RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — The Israeli operation in Gaza has aroused intense feelings of solidarity among West Bank Palestinians for their Gaza counterparts, fueling anger that could easily be sparked into widespread unrest.
''People can't sit idly and watch their brothers dying in Gaza,'' says Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. ''What happens in the West Bank now will depend on how far the Israeli army will go ahead with reoccupying and dividing Gaza. It's too early to say but there is anger and frustration among the youth.''
Although there have been localized clashes in the West Bank since the brutal murder of an East Jerusalem teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was followed by the launch of Israel's Gaza operation, mass protests have been noticeably absent. Although the anger is there, Palestinian security forces' efforts to contain demonstrations coupled with reticence to see a repeat of the violence and chaos of the second intifada seems to have so far curtailed greater action.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority want to see another front of the war open in the West Bank, which is mostly under Israeli military control but contains self-rule enclaves nominally governed by the Palestinian Authority.
''People are very frustrated with what's going on in Gaza and angry after the kidnap and murder [of Mohammed],'' says Nabil Kukali, director of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion. Referring to the approximate eruption dates of the second and first intifada uprisings against Israel, Kukali added. ''The atmosphere is close to 2000 and 1988."
Solidarity flares up
The anger was palpable even before the overnight ground operation into Gaza. At a demonstration late Wednesday, some 200 people marched through the streets towards the Israeli settlement of Beit El before being stopped by about 80 helmeted and shield-bearing Palestinian police.
Although Gaza and the West Bank have been politically divided, with little in-person interaction between residents of the two since 2007, fellowship is strong when conflicts like this flare.
"I'm a son of the Palestinian people, the Gazans are also Palestinians,'" Dia Ali says, explaining why he was protesting. "Our message to the occupation is that we are one people, one blood and we have one enemy, the occupation that is destroying Gaza and we have the right to resist through all means, from rocks to rockets."
Protesters chanted, "Gaza you are sacrificing your blood for our dignity." Many carried Palestinian flags, and one held up a sign reading, ''Stand by Gaza. Stop the Genocide." A car among the demonstrators played a Hamas song. One of the lyrics is ''Take the land and security of Israel and make a volcano.''
Ziad Hamdan, an older merchant, said he came to the demonstration "because it is the least anyone can do to protest the killing in Gaza." Referring to the killing of four Palestinian boys by Israeli fire on the Gaza beach Wednesday, Mr. Hamdan added bitterly, "They must have been dangerous to the Israelis, that's why they killed them."
Cooperation with Israel grates
When police blocked the marchers in a human chain, some of the demonstrators voiced their anger at the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
"We don't need the cooperation with the Israelis, we need bullets and rockets," they chanted. Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, warned that demonstrators "are becoming so angry over the aggression against Gaza that they will not listen to the security forces."
Abdullah Abdullah, a legislator who supports PA President Mahmoud Abbas, says that while the PA has tried to maintain calm, the effort ''is becoming really difficult. We can't stand against the sentiment of our people for their brothers in Gaza.''
But an all-out uprising remains unlikely because there is no leadership, plans, or funding for this, Mr. Abdul Hadi of the Palestinian Academic Society says. Many Palestinians fear that an uprising would only bring a return of the chaos of the second intifada in the early 2000s, says Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank and a former PA minister.
But Khalil Shaheen, director of research at the Masarat think-tank in Ramallah, stresses that the situation can change rapidly. After Mohammed's murder, Jerusalem rapidly became the site of intense clashes with Israeli police after years in which its Palestinian residents were criticized for not taking part in the national struggle, he notes.
"In Jerusalem, things changed in one night, they exploded. Another incident, maybe in Jerusalem, could cause a big explosion that would last a few years."