July 25, 2014 | Policy Brief

Quds Day, Palestinian Protests, and West Bank Stability

Palestinians in the West Bank organized one of the largest protest marches in recent history last night, sparking clashes with Israeli police late into the morning. The protest, dubbed the “48 Thousand March,” began at al-Ama’ari refugee camp outside Ramallah and snaked its way to the Qalandia checkpoint, a common flashpoint of conflict between Palestinians and Israel. The march, which according to some estimates boasted 10,000 protesters, left two dead and scores wounded.

The protest, timed to coincide with Quds Day, was organized in advance via social media. Quds Day is an Iran-led initiative, where protests are held throughout the region on the last Friday of Ramadan in solidarity with the Palestinians and in protest of Israel’s control of Jerusalem. That this current Quds Day coincided with the war in Gaza and the breakdown in peace negotiations set the stage for intense clashes.

The first mentions of the “48 Thousand March” came on July 20, when Palestinian activists on Twitter began discussing plans for the route. Many of the same activists were responding to calls from the Palestinian leadership earlier in the week, who had urged a day of protests and strikes in response to the situation in Gaza. On social media, these activists urged on the protests last night with English and Arabic language Twitter hashtags, including:  48 thousand march, “Intifada_Destiny,” and “PalestineResist.”  Throughout the night, the hashtag campaign garnered hundreds of tweets and pictures depicting the march’s progress towards Qalandia. In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis, pictures showed Palestinians attempting to destroy parts of the separation barrier.

The Quds Day activity continues today. Protests have erupted in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. In the Old City, sporadic clashes were reported after Friday prayers. By early afternoon, five more Palestinians were killed in the West Bank.

At this point, it is unclear whether these planned protests will evolve into a more spontaneous uprising that lasts beyond Friday. The calls for a third intifada are many, but the unrest still lacks the coordination from on-high that characterized the second intifada of 2000-2005.

The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, has attempted to walk a fine line between encouragement and containment. The security forces in the West Bank—which had previously prevented protests from spreading in and around Ramallah—were absent last night. This was a calculated decision on the part of Abbas. Palestinian public opinion has been hyper-critical of the PA’s “collaboration” with Israel, and its decision to stay out of the Gaza conflict entirely, other than to complain to international bodies about what PA leaders are calling Israeli war crimes.

As criticism has mounted, the Palestinian leader recently moved his family to his home in Jordan. The move serves to underscore the uncertainty of the West Bank’s future, particularly as war rages in the Gaza Strip.

Grant Rumley is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on Palestinian politics.