There is dying a martyr’s death. And then there is dying a martyr’s death under questioning by the Shin Bet security service. This is as lofty as it gets.

By Chaim Levinson | Feb.25, 2013 | 11:58 AM

Rioting on Policeman’s Square, Hebron, February 24, 2013. Photo by Emil Salman

Perhaps as a bleak gesture to Purim, on Sunday the stone-throwers of Hebron stockpiled quantities of detonators and firecrackers and hurled them at soldiers. The stores were closed: a strike by all commerce had been declared for the first time in years, as a mark of solidarity with Arafat Jaradat, the Palestinian who died at Megiddo Prison.

Policeman’s Square, the city’s main center of commerce since the Israel Defense Forces shut down the shops on Shuheda Street in 1994, was empty. It looked for all the world like a kind of Palestinian Yom Kippur, but for the roughly 200 teens engaging in a tenacious battle of stones with the army.

Riots in Policeman Square have been a recurring scene of late. Yesterday’s incidents were different in one factor: the Palestinian police didn’t show up.

Usually, after half an hour of letting the steam escape, Palestinian Authority policemen come along and shoo the youngsters home. This time they looked on from afar.

The local police force, which in any case has recently been struggling to sustain its legitimacy, can hardly use force to suppress demonstrations protesting Jaradat’s death.

The IDF deployment at the scene showed supreme restraint. The forces in the field were under the command of an officer who organized a small group of sharpshooters and personally approved every single rubber bullet filed at the main rioters.

Overnight Jaradat has become a symbol of the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle. Paradoxically, this most inconsequential of prisoners, a man arrested for throwing stones, a man who belonged to no organization and of whom no one had ever heard, is the one uniting Palestinian society.

There is dying a martyr’s death. And then there is dying a martyr’s death under questioning by the Shin Bet security service. This is as lofty as it gets.

As in the debate about whether the Jews crucified Jesus, the facts no longer matter. At most, that will be the fief of historians. What matters are emotions and imagination.

Insult to the dead

The demonstrators at Policeman Square yesterday are confident that Jaradat was tortured to death by Shin Bet investigators. Israel’s official version, that he died of heart failure, was scornfully rejected. It was an insult to the dead.

Ultimately, the day passed in relative quiescence. Postponing the deceased’s funeral by 24 hours calmed tempers a bit. But after the funeral, going by precedent, extensive unrest can be expected.

In the meantime disturbances are establishing themselves at every location where there is a permanent military presence, such as the Hwara roadblock at the entrance to Nablus, and the Jalma roadblock at the entrance to Jenin. Stone-throwing along the roads traveled by settlers is rising a notch.

Weapons have not yet been taken out of storage. Armed men have not been seen in the streets. On Saturday a picture of armed men marching came out of the Balata refuge camp but they covered themselves from head to toe, like a bride in Mea She’arim, signaling fear of arrest, be it by the Palestinian Authority or by Israel.

For now, the masses are staying home. One might have expected that in an obstinate city like Hebron, where all the stores have joined the strike to mark Jaradat’s death, more people would have taken to the streets. The army is making a supreme effort not to fuel the protests with more dead and funerals. In the meantime the incidents are like public opinion polls: They are indicative mainly of trends.

The author

Chaim Levinson is a Haaretz correspondent, covering the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Previously, he was the Yedioth Ahoronot correspondent for Religious Affairs and the Orthodox communities.
Levinson received his B.A. in Social and Humanities Studies at the Open University and is currently studying for his M.A. in Interdisciplinary Democracy Studies.