Thomas Helm & Nada al-Taher
The National / February 24, 2023
Protests expected to take place after Friday prayers in Jerusalem have not materialized.
The response to an Israeli military raid that killed 11 Palestinians a few days earlier was expected to flare up after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
But hundreds streamed out of Bab al-Silsilah, one of the compound’s main entrances, in the same quiet manner that they entered about an hour earlier.
In half an hour, just one worshipper remonstrated briefly with Israeli guards directly outside the entrance to the compound, perhaps the most historically contested site in the decades-long conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
More than 100 people were wounded during Wednesday’s shoot-out, when Israeli soldiers tried to arrest suspected gunmen in Nablus’s Old City. Several of those killed were elderly civilians.
Hours after the raid, rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, prompting Israel to respond with air strikes on what it said were military installations belonging to militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip.
The incident sparked immediate demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza, and the atmosphere was still tense on Friday.
There may have been little outward animosity at Al-Aqsa, but the suspicion was clear, something not lost on Israeli forces that walked up and down the street giving frequent updates into their radios.
An owner of a nearby cafe told The National he still expected protests, “maybe in half an hour, maybe in a couple of days. We don’t know”.
More provocation to Palestinians also came on Friday, as Jewish settlers shot and seriously wounded two Palestinians in the northern occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli government is also advancing plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank in a move expected to further stoke anger.
On Thursday, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the commercial city of Nablus as they responded to calls by the Lion’s Den resistance movement to mark the 11 deaths.
“Try to ask who we are. We are the men of the den,” the protesters chanted in unison.
Similar scenes were seen in Jenin, Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem on Thursday night, nut so far few reports of protest on Friday.
Many in Nablus spent Wednesday evening and Thursday going from home to home to offer condolences to the families of the victims.
“The number of homes hosting wakes for people killed is a true testament to our resistance,” Tayseer Nasrallah, a Fatah Revolutionary Council member, told The National.
“The scene on Wednesday was exceptionally bloody because the occupying forces believe themselves to be above international law, with no respect for human rights.”
The tension comes at a time when Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right cabinet member, has officially been given responsibility over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The government has granted approval for 7,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite international condemnation.
Mr Smotrich, himself a settler, is considered an Israeli ultranationalist and supports the annexation of the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 2023 had so far been the bloodiest in more than 22 years, since the Second Intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000 and ended in 2005.
It said 62 Palestinians, gunmen and civilians, have been killed this year.
Ten Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist died in Palestinian attacks in the same period, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National
Nada al-Taher is a senior foreign reporter at The National