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Op-ed stirs row over Palestinian rock-throwing

Friday - 4/5/2013, 9:48am  ET

An Israeli Border Police officer aims towards Palestinian protesters, not pictured, during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron, Thursday, April 4, 2013. Demonstrations first erupted across the West Bank on Tuesday over the death of a Palestinian prisoner who died from cancer. The prisoner, 64-year-old Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, was serving a life sentence for a 2002 foiled bombing of a busy Jerusalem cafe. After Abu Hamdiyeh died, the Palestinians blamed Israel for the death, saying he was not given proper medical care. Israel says the prisoner was treated by specialist doctors in hospital. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- A newspaper op-ed piece by an Israeli writer has revived an emotional debate surrounding Israel's 45-year rule over the West Bank and east Jerusalem: Do Palestinians who throw rocks at Israelis exercise a "birthright" of resisting military occupation, as the author argued? Or is stone-throwing an indefensible act of violence?

The heated argument -- along with a police complaint West Bank settlers filed against the author -- was another sign of the deepening gulf between the two peoples after decades of conflict.

The debate comes at a time when Israelis are watching for any signs of a third Palestinian "intifada," or uprising, against the occupation that began in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Palestinians want the three territories for a state. However, two decades of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have come up empty and Israel -- while withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 -- has moved more than half a million of its civilians to the rest of the occupied lands during the four-decade occupation in what much of the world says violates international law.

In the past 25 years, Palestinians have launched two uprisings. The first erupted in 1987 and was characterized by large demonstrations, often accompanied by stone-throwing. Israeli troops responded with tear gas, live fire and mass arrests. The revolt led to negotiations that produced interim peace deals.

The second intifada broke out in 2000, after failed talks on a final deal, and violence escalated on both sides. Palestinians used guns and bombs, including suicide attacks. Israel retook parts of the West Bank earlier handed to partial Palestinian control and began targeting militant leaders in missile attacks from helicopters.

In an op-ed piece in the Haaretz daily Wednesday, Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote that Israel has engaged in systematic violence against the Palestinians as part of its well-oiled machinery of occupation.

"Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule," wrote Hass, who covers the Palestinians and lives in the West Bank. Limitations of that right could include "the distinction between civilians and those who carry arms," she wrote.

Her words elicited a flood of angry reactions in Israel on Thursday, including from the mother of a 3-year-old Israeli girl who was critically injured last month in a West Bank road accident triggered by stone-throwing. Another writer brought up the case of a 1-year-old boy who, along with his father, was killed under similar circumstances in 2011.

The Council of Settlements, the main umbrella group for Jewish settlers, filed a complaint with police against Hass and her employer, Haaretz, accusing them of incitement to violence against Israelis driving on West Bank roads.

Haaretz declined comment Thursday.

Hass, a prize-winning journalist, has been fiercely critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians to an extent that places her far outside the Israeli political mainstream.

She told The Associated Press on Thursday that she believes those skewering her intentionally ignored her reference to the limitations of resistance. "The choice not to read those very clear sentences is part of the Israeli culture of denial of its institutionalized violence against the Palestinians," she said in an emailed response to questions.

Even Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator and longtime advocate of Palestinian statehood, joined the chorus of critics, an apparent sign of a broad Israeli consensus on the issue.

"Stone-throwing is not a "birthright and duty' of those being ruled (by others), but an act of violence that can lead to death, disability and injury," Beilin wrote in the Israel Hayom daily.

His comments, perhaps more than the more predictable reactions of West Bank settlers, illustrated the divide between Israelis and Palestinians after decades of conflict and growing Israeli-enforced physical separation between the sides.

Ghassan Khatib, a West Bank intellectual who has served in Palestinian Cabinets, unequivocally defended the Palestinians' right to resist occupation but said non-violence is preferable to guns and bombs.

Palestinians gained worldwide sympathy during the first uprising, as the David to Israel's Goliath, but lost it during the second intifada, when they unleashed suicide bombings and shooting attacks on Israeli civilians.

"I think the non-violent and non-military struggle is more useful to the Palestinian cause," Khatib said. Asked about stone-throwing, he said he considers it part of the non-military approach.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said stone-throwing throwing cannot be considered a legitimate form of protest because it is violent. "People are being killed, people are being injured," he said.

While the political battle lines are drawn, the legal dimension is murky.

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