Palestinian police preventing protesters to walk to the Muqata’a on Saturday. Photo by Lazar Smeonov.
July 10, 2012
Over the past week, protests have rocked Ramallah’s streets which have manifested in anger as the result of the violent reaction on the protesters by the Palestinian Authority police.
The initial protest on Saturday June 30 was an expression of the "categorical rejection" of the youth group Palestinians for Dignity against PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz in the PA compound of al-Muqata’a in Ramallah, which was set for Sunday, July 1st. The meeting due to public outcry has since been postponed, as a way of soaking up the anger the Palestinians felt, but the protest still went on ahead.
The meeting was announced last month by Maan News Agency. According to the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, the meeting was not about direct negotiations, or as one Palestinian youth activist sarcastically remarked, "negotiations about negotiations."
Shaul Mofaz has a notorious reputation as an official of the Israeli occupation. He was previously the Chief of Staff in the Israeli occupying army, and later on when to become Israel’s Defense Minister. Under his tenure, over 1,705 Palestinians were killed and over 5000 imprisoned. In 2002, Mofaz was responsible for Israel’s military operation code named Operation Defensive Shield, in which hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camp of Jenin and in Nablus were killed.
As the protesters marched from the Manara Square down the Irsal Street on their way to the Muqata’a, they were met by rows of the PA police, who had their arms linked with their batons at the ready. Protesters chanted against Mofaz and security coordination, and called on the police to let them pass through down the street. The police in turn responded by pushing and shoving the protesters forcefully. Plainclothes police and security thugs beat up male protesters and journalists. Five were arrested and dragged to the police station, including journalist Mohammad Jaradat who was filming the protest. Photos from Lazar Simeonov are found here.
As a response to the blatant show of police brutality, Palestinians for Dignity called for another protest the following day. In another attempt to reach the Muqata’a from the Manara Square, the police once again blocked the street and prevented protesters from advancing. Chants escalated to "Down with Dayton’s regime!" in reference to US General Keith Dayton who trained the PA security forces under his auspices. The demands of the protesters were read out by two individuals to the police, and they are:
- The cancellation of Abbas’ meeting with Mofaz
- The conduction of an independent and transparent investigation of the police’s actions on Saturday
- The resignation of the police director in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh governates Abdul-Latif Qaddoumi and his assistant Mohammad Abu Bakr
The police’s reaction was stronger and more aggressive than on the previous day. Batons rained down on protesters’ heads, arms, and backs. Women protesting were not spared either. Security forces in civilian clothes had a central role in the violence. More journalists and photographers were beaten, including Reuters’ cameraman Saed Huwari. Seven protesters were arrested, while dozens more had to be taken to the hospital for the injuries that they sustained. Photos by Dylan Collins can be found at this link.
The spokesperson for the PA security forces Adnan Dameiri was quick to label the protesters as a "foreign group with an outsider’s agenda" and claimed that they were also responsible for the outbreak of violence on Saturday and Sunday, by instigating and inciting the crowd. Various PA mouthpieces also denounced the protesters and viewed them as a contingent bent on creating strife and civil infighting within Palestinian society.
However, the violence inflicted upon the protesters by the police was not lost on other Palestinians. From the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, Palestinians held up posters in support of their brethren in Ramallah, reiterating their right to return to the homeland. On Tuesday, Palestinians from different governates such as Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Yafa, and Haifa converged in Ramallah for a massive demonstration that numbered around one thousand. There was a heavy media presence, and this time the protesters managed to reach the Muqata’a where they chanted for the downfall of the Oslo Accords, among other issues such as the right of return and the Palestinian prisoners. As per usual, plainclothes police infiltrated the protest heavily, as the police themselves were largely absent from the scene.
Protesters walking to the Muqata’a on Tuesday. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.
The organizers of the demonstration were thrilled with the results. "We had Palestinians from all over joining us this time, we marched from the Manara Square to the Muqata’a unhindered, and we made it clear what our demands are," said one protester who preferred to remain anonymous. The demands in addition to ending all negotiations with Israel, escalated to ending security coordination between Israel and the PA, and for the Palestinian leadership to embark on a strategy of resistance against the occupation.
Where does this place the Palestinian Authority? As Na’eem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, astutely commented to The Daily Maverick's Khadija Patel, "The perception is that the PA is an arm of the Israeli Defence Forces. Palestinians are saying the PA does nothing for them – [that] all the PA does is serve the security objectives of Israel."
With growing discontent on the street questioning its limited authority, repressive means, and legitimacy, the PA’s position in power is no longer guaranteed security. Add to that the worst financial crisis it is currently going through, serious questions are rising regarding the role of the PA and in the case of its dissolution, what the alternative would be. It should be mentioned that around 200,000 Palestinians are dependent on the PA for jobs and salaries, which the PA has failed to deliver from time to time. One thing is for sure though: it is far too early to be talking about a "Palestinian spring" unfolding on the streets of Ramallah, which as activists stress over and over again, is not the capital city of Palestine.
Tuesday’s protest in front of the Muqata’a. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.