On Tuesday Palestinian youth in Ramallah marched to the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) demonstrating against the more than one hundred political arrests that have taken place over the past month. The group of nearly 70 activists made their way from the city center to the al-Mukataa, the PA compound, and their chants focused on Oslo-era policies, which are viewed as the starting point for an aid-dependent economy and a harsh tightening of the occupation.
“The people want the downfall of Oslo,” yelled one young woman into the bullhorn that was passed amongst protesters—all of whom appeared under 30. Because of their ages when the demonstrators were children they lived in a Palestine that was not isolated and walled-in by the Israeli military. Their early memories do not include Qalandia, a mammoth checkpoint and the gateway between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, said one protester. Rather, they know what freedom of movement felt like and want it back.
Oslo did not only signify an agreement from the Palestinian leadership to grant Israeli authorities security control over parts of the West Bank. The peace agreement marks the founding of the lightly armed PA police force.
At yesterday’s protest, around 30 PA officers tried to block demonstrators from reaching the sidewalk in front of the government headquarters. Sprinting in front of protesters in groups of 20, they formed police lines that were easily broken by the swiftly paced youth. In turn, the youth then dashed ahead of the police, spinning the march into a run.
Paradoxically both protesters and police mobilized with images representing the Palestinian cause. While demonstrators carried the Palestinian flag on poles or tied around their back like a cape, one PA policeman fastened his AK-47 with a Palestinian flag motif sweatband. The police and protesters now find themselves at a point of tension. While they both desire to rid their city of military occupation the protesters are bringing to the forefront usually unspoken sentiments that some Palestinians see the PA “tyrannical authorities.”
Up to 130 of the protesters’ comrades have been arrested with dozens of their members also beaten by PA police at a previous demonstration. Protesters and police have interacted so much over the past year they even recognize each other. (See Linah Alsaafin’s first hand account in the Electronic Intifada).
From a press release on October 2, 2012 by Palestinians for Dignity:
Our demonstartion today comes as a result of the wide campaign of arrests carried out by the Palestinian Security Forces (the Intelligence Services, the Preventive Security, and the Military Intelligence), which began on the evening of Wednesday, September 19, 2012, and continues to this day. According to statements released by a number of Palestinian human rights organizations (Addameer, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, Al-Haq), the number of political arrests has topped 130. While some of those arrested have been released, more arrests have occured over the passed days, with the final number of those in detention still unknown. Some of those arrested have entered an open-ended hunger strike.
Although political arrests is a phenomenon that accompanied the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, over the rescent years it grew at a rapid pace. Under the pretext of division between Hamas and Fateh, the most basic human rights have been violated, namely the freedom to express one’s opinion and to engage in peaceful opposition to the governing regime.
All tyrannical authorities believe that when dissidents, activists, or even ordinary people are arrested, that causes the rest of the population to fear criticizing it, and therefore by just arresting 100 it will have effectively imprisoned the entire population with fear. In this way it will facilitate its control over the country. For this reason, the political detainee is often exposed to torture in prison. This has included shabah (hands bound behind back and legs tied), beatings, and prolonged sleep deprivation, according to human rights organizations. [sic]
By targeting institutions that provide capital for the Israeli exploitation of resources in the West Bank, Palestinians for Dignity have differentiated themselves from other protest groups on the ground. They see the conquest of their land as a process that is not only driven by ideology, but is big profit for both Israeli and European corporations. They are looking for new political solutions that are outside of the negotiations framework that have allowed settlement construction and occupation security to expand into enterprises.
During the past year Palestinians for Dignity shut down a United Nations building and in late July the group forced closed a European Union (EU) office after the EU expanded a trade agreements with Israel that would increase settlement imports to the European market. “As Palestinian youth, we are tired of the EU’s hypocrisy and its contemptuous policies that use aid and development programs to mask political cowardice and complicity in Israel’s crimes; it has to be made clear that all the financial support going to the PA is futile when the EU offers unconditional political, trade, academic and other forms of support for Israel,” said Palestinians for Dignity.
Dylan Collins is a freelance photographer. His website is Dylan Collins Photography.