‘Not just a number’: A protest and a funeral in the West Bank | Israel-Palestine conflict

Even as Palestinians in the West Bank protest against Israel’s war on Gaza, they’re facing increasing attacks themselves.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – The Qalandia checkpoint wasn’t busy. There were just a few cars trying to cross into the occupied West Bank from Jerusalem.

It was November 1, and Palestinian groups had called a “day of rage” to protest Israel’s relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip. The previous day, Israeli bombs had devastated Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. The camp would take another hit on November 1 and then again a few days later.

In Ramallah, rubbish containers blocked some streets. Shops, restaurants and cafes were closed while street vendors were selling bananas to protesters. A large banner in Al-Manara Square read in English and Arabic, “We are not numbers,” alongside photos of some of the more than 4,000 Palestinian children who have been killed in the bombing.

About 200 people gathered to march, most of them teenagers. Some were covering their faces, others carrying posters with graphic pictures of the children killed in Gaza.

A 38-year-old-man attended the protest with his wife and young son. “We have been relying on the international community for 25 to 30 years, and things are only getting tougher,” he told Al Jazeera, expressing a sentiment that many Palestinians share about the lack of a unified and effective response from the international community to stop the attacks against Gaza.

Like many others attending the rally, he blamed the Palestinian Authority for not doing enough to defend Palestinian interests during the war. He put his son on his shoulders and walked on.

Another protester, a 35-year-old woman from Bethlehem, said she had been unable to return to her town because of the tightening of the checkpoints. But most of all, she said, she fears the settlers who have surrounded her hometown.

“Netanyahu has given thousands of weapons to the settlers. They do what they want,” she said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has personally handed out weapons to settlers in the West Bank and has said he has acquired 10,000 assault rifles to distribute.

When asked about how she thinks the war might end, the woman said: “Palestinians need the right to their land. Palestinians need to be free.”

Some of the young protesters at the rally shouted slogans threatening violence against Israel. A slim, bespectacled man in his 70s who was passing by muttered: “They are radicalizing.” He said he disapproves of violence as a means of resistance.

A day after the protest near Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum in Ramallah, a 29-year-old man with bright green eyes and a defiant stare was working in a coffee shop while chatting with some patrons. Palestinian Authority officials, he said, “just sit on their chairs and do nothing”.

“They [the settlers] are armed. We are not. Where is the resistance?” he asked. He pulled out his mobile phone to show videos of the body of a Palestinian teenager killed that day.

On the morning of November 2, the Israeli military raided the town of Qalqilya near Ramallah, killing two Palestinians. One of them was 14-year-old Ayhem Mahmud al-Shafi.

Since October 7, at least 183 Palestinians, including 44 children, have died in the West Bank in attacks by Israeli forces or settlers. More than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, and about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s attacks on southern Israel on October 7.

Ayham’s body was carried through the streets of Ramallah by hundreds of mourners. Shopkeepers closed their businesses as the mourners passed through the streets, chanting revolutionary songs about martyrs and the liberation of Palestine.

Some of the mourners urged onlookers to join the procession. On the sidewalks, a few women were crying. Others recorded the procession with their mobile phones.

As the body passed through Al-Amara Square, the procession stopped for a moment: Ayhem’s father, mother, uncle and a neighbour kissed him goodbye. To them, and to hundreds of mourners, Ayhem was not a number.

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