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Demonstrators In West Bank Protest Imprisonment Of Palestinians


It was another day of protest in the West Bank. Palestinians are demanding the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails after one prisoner died on Saturday. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.


LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Outside Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank, young men play cat and mouse with Israeli troops. They get as close as they dare, shoot a few rocks with slingshots, then retreat when the Israelis shoot tear gas canisters.


ABRAMSON: Palestinian authorities say this is popular resistance, a grassroots movement to bring about the release of prisoners at Ofer and other facilities. But one young man named Yousef says he has something else in mind. Why do you come here?

YOUSEF: To kill some Israeli people.

ABRAMSON: You want to kill some Israelis?


ABRAMSON: That plays against the official script of the current demonstrations. Spokesperson Nour Odeh says the Palestinian Authority can't control what goes on in the street.

NOUR ODEH: The Palestinians are not a population that where a button is embedded, where someone can push that button and call all of them out to the street for protest.

ABRAMSON: Whoever's in control, the question that's looming is: Will these protests stay focused on the prisoners, or will they spill over into the roster of grievances that led to the first and the second intifadas? Thousands died in those uprisings, which lasted for years and shut down the Palestinian economy. As upset as people in the West Bank are about the prisoners, few want to relive that experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ABRAMSON: At the Red Cross office in Ramallah, about 100 people are gathered for what has become a regular sit-in. They are family members of prisoners, chanting out support for their loved ones. Each sits in a chair and holds a big photograph of someone they miss. Many pictured are young sons who may be middle aged when they return home.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

ABRAMSON: Imramee Aboutaha has a son facing a 15-year sentence. When I asked what he'd done, she gave an answer that is typical of what you hear in the West Bank.

IMRAMEE ABOUTAHA: (Through Translator) He acted - he struggled against the occupation. Nothing was illegal.

ABRAMSON: Her friend, Rihab Mohammed, hasn't seen her son for 11 years, and he has 17 more to go. Rihab Mohammed remembers the uprisings, and she doesn't want that again. But she does hope the recent unrest will send a message to a man due to visit with the Palestinian president in just a few weeks.

RIHAB MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) I would like the president to tell Obama: We do not want an intifada. We do not want Israel to kill our people. We want the prisoners released.

ABRAMSON: That may be the real goal here, teeing up this issue, in the hopes that Obama's visit will spark a prisoner release as a show of goodwill by the Israelis. But any violence here won't help that cause. That danger was highlighted today. For the first time since the November war, militants in Gaza fired a rocket at Israel. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility, saying it was a response to the death of the Palestinian prisoner on Saturday. Larry Abramson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.