BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- In a year which saw continued regional backlash from the events of the Arab Spring, Palestine remained caught between regional dynamics, internal divisions, and Israel's continued occupation.
Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad continued to hold power as 2013 became the bloodiest year in the country's conflict. In Egypt, the military ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi and increased restrictions on the besieged Gaza Strip, frequently closing the Rafah crossing and destroying hundreds of smuggling tunnels.
For Palestine, a return to peace talks brought little respite from the daily struggles of the occupation, as Israeli military forces killed a record high number of Palestinians in the West Bank. In Gaza, violent storms exacerbated the already dire infrastructure of the coastal territory after six years of an Israeli blockade.January
Palestinian popular resistance activists sought new methods to challenge Israel's occupation as hundreds of people set up protest tents in the E1 corridor area near Jerusalem. The collective effort was sparked by Israel's decision a month earlier to build over 3,000 settler homes in the E1 corridor, which would divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible. Hundreds of activists set up dozens of tents and a medical clinic in a protest village named Bab al-Shams before Israeli forces raided the encampment and evicted the activists. A new protest village named al-Karamah was then set up northwest of Jerusalem to protest the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, before being dismantled by Israeli forces. Another protest village was built months later in al-Eizariya east of Jerusalem.
Palestinians, together with Israeli and foreign activists, stand near
newly-erected tents in an area known as E1, near Jerusalem January
Arafat Jaradat, 30, from Hebron died in the Israeli jail of Megido sparking widespread hunger strike action by Palestinian prisoners and mass protest across the occupied West Bank. Palestinian officials said an autopsy proved that Jaradat, who was arrested days earlier on suspicion of stone-throwing, was tortured during an interrogation by Israeli intelligence officers. A spokeswoman for Israel's Prison Authority that Jaradat had apparently died of cardiac arrest in Megiddo prison. Over 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails refused food from Israeli prison authorities to protest the death and dozens of Palestinians were injured in mass protests held across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mourners carry the body of Arafat Jaradat during his funeral in Sair,
US President Barack Obama arrived in the region for his first visit to Israel and Palestine since entering the White House in 2009. The visit, which largely addressed Israeli concerns, began with a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem before traveling to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas and to briefly visit Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. Palestinian activists installed billboards in Ramallah and Bethlehem to highlight the fact that Palestinians have been deprived of the right to have 3G telecommunication technology because they compete with Israeli companies. Palestinian Authority police scuffled with scores of demonstrators protesting against Obama's visit, as thousands of security officers were deployed in Jerusalem and the West Bank bringing the area to a virtual standstill. April
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned amid mounting criticism of his economic policies in the ruling Fatah movement. The US-educated economist pinned his resignation on difficulties with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, as well as Israeli intransigence. Abbas accepted Fayyad's resignation at a brief meeting at the Muqataa presidential compound in Ramallah. In an interview published after his resignation in The New York Times, Fayyad said the Palestinian leadership is a failure and that his state-building efforts and transformation of the security situation were not reciprocated by Israeli measures. May
Thousands of people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip marked the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, an event which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes in what is now Israel. Sirens were sounded for 65 seconds in the West Bank to mark the start of celebrations, with thousands of people gathering in Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqiliya, and other West Bank cities. "The right to return does not become invalid or ineffective as time passes, because this right is the core of the Palestinian plight," PLO official Wasil Abu Yousif said while addressing crowds at Yasser Arafat's tomb. In the Gaza Strip, faction leaders addressed thousands of people who had gathered in the streets, calling for unity in the Palestinian leadership as a number-one priority.
Thousands remembered the Nakba across Palestine and abroad. (MaanImages)
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians cheered on 23-year-old singer Muhammad Assaf, the Gaza native who won the popular Arab Idol reality TV singing contest. Assaf not only won the title -- the first for a Palestinian -- but he was also named the UN's first Palestinian refugee goodwill ambassador. He was chosen to serve as Palestine refugee agency UNRWA's first-ever regional youth ambassador. Upon the announcement of his win, thousands of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and Gaza celebrated in the streets.
Assaf performs in Ramallah on July 1. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
After months of prodding, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that an agreement had been reached between the Israelis and Palestinians for the basis to resume Middle East peace talks. The talks had broke down years earlier over the issue of Israeli settlements being built on Palestinian land. "I'm pleased to announce that we've reached an agreement," Kerry told reporters. But opponents of the decades-long peace process blasted the PLO for conceding to American pressure, while demonstrators crowded Palestinian cities to demand an end to the negotiations before they began. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the return to negotiations was a "disaster" and a cover for the Israeli agenda of Judaization, settlement building and the displacement of Palestinians. "Stopping political reconciliation (with Fatah in exchange for) negotiations between the PA and Israel is very dangerous," he said at the time. To reassure their publics, leaders from both Israel and Palestine promised any peace agreement would be subject to a referendum.
John Kerry is pictured in Washington Sept. 4. (AFP/Jim Watson)
In a gesture to the Palestinian Authority to encourage the resumption of peace negotiations the same summer, the Israeli government released a first batch of veteran Palestinian prisoners who had been imprisoned since before the Oslo Accords of 1994. The 26 constituted the first batch of a total of 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners, including those with Israeli citizenship, to be freed in four stages, depending on progress in the talks. The decision to free the prisoners -- most of whom had been convicted of violent attacks against Israelis -- angered the families of those killed in assaults, but the Israeli government rejected appeals from victims' relatives. Israel, in a bid to placate right-wing voters and lawmakers who opposed the releases, announced plans to increase settlement building in the occupied territories during the same period.
Families greet their newly freed loved ones. (MaanImages/Firas Tanina)
After former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military in July, army rule in Egypt closed doors with Gaza that had previously been opened by Morsi. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was frequently closed, and the Egyptian army destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels, further isolating Gaza after years of Israeli economic blockade. As a result, Gaza suffered power cuts as daily fuel shipments from Egypt dropped significantly. The Egyptian army also launched a campaign against armed militants operating in the Sinai Peninsula, which media close to the new Egyptian government linked to the Hamas movement in Gaza. Hamas -- originally founded as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood -- condemned the Egyptian army's crackdown against the Brotherhood in Egypt, citing "terrible massacres," but toned down its sentiment after Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy warned of a "harsh response" against Hamas if it threatened Egypt's "national security."
A Hamas security guard on duty at the border between Egypt and Gaza Strip,
in Rafah on Sept. 11, 2013 (AFP/File Said Khatib)
Incidents of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank dotted the month of October. Settlers regularly attacked farmers during the olive harvest, injuring dozens of Palestinians and uprooting hundreds of olive trees. Various incidents were also documented in which settlers threw stones and damaged Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Israeli media reported at least two cases in which Palestinians hurled improvised explosive devices at settler buses, in one case a school bus, which caused damages but no injuries. Additionally, on Oct. 11, a retired Israeli army colonel was beaten to death and his wife was injured in their West Bank home by suspected Palestinian assailants. Through the violence, peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators trudged on, as Israel released 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners at the end of the month and simultaneously announced the construction of thousands of new settlement homes.
Masked settlers assault and injure B'Tselem camera volunteer harvesting olives
near Adei Ad settlement outpost, damaging his camera and windshield on
Oct. 26 2013(Ma'anImages/Iyad Hadad/B'Tselem)
November saw massive backlash against an Israeli bill to displace tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin in the Negev desert, replacing their unrecognized villages with Jewish cities. Palestinian youth organizations announced international protests set for the end of the month against the Prawer-Begin bill, which they called a "criminal plan" for the "ethnic cleansing" of the area. On Nov. 30, thousands gathered for a "day of rage" against the plan in cities across the West Bank and Israel, where Israeli forces and police dispersed the demonstrators, injuring and arresting dozens. Solidarity protests were also held in Gaza and in cities worldwide. Though Netanyahu announced the next day that such "riots" would not be tolerated and that the Israeli government would "continue to advance the Prawer Bill," less than two weeks later the bill was scrapped. However, unconfirmed reports have since surfaced that the plan is still on the table.
Israeli police confront protesters in the Negev on Nov. 30 (MaanImages)
A region-wide winter storm slammed Palestine in December, leaving much of the West Bank without power for days and several main roads impassable due to snow. Heavy rain in the Gaza Strip flooded its streets, deep enough that in some areas residents could only to pass from house to house in small fishing boats or by wading through filthy water. At least 10,000 Palestinians were internally displaced by the storm in Gaza, which brought its humanitarian crisis to a head after years of Israeli blockade and months of Egyptian pressure. Qatar donated the money for 450,000 liters of diesel to the PA, which purchased the fuel from Israel and shipped it into Gaza, allowing the Strip’s sole power plant to begin functioning again after over a month without fuel.
The year was punctuated by an upheaval of violence that came after a series of Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces at the Gaza border. On Christmas Eve, a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli Civil Defense employee working on the border fence. Israel responded with airstrikes, killing a 3-year-old Palestinian girl and injuring at least six. Two days later, two other Palestinians were injured in Israeli strikes, after rockets fired from Gaza hit open Israeli areas, causing no injuries or damage. Later that week, Israeli artillery fire injured two. The violence was the worst Gaza had seen since Israel’s November 2012 incursion on the coastal enclave which left over 170 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.
A neighborhood in Gaza after winter storm Alexa flooded the Strip (MaanImages)