Sarah Benhaida
Last updated: 6 October, 2015

Bethlehem youngsters defy Israeli army after teen death

On a broad street in biblical Bethlehem, lined with hotels and elegant buildings, the souvenir shops are closed and shuttered.

In mourning for a dead Palestinian youngster and itching for a fight with the Israeli army which killed him, the traditional birthplace of Jesus has become a battlefield.

At one end of the street looms Israel’s West Bank separation wall, covered in graffiti and overlooked by a military watchtower.

In the shadow of the eight-metre (26-foot) wall, Israeli soldiers fire a barrage of tear gas or rubber bullets from their positions in doorways, taking advantage of occasional lulls to take out their cellphones and snap selfies with the young Palestinian stone-throwers in the background.

They are a few metres (yards) away, dozens of them — including a few girls.

The faces of many are hidden by a variety of keffiyehs in the different colours of various Palestinian movements. Others wear the masks associated with activist group Anonymous.

Stones, and often slingshots, in their hands they keep up an unrelenting hail of projectiles at the troops, dodging back and forth with the ebb and flow of the soldiers’ fire.

– ‘We shall resist’ –

Beneath their feet the street is littered with stones, spent rubber bullets and gas grenades and other debris.

A short way from the tourist centre and the Church of the Nativity they have set up makeshift barricades; from an old mattress set alight, rubbish bins placed in the street and burning tyres and pallets.

On a pavement usually walked by tourists and pilgrims from around the world one of the youngsters is hurling stones at the troops, only his eyes visible above the T-shirt pulled up to hide his face.

“The Israelis attacked Al-Aqsa and beat women,” he says, referring to the series of recent clashes between Israeli police and young Muslims barred from the revered mosque site in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Al-Aqsa compound is the hyper-sensitive site revered by Muslims and Jews where a visit by late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2000 helped ignite a Palestinian uprising which blazed for five years.

“I am 28 years old, I’m married and I have two children but that doesn’t stop me fighting the occupiers,” he said, like his comrade declining to give his name.

“We are here to send a message to Israel and the Palestinian Authority; we shall resist” the Israelis who, “attack Al-Aqsa and kill our children, like Abdel Rahman who was only 13,” he said.

– ‘God rest his soul’ –

At an emotional funeral earlier, crowds of mourners carried aloft the body of Abdel Rahman Abdullah, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, to his grave.

He was shot dead by soldiers during rioting outside the city on Monday, the second fatality of clashes in 24 hours.

Even before the funeral began youths and soldiers clashed.

In the Aida refugee camp where he lived, about 1,000 Palestinians came to pay their last respects.

At the head of the procession were dozens of masked young men bearing the flags of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement and those of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian and Hamas.

Some carried axes and others clubs. Palestinian police put in a rare appearance but disappeared when clashes with the Israelis broke out.

In front of the family home, young girls seek to comfort Abdel Rahman’s mother, Dalal, who burst into tears at the sight of her son’s body.

“May God rest his soul,” she sighs. “There was nobody kinder than he was.”

“They murdered him,” she told AFP.