GAZA CITY, (The Southern African Times) – Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories went on strike in a rare collective protest Tuesday as Israeli missiles toppled a building in Gaza and militants in the Hamas-ruled territory fired dozens of rockets that killed two people.
The demonstrations and ongoing violence came as moves toward a cease-fire appeared to be gaining more traction.
U.S. officials said the Biden administration was privately encouraging Israel to wind down its bombardment of Gaza. Egyptian negotiators also were working to halt the fighting, and while they have not made progress with Israel, they were optimistic international pressure would force it to the table, according to an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing diplomatic efforts.
The general strike was a sign that the war could widen again after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the occupied West Bank last week.
Although the strike was peaceful in many places, with shops in Jerusalem’s usually bustling Old City markets shuttered, violence erupted in cities in the West Bank.
Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires in Ramallah and hurled stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas, and protesters picked up some of the canisters and threw them back. Three protesters were killed and more than 140 wounded in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli army said two soldiers were wounded by gunshots to the leg.
The general strike was an uncommon show of unity by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state.
The strike was intended to protest the war and Israeli policies that many activists and some rights groups say constitute an overarching system of apartheid that denies Palestinians rights afforded to Jews. Israel rejects that characterization, saying its citizens have equal rights. It blames the war on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, and accuses it of inciting violence.
Leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel called the strike, which was embraced by the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where ministries and schools were closed. Most businesses appeared to be observing the strike.
Strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh said Palestinians are standing against Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as “brutal repression” by police.
The war has also seen an unusual outbreak of violence in Israel, with groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and torching vehicles and buildings. In both Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli forces. Scores have been injured, including a Jewish man who died Monday after being attacked last week by a group of Arabs in the central city of Lod.