The mysterious death of a 30-year-old Palestinian gas station attendant in Israeli custody over the weekend stoked new West Bank clashes Sunday and Monday, along with fears of a third Palestinian uprising. Hamas called on its operatives to kidnap Israeli soldiers, and other Palestinians with ties to the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority called for an intensification of protests against Israel. The Israel Defense Forces was on high alert throughout flashpoint areas of the West Bank, and especially in the Hebron area around the Palestinian village of Sa'ir, where the funeral of Arafat Jaradat was held. Members of every Palestinian faction took part in the funeral, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Israeli forces in the area have been ordered to act with restraint to avoid further Palestinian casualties that could lead to an escalation of violence in the West Bank. The IDF stressed however that soldiers should not confuse restraint and containment with hesitation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's diplomatic envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, on Sunday contacted senior Palestinian Authority officials with an Israeli demand to curtail the growing violence and protests by Palestinian activists across the West Bank. According to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu has authorized the release and transfer of $100 million in PA taxes to bolster the PA.
Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs in the Defense Ministry on Monday accused the Palestinian Authority of fanning the flames of violence ahead of the planned March 20 visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the region. Speaking on Army Radio, Gilad said, "The PA is walking a thin line: also inciting violence and also not wanting things to get out of control. The problem is that they're aiming for controlled violence, but it can get out of control. They want to project strength ahead of the Obama visit, so they're lighting a fire under the prisoner issue — which is a popular issue on the Palestinian street. "
Gilad warned the Palestinians that a third Intifada was not in their interests. "A major terror attack is not in their interest. They know that the damage they would incur would be devastating."
Gilad also cautioned about talking of Palestinian "prisoners": "We're talking about terrorists, murderers, people who have killed Israelis."
The Palestinian Authority minister for Prisoner Affairs alleged that Arafat Jaradat was tortured by Israel's Shin Bet security service, citing an autopsy he said revealed bruising and two broken ribs. The Israeli government denied the accusation.
Gilad said that the Palestinians determined the outcome of the autopsy before it was completed. "There is an aim behind this, to incite the street to violence," Gilad said.
Jaradat's autopsy was performed at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute by Professor Yehuda Hiss in the presence of Palestinian Dr. Saber Aloul. Head of the Health Ministry's Medical Administration Dr. Arnon Ofek was also present at the autopsy.
Israel's Health Ministry said the autopsy did not conclusively determine the cause of death, but that the bruising and broken ribs were likely the result of attempts to revive the detainee.
Thousands of Palestinians protested Jaradat's death near Hebron on Sunday. The mob clashed with IDF troops, throwing rocks, bottles and sending burning tires the soldiers' way. PA policemen stationed in Hebron succeeded in blocking hundreds of protesters from reaching an IDF checkpoint. Jaradat was buried near his home on Monday.
Jaradat, a father of two from the West Bank village of Sa'ir, died in Megiddo Prison in northern Israel on Saturday, six days after his arrest on suspicion of stone throwing. Jaradat's attorney, Kamil Sabbagh, said his client told an Israeli military judge Thursday during a hearing that he was being forced to sit for long periods during interrogation. The detainee also complained of back pain and seemed terrified to return to the Shin Bet lockup, although he did not have any apparent signs of physical abuse, Sabbagh said. After the court hearing, the judge ordered Jaradat to be examined by a prison doctor. The Shin Bet said that during interrogation, Jaradat was examined several times by a doctor who detected no health problems. On Saturday, he was in his cell and felt unwell after lunch, the agency said.
"Rescue services and a doctor were alerted and treated him," the statement said. But "they didn't succeed in saving his life." After being briefed by the Palestinian physician, Issa Karake, the Palestinian minister of Prisoner Affairs, told a news conference late Sunday that Jaradat had suffered two broken ribs on the right side of his chest. The autopsy also showed bruises on Jaradat's back and chest. Israeli officials initially said Jaradat apparently died of a heart attack, but Karake said the Palestinian physician told him there was no evidence of that. Jaradat "faced harsh torture, leading to his immediate, direct death. Israel is fully responsible for his killing," Karake said.
Israel's Health Ministry said Jaradat did not suffer from disease and that it was not possible yet to determine his cause of death conclusively. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said the Shin Bet routinely holds detainees in isolation for extended periods during interrogation, keeping them in cells where the lights are never turned off. Citing prisoner affidavits, B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said physical mistreatment has dropped sharply in recent years but has not disappeared. Detainees have filed some 700 complaints about mistreatment by Shin Bet agents in the past decade, but none has led to a criminal investigation, she said.
Jaradat's death came at a time of rising West Bank tensions, including several days of Palestinian marches in support of four hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli lockups. On Sunday, nearly 4,500 Palestinian prisoners refused their breakfast to protest Jaradat's death, but resumed eating on Monday.
One prisoner told Israel Hayom by phone that the refusal of food was not the beginning of an all out hunger-strike. "Currently it is a symbol of protest and not a wide-scale hunger strike. We are refusing food [at the mess hall] and eating what we bought at the canteen and have stored in our cells. But we are also not ruling out an escalation."
The official line from Israel on Sunday was that the cause for the escalation in the Palestinian streets is due to the arrest of dozens of terrorists who were released as part of the Schalit deal, that had not upheld the conditions of their release. The Palestinians demand the prisoners' release and believe that pressuring Israel now is the way to achieve that, less than a month before U.S. President Barack Obama's planned visit.
Former Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub, told Channel 2 News Sunday night that Israel must solve the prisoner crisis if it wants to stop the escalation in the West Bank. Earlier on Sunday he tried to reassure the Israeli public on Israel Radio, saying in Hebrew, that "on behalf of the entire Palestinian leadership there is no plan to lead to bloodshed."
Meanwhile, there had been unverified reports that Israeli and Palestinian representatives had proposed providing an "incentive package" to the Palestinians before Obama's visit. The package would reportedly include the release of Palestinian prisoners after the visit.
Israeli security officials claim that the Palestinian public is eagerly awaiting Obama's visit. It is speculated that if Obama's visit does not yield significant results for the Palestinians then it could be grounds for an escalation of violence.
Netanyahu met with his security advisers Sunday following the events in Judea and Samaria. The assessment of security officials is that Israel is not about to witness a third intifada. One worst case scenario presented by the IDF however, is if the Palestinian Authority loses its control over the West Bank and Hamas fills in the void.
The first Palestinian uprising, marked by stone-throwing protests and commercial strikes, erupted in December 1987 and led to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The second uprising broke out in 2000, after failed talks on a final peace deal, and it was far deadlier, with Israel reoccupying the West Bank after bombings and shootings.
In recent years, the West Bank has been relatively calm. Despite recent tensions, the Palestinian self-rule government has not broken off security coordination with Israel in their joint campaign against Islamic terrorists.
Palestinian activists also say they learned from the mistakes of the armed revolt a decade ago and are turning to more creative protests against Israel's 45-year rule over lands they want for a future state.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, Palestinians protesting Jaradat's death threw stones at Israeli troops in several locations Sunday, including the city of Hebron and at a checkpoint near the military's Ofer prison.
In the clash near the checkpoint, troops fired live rounds, shooting the 15-year-old son of the commander of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the chest and stomach, said Palestinian health official Dr. Ahmed Bitawi. The teen, Walid Hab al-Reeh, was in stable condition, while another man was wounded in the arm, Bitawi said.
The Preventive Security Service is key to security coordination with Israel. The IDF said it was aware of a report that a Palestinian youth was seriously hurt by gunfire, but could not confirm that soldiers used live rounds to disperse the protest.
Kadoura Fares, who heads a Palestinian group advocating for prisoners, urged Palestinians on Sunday to keep demonstrating. He also said that one of the four hunger-striking prisoners, Jafar Izzeldeen, was moved to a hospital Sunday because his condition was deteriorating.
Recent West Bank protests have focused on the fate of prisoners, an emotional Palestinian consensus issue.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967, meaning virtually every Palestinian family has had someone locked up.
The detainees are held on a range of charges, from stone-throwing to deadly attacks. Most Palestinians embrace them as heroes resisting occupation, while Israelis tend to view them as terrorists.