear gas, which was fired on the first days of protest more sparingly, is now fired in short, sharp bursts. The last three nights have seen a major escalation. Now it is not uncommon to hear between 40 and 60 canisters go off in the space of a few minutes. 
On occasion, protesters have had to be dragged into nearby homes to be revived after passing out from gas inhalation. Medics are always present and ambulances wait on standby for the young demonstrators to begin screaming and signalling for medical help. 
Despite the intensifying security response, tensions continue to run high and protests say that they expect to carry on demonstrating as long as the Israeli military operation in Gaza continues, or even longer. 


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