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Recent West Bank protests not only reflect anger at Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority

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I’m walking through Balata refugee camp on the edge of the West Bank’s northern city of Nablus. Following my guide Ramsis, a resident of the camp and a student at the University I am teaching at, he shows me the place which all of his life he has known as home. Covering the area of one quarter of a square kilometre, the camp contains at least 30,000 residents registered with the UNRWA – and probably thousands more in actual terms. Balata is deeply impoverished and overpopulated, and with 64% of its residents unemployed, most struggle to afford electricity and clean water. Public services are also strained far beyond their capacity; up to 40% suffer from health issues related to the overpopulation of the camp, such as respiratory diseases and mental illness, yet in the camp’s only clinic you will find only two doctors and one dentist. With 400 – 500 patients a day, a doctor can only afford to spend 45 seconds with each patient.

I am lead from the main road of the camp towards Ramsis’ home as the streets turn in to alleyways, which gradually turn in to narrow passages no more than half a meter wide. Side-stepping along these chasms, the metallic clinking of bullet shells around our feet becomes a familiar sound.

“Those are here from the last time they came”, he tells me. I ask him when last time was, he ponders and replies- “3 days ago”.

The camp’s density and intricate maze of backstreets makes it the perfect stronghold for members of the armed resistance, its ghetto-like structures an ideological training ground for martyrs. Historically the camp has been at the centre of resistance to the occupation and throughout both intifadas its young men have poured out in the thousands to rebel against Israeli forces. Earlier this year however, the Palestinian Authority launched a crackdown on criminal activities in the camp and often makes intrusions in order to detain its residents under the pretext of theft, selling drugs, and possessing a gun without a permit.

While the PA sees the stemming of such criminal activities as a necessary step towards a settlement with the Israelis, the sentiment among many camp members is one of betrayal. The authorities were targeting the wrong people, the wrong issues. The reaction to the intensified policing has resulted in numerous demonstrations, some of which are violent. As I was travelling to Ramallah one afternoon our taxi was forced to take a detour around the city when the main road leading south, which passes the entrance to Balata, was closed due to protesters. An overturned car lay engulfed in flames before us as the taxi reversed.

Further harrowing incidents made the call for a more direct response to the occupation even louder. The biggest scar upon the Palestinian psyche this year was no doubt that of the settler arson attack which killed the 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his family in the village of Duma. Furthermore, the lack of an identified killer means that the case remains in need of a sense of justice. The morning that Reham, Ali’s mother, eventually succumbed to her burns like her son and husband before her, the overpowering cries from student protests echoed across campus and halted a lesson I was delivering. When I walked to the classroom window, I found the University’s courtyard streaming with the unmistakable emerald green banners with white Hamas insignia. Turning back towards the centre of the room, I caught the rolling eyes of a few students amongst a wave of sighs. For me this moment epitomised the contemporary political dilemma facing Palestinian governance in the West Bank, which is the increasing disunity in responding to the occupation. A common feature of discussions I had with locals is that all too often one was either reservedly pro-Fatah or a vociferous Hamas supporter – the moderates still adamant of the harm that Hamas’ military approach can bring to the image of the Palestinians internationally, but with the lack of energy to keep defending leaders who are powerless to end the cycles of settler violence that murdered Ali Dawabsheh, his family and countless others.

Failure on the behalf of Fatah factions in Nablus was already fresh in the minds of its citizens after a recent collapse in the strength of its mandate earlier this summer. Upon my arrival in August I found the city centre at a gridlock due to days of protests against the municipality’s new pre-paid meter system of water distribution, designed to clamp down on water theft but which was in effect unevenly distributing water away from the city’s poorest areas such as Balata and in to other neighbourhoods. The mayor, Ghassan Shaka’ah, resigned along with every member of the municipal council, leaving an unelected group of technocrats to fill the void indefinitely – a move unlikely to instil the people of Nablus with any sense of connection to their political leaders.

After events this summer, the idea is spreading amongst certain groups that they are being punished by their own government for resisting the occupation, causing splinters in the legitimacy of the PA as the voice of the people. It is in a climate of political disarray that uncoordinated individual suicide missions become less surprising. Despite the little protective power the PA has exercised in the past, the feeling of having absolutely no guardian moving in to an uncertain future is no doubt part of the helplessness that has motivated recent attacks. In the past month, over 30 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed after taking matters into their own hands, and it’s hard to see when such occurrences will end.

Whose approach to the atrocities of the occupation will improve the lives of Palestinians? During my time in Palestine it became very clear to me that neither has proven to be fruitful. The circumstances are such that the Israel Defense Forces protect settlers who threaten the safety of Palestinian families and land, while the PA are powerless but to police their own population on behalf of the intruders in the fear that more violence will yield even worse measures from Israel. Neither the frustrated citizens of the West Bank nor the Palestinian Authority can be blamed for their concerns, but what is needed is education and recognition of the way that the occupation is working to exploit these divisions in Palestinian society.

About Chris Callicott

Chris Callicott is the pen name for a British citizen who recently taught at An-Najah National University in Nablus, instructing courses on English language skills as well as delivering lectures on Britain's relationship with Palestine. He is currently working in the area of campaigns and activism with a human rights organisation based in Israel and has asked to use this pen name to ensure his anonymity.

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7 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    October 28, 2015, 12:27 pm

    By engaging in the peace process, sorry annexation process for the past 20 years the PA has been the facilitator of the occupation, used cynically by the Israelis as a tool to protect the settlement enterprise. In my opinion as soon as the Oslo accords were signed, not one settlement building or settler should have been allowed into the West Bank. The moment one settler was allowed in, the Oslo agreement should have been declared null and void, that one settler [which is a war crime, Geneva 49.6] gave the Israelis carte blance for the unstoppable influx. Here is an analogy, if a tenant promised you 100 dollars cash per week rent for an apartment. It is possible you may not be too alarmed if the rent was not paid for the first week, however if no rent had been paid for the past 20 years. the question arises, who is the idiot? The PA obviously. The Israelis say they want to negotiate without preconditions, they would of course since they want to gain time to build more settlements. Incredibly Abbas wants to give them more time by insisting the talks last at least one year. I have news for Abbas, Netanyahu will give Abbas all the time he wants, 20/30 years. Without preconditions of course.

  2. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    October 28, 2015, 2:58 pm

    It’s bad enough that Israel won’t bring the Dawabshe killers to justice but worse that the PA won’t hold them accountable. At least the Israelis don’t claim any responsibility to the Palestinians.

    Meanwhile Butcher Bibi gets awards from so-called “progressives.”

  3. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    October 28, 2015, 10:18 pm

    The only ones who benefit in the long run from Palestinian infighting are Zionists and the Zionist project. Israeli governments have long known and exploited differences and factions not only by their overt actions, but by recruiting Palestinian informers through pressure or bribes and by seeding agents provocateurs among Palestinian violent and non-violent groups and demonstrations. Netanyahu has been trying to provoke a third intifada for years to distract attention from Israeli attrocities and provide cover for stepped up ethnic cleansing.

    In American MSM, if it bleeds, it leads and the mic will be given over mostly to Zionist voices that blame the bleeding on Palestinians. But they “don’t do Gandhi well” — which is why the Israeli government tries to undermine, crush, distort and distract from Palestinian non-violent resistance, including BDS.

  4. HarryLaw
    October 29, 2015, 7:45 am

    Being in league with the Sunni dictators Saudi Arabia and El Sisi [Mubarak before him] Abbas has no real friends, the US has cut several million dollars aid to the Palestinians. One Saudi Prince spends more than that in one night of drunken debauchery. The Palestinians real friends should be the ‘Arc of resistance’ Iran,Syria,Iraq and Hezbollah backed by Russia who just happen to be opposed to the US/Saudi support for Saudi hegemony and terrorists in the region. Surely 50 years of US/Israeli duplicity should have convinced Abbas that they do not have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart. Unfortunately Abbas has thrown in his lot with the US/Israel scheme of things. The fool.

  5. HarryLaw
    October 29, 2015, 9:10 am

    Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal said ” I will side with the Jewish nation and its democratic aspirations in case of outbreak of a Palestinian Intifada( uprising) and I shall exert all my influence to break any ominous Arab initiatives set to condemn Tel Aviv , because I deem the Arab-Israeli entente and future friendship necessary to impede the Iranian dangerous encroachment,” The Saudi dictators are sectarian Wahhabi bigots who will kill any number of Arabs in order to stay in power, there will never be peace in the middle east until these barbarous medieval butchers are overthrown.

  6. peeesss
    October 30, 2015, 1:06 am

    Confronting the Obvious Truth: Palestinian Authority vs. the People

    By Ramzy Baroud

    October 30, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – Saeb Erekat is an enigmatic character. Despite minimal popularity among Palestinians, he is omnipresent, appears regularly on television and speaks with the moral authority of an accomplished leader whose legacy is rife with accolades and an astute, unwavering vision.
    When Palestinians were polled by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC) in August, just prior to the current Intifada, only 3 percent approved of his leadership – compared with the still meagre approval rating of 16 percent of his boss, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. Even those who are often cast as alternative leaders – Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, and former Gaza-based Hamas Government Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh – were nowhere near popular, achieving 10.5 and 9.8 percent of the vote respectively.

    It was as if Palestinians were telling us and their traditional leaderships, in particular, that they are fed up with the old rhetoric, the constant let-downs, the unabashed corruption and the very culture of defeat that has permeated the Palestinian political elite for an entire generation.

    Abbas has operated his political office on the assumption that, so long as Palestinians received their monthly salaries and are content with his empty promises and occasional threats – of resigning, resisting against Israel, lobbing bombshell speeches at the UN, etc. – then no one is likely to challenge his reign in Areas A and B – tiny cantons within the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

    Erekat has been the primary enabler of that PA charade, for he is the ‘chief negotiator’, whose protracted term in that precarious post has negotiated nothing of value for the Palestinians.

    In 2002, I followed the Israeli invasion of the supposedly self-autonomous PA areas in the West Bank, when Erekat made an appeal on Al-Jazeera Arabic television to the Israeli Government to exercise sanity and common sense. The entire display of the PA leadership was beyond tragic, proof that it had no real authority of its own and no control over the events on the ground as Palestinian fighters battled the re-invading Israeli army. He appealed to Israel as if he felt genuinely betrayed by its military onslaught.

    When Al Jazeera released thousands of secret documents in January 2011, revealing discussions behind closed doors between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Erekat held the lion’s share of blame. With a clear mandate from his superiors, he appeared uninterested in many Palestinian political aspirations, including Palestinian sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem – the spark behind the current and previous Intifadas. He offered Israel the “biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state… what more can I give?” he was quoted in the Palestine Papers.

    What is particularly interesting about Erekat, and equally applicable to most PA leaders and officials, is that, no matter how devastating their roles – which they continue to play out, whether through political incompetence or outright corruption – they do not seem to go away. They may change position, hover around the same circle of failed leadership, but they tend to resurface and repeatedly regurgitate the same old language, clichés, empty threats and promises.

    After retreating for a few weeks as Intifada youth took to the streets to protest the Israeli occupation, PA spokespersons, including Erekat, are now back on the scene, speaking of squandered opportunities for peace, two states and the entire inept discourse, as if peace was ever, indeed, at hand, and if the so-called ‘two state solution’ was ever a solution.

    In a recent interview with Al-Jazeera’s ‘UpFront’, Erekat warned that the PA was on the verge of shutting down, as if the very existence of the PA was a virtue in itself. Established in 1994 as a transitional political body that would guide the process of Palestinian independence, the PA morphed to become a security arm that served as a first line of defense for the Israeli army, in addition to guarding its own interests. Billions of dollars later, and after intensive military training provided by the US, the UK, Italy, and other western and ‘moderate’ Arab countries, the PA security forces have done a splendid job of cracking down on any dissent among Palestinians.

    So why is Erekat warning of the PA collapse as if the sorry leadership in Ramallah is the center of everything that Palestinians have ever aspired for? “Soon enough Netanyahu will find himself the only [one] responsible between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean because he is destroying the Palestinian Authority,” Erekat said. So what? According to the Geneva Conventions which designate Israel as the Occupying Power, Netanyahu is, indeed, responsible for the welfare, security and well-being of the occupied Palestinians, until a just political solution is assured and enforced by the international community.

    Using the same tactic which, along with Abbas and other PA officials, was utilized repeatedly in the past, he vowed that “soon, very soon, you’re going to hear some decisions” about disbanding the PA.

    It matters little what Erekat and his Ramallah circle determine as the proper course of action. Not only has his language become obsolete and his references irrelevant, but the entire Oslo ‘peace process’ travesty – which delivered nothing but more illegal settlements and military torment – was dead a long time ago. In fact, it was the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 that killed Oslo and the ten years between the end of that uprising and the advent of a new one were filled with mere haggling and desperate attempts at breathing life into a ‘process’ that made some corrupt Palestinians a whole lot richer.

    The hope is that the current Intifada will cleanse the residue of that dead process, and surpass the PA altogether, not through acts of violence and vengeance, but rather through the establishment of a new leadership manned by good women and men who are born in the heart of Palestinian Resistance, in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. The new leadership cannot be imposed from above, or achieved after deliberation with ‘moderate’ Arabs, but selected through an organic, grassroots process that is blind to factional allegiances, religion, gender and family lineage.

    Palestinian Intifadas do not liberate land but liberate people who assume their role in the struggle for national liberation. The 1936 Intifada liberated the fellahin peasants from the confines of the dominant clans and their allegiances to Arab regimes so that they could face up to the British and the Zionists; the 1987 Stone Intifada liberated the people from the grip of Tunisia-based factions, thus the establishment of the Unified National Leadership of the Intifada along with Hamas; the 2000 Intifada was a thwarted attempt at escaping the sins of Oslo and its empowered elite. For the current Intifada to achieve a degree of initial success, it must find a way to entirely dismiss those who took it upon themselves to negotiate Palestinian rights and to enrich themselves at the expense of the impoverished and oppressed Palestinian people.

    If the Intifada is to be true to itself, it must seek to break not just the hegemony over the Palestinian political discourse which is unfairly championed by Erekat and his peers, but to break political boundaries as well, uniting all Palestinians around a whole new political agenda.

    There are many opportunists who are ready to pounce upon the current mobilization in Palestine, to use the people’s sacrifices as they see fit and, ultimately, return to the status quo as if no blood has been shed and no oppression still in place.

    After reiterating his support for the two-state solution which is now but a fading mirage, Erekat told Al-Jazeera, “We are fully supporting our people and their cry for freedom.”

    I think not, Mr. Erekat. Twenty years is long enough to show that those who have taken part in their people’s oppression, cannot possibly be the advocates of their people’s freedom.
    Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a US-Arab journalist, media consultant, an author, internationally-syndicated columnist, Editor of Palestine Chronicle (1999-present), former Managing Editor of London-based Middle East Eye (2014-15), former Editor-in-Chief of The Brunei Times, former Deputy Managing Editor of Al Jazeera online. He taught mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. Baroud also served as head of English’s Research and Studies department.

    Click for Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish, French, translation- Note- Translation may take a moment to load.

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