IDF prepares for popular uprising in West Bank

Women in Gaza this week calling for national unity

Women in Gaza this week calling for national unity

The Israeli military is worried about the effect the revolutions currently sweeping the Arab world may have on the Palestinian population.

Contingency plans have been adapted to take into consideration the kind of demonstrations recently seen on the streets of Cairo and Tunis, although most officers do not believe there is much chance of seeing similar scenes soon in Ramallah.

So far, there has been no indication of growing unrest in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are every bit as worried as the Israeli government over protests that could challenge their authority, and have discouraged attempts to hold events supporting the demonstrators in Egypt.

Senior IDF officers have said in the past that a mass, non-violent demonstration by Palestinian civilians could pose an insurmountable challenge to the Israeli forces, but even the initial stages of the First and Second Intifadas in 1987 and 2000 were accompanied by a great deal of violence.

"I find it hard to believe that in a future encounter, we will not see at least one Palestinian organisation taking the opportunity to use violence," said a senior IDF officer in the Central Command last week, "but of course nothing is out of the question."

There are divided views among officers serving in the West Bank over whether an Egypt-style uprising is imminent.

"The population here is still very tired after the Second Intifada," said one colonel, "I think they prefer for now to concentrate on improving their private lives and the local economy."

Another commander voiced a different opinion. He said that "everyone here watches Al-Jazeera and goes on the web; what is happening around us is not lost on them. We should be careful not to jump to conclusions either way. It could happen here and we may be stuck without a solution."

Almost a year ago, long before the protests in Tunisia were sparked off, the Judea and Samaria Division prepared a detailed plan on how to confront widespread civilian protests. "We identified our operational needs to make sure that certain circumstances would not be created," said an officer involved in the planning.

One lesson is the possibility that the next Palestinian uprising may not come from the established organisations or any other known source and therefore Israeli intelligence has to widen its scope. "I think that in a time like at this we should be very aware of what is happening on Facebook," said one officer, "because the next round of troubles could well begin there." In fact, one Palestinian Facebook page, titled "End The Division", calls for protests across the whole region on March 15. The aim of the campaign is to end the divisions between Hamas and Fatah.

    Last updated: 12:52pm, March 10 2011