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Feeling winds of Arab Spring, Israel douses sparks of Palestinian uprising

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On June 5, hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators challenged Israeli soldiers at the border of the Golan Heights in the worst violence since 1973. Foreign activists, meanwhile, are planning to mount another flotilla to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip later this month – a repeat of an attempt last year in which the killing of nine demonstrators helped build international pressure on Israel to ease the blockade.

And the demonstrators today in Nabi Saleh, where they've been trying for months to march to a spring near the village that Israeli settlers had expropriated, were again thwarted by the military.

After having put down an armed uprising that began in 2000 and killed more than 6,000 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis, Israel’s army has tried hard to stop the protests in villages like Nabi Saleh.

"I think [Israelis] perceive it would be the spark that would ignite the whole area," says Gershon Baskin, the director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information who joined the protesters today. "It’s very difficult to have a response ... if the Palestinians do it in a serious way, and you have thousands of Palestinians marching peacefully toward settlements or toward Jerusalem."

Nabi Saleh protest leader indicted

In addition to confronting protesters on the ground, the military has also aimed to thwart protests by targeting leading activists. Israel’s military law in the West Bank gives the army strong tools to control public protest: any political assemblies with more than 10 people require a permit, exposing activists to jail terms of up to 10 years. Israel’s army can also keep detainees in jail for months without charges.

The army has arrested dozens of villagers, including minors, in Nabi Saleh alone.

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