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

The trial of Palestinian protest leader Bassem Tamimi underscores Israel's eagerness to prevent small-scale demonstrations from turning into a broader movement.

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His statement and demeanor seemed inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. He told the judge, "I respect your thinking and logic."

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"I practice passive civilian resistance… I believe in the legitimacy of this protest.... I organized these peaceful demonstrations to defend our land and our people," he said. "In spite of it all, I do not have hatred in my heart toward anybody."

Prospects for a new Palestinian uprising

Though a mass demonstration has yet to materialize in the West Bank, protests in villages like Nabi Saleh are attracting interest from Palestinians in larger cities.

"Suddenly, after Egypt and Tunisia, [Palestinians] have hope again," says a European diplomat who was on hand at the Ofer Prison for the formal charges against Tamimi. "They are thinking that maybe they can make change and have an impact."

But there are several factors weighing against a new Palestinian uprising. The public in the West Bank is still exhausted from the armed uprising during the previous decade an is enjoying a measure of economic relief after Israel’s army removed roadblocks and eased up movement. Moreover, the Palestinians remain demoralized because their internal political rift between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Tamimi's wife, Nariman Tamimi, says that the although the Arab Spring gives activists in Nabi Saleh optimism and a boost in participation, she acknowledges that widespread protest will be an upscale battle.

"The memory of repression is still fresh on Palestinian skin," she says. "Every Palestinian mother has a prisoner son. They are asking, 'How can we keep sending our children to jail?' "

But Israel is nervous about the protests nonetheless. The expected United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood this September is most often cited as a possible inflection point for mass protests. But other symbolic struggles – like Nabi Saleh villagers’ battle over a disputed water spring – could provide the trigger.

Mr. Baskin says that although Palestinians are well below the boiling point, it is impossible to know how the next uprising will start.

"Often these kinds of struggles are sparked by something unexpected and unpredictable, and that could light the whole field."