Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah city Sunday night, demanding that the Palestinian Authority (PA) end its sanctions on the besieged Gaza Strip that have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the small Palestinian enclave.
At least 1,500 protesters marched downtown starting at the central Manara Square at 9:30 p.m., a time when the streets are bustling with people shopping, eating, or enjoying ice cream after breaking their fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.
The protest, led by an independent youth movement, was the largest show of support for Gaza in the occupied West Bank since the Great March of Return was launched in the besieged territory on March 30.
The crowd consisted of mostly young Palestinians, but older protesters and children also joined the demonstration. Palestinians traveled from across the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Haifa, among other places, to attend the protest.
While the protest was focused on demands that the PA end its punitive policies in Gaza, the chants heard during the march were indicative of a broader discontent with the Palestinian leadership.
The crowd chanted, “With our souls and blood, we will save you Gaza” and “Shame on you, you sold Gaza in dollars.”
Other chants referred to the PA as “the authority of shame,” called for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to step down, and denounced international negotiations. Some also called for an armed uprising against Israel.
The Fatah-led PA, controlling parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, have been embroiled in conflict since Hamas’ victory in the 2006 parliamentary elections in the occupied Palestinian territory. A bloody rivalry ensued between the two groups, resulting in Hamas wresting control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Israel implemented a land, sea and air blockade on the Gaza Strip, and launched three army operations in the enclave, killing thousands of Palestinians and further degrading basic life in the territory.
More than a decade later, the siege has continued to devastate the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, with almost half the population suffering from food insecurity and 80 percent of the population reliant on humanitarian aid. Since last year, in an attempt to force Hamas to relinquish its control over the territory, Abbas introduced a package of sanctions on the besieged enclave.
The PA halted its payments to Israel that supplied the Gaza Strip with electricity and fuel, leaving Palestinians in Gaza with only a few hours of electricity a day.
Abbas also implemented drastic salary cuts to PA employees in Gaza, suspended social services to hundreds of families, forced thousands of its civil servants into early retirement, and reduced the import of medicines to Gaza.
“Gaza is not on the brink of disaster. Gaza is a man-made disaster, right now. People are suffering. Many cannot find food,” Fadi Quran, a local activist, told Mondoweiss. “What we [Palestinians] would like to see is a united Palestinian front struggling for freedom.”
But, instead, he said, “what we’re seeing is Mahmoud Abbas using the strength of the PA to further suffocate the people in Gaza to achieve political goals. We want this to end.”
Since the start of the Great March of Return, which has seen at least 131 unarmed protesters shot dead by Israeli forces and more than 13,000 wounded, Gaza’s health system has been pushed to the brink of collapse, as hospital staff struggle to handle an influx of serious and life-threatening injuries.
The large-scale protests in Gaza, consisting of tens of thousands of demonstrators each Friday, have been centered on demanding the right of Palestinians to return to lands they were expelled from during Israel’s creation in 1948.
The demonstrator on Sunday in Ramallah targeting the PA “does not mean we don’t see the occupation,” 25-year-old protester Rita Abu Ghosh told Mondoweiss. “However, the PA is assisting Israel’s policies in Gaza.”
“The PA not only contributes to the siege, but reinforces all of Israel’s policies aimed at dividing the Palestinian population.”
“The youth involved in this movement are coming from a place of unity, which doesn’t see any borders — whether it be in the West Bank, Gaza, 1948, or the diaspora,” she added.
Similar sentiments were expressed to Mondoweiss by Palestinian activists in Haifa, who have led several major protests in the city in support of Gaza, prompting organizers in Gaza to dedicate their Friday protest on June 1 to the movement in Haifa.
‘Something is moving in the West Bank’
While protests in the occupied West Bank in support of Gaza have been small to non-existent, the protest on Sunday marked a clear shift for the participants.
For 35-year-old activist Hafez Omar, the protest was a relief. “We are the people, and we have strong feelings towards these issues. But we don’t find any activities to raise our voices and show we care.”
Omar was pained by images of Israel’s killings in Gaza, while life continued on as usual in Ramallah city.
“You feel alone all the time, and that the [Palestinian] cause is declining and no one is caring. At the same time, you are seeing people shopping and living what they think is a normal life,” he said.
But “this protest is showing that something is moving in the West Bank. We are not dead. We are not forgetting the cause. We are not standing and just looking at Gaza like anyone else in the world.”
“The most important thing is for people in Gaza to feel like they are not alone,” Omar added. “We only have our voices, and we are giving our voices to Gaza. This is a good start.”
Ward Daoud, 20, travelled with a group from Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem to Ramallah to attend the protest. He told Mondoweiss that it was important to attend the protest because “we are the same nation and we face the same persecution by the [Israeli] occupation.”
“We will never agree with the PA, which is assisting the occupation in oppressing people in Gaza for their own political interests,” he said.
‘We are fed up with the PA’
According to Quran, the protest falls in line with “broader feelings that the PA is not serving the cause of Palestinian freedom” and an increasing lack of trust in the Palestinian leadership.
“It makes me feel so angry that the PA is doing this to our own people,” 20-year-old Yasmine, who did not want to provide her last name, told Mondoweiss during the protest. “This shouldn’t be happening. We are supposed to be one people with one enemy [the Israeli occupation].”
“The PA is trying to split us in two. It’s collaborating with the occupation and handing over young activists to the Israelis. They are not even protecting us here, that’s the least they can do. And they are not even doing that,” she said.
The PA has long been criticized for their security coordination with Israel, which has suppressed resistance against the Israeli occupation and has left scores of young activists in prison.
The father and brothers of slain Palestinian activist Basil Araj, who was shot dead by Israeli forces during a gun battle in Ramallah following his release from PA prison last year, attended the protest. Araj was hailed as a “martyr of the PA’s security coordination with Israel,” and has remained a painful symbol for the PA’s suppression of local activism.
The protesters also condemned the PA’s international peace negotiations, as many young Palestinians have completely lost faith in the process.
“The political process is dead,” Omar said. “They are lying to the people by saying they are going to the UN or the international courts, but they are doing nothing.”
“They are corrupt and complicit in Israel’s policies,” he said.
“Everyone is fed up with the PA,” Omar told Mondoweiss. “They are harder to deal with, because you can’t deal with them as the enemy, because they are still Palestinian.”
“I have so many cousins in the PA, but it’s hard to imagine them as an enemy, even though they are so complicit with the enemy [the Israeli occupation] and they are serving the enemy,” he continued.
During the protest, several Abbas supporters started verbal and physical scuffles with the demonstrators, while by the end of the protest large banners were hung from buildings in the main square, one of which read: “The Hamas coup is the reason for all the difficulties.”
However, Omar told Mondoweiss that the protest “has moved people.”
“This is the first step. But the protest won’t be worth it if we don’t continue and develop a clear program.”
According to Abu Ghosh, the protests “will keep escalating until all our demands are met,” as more demonstrations are already being planned, including a protest on Tuesday outside the PLO headquarters in Ramallah.
“It’s not like we are just giving this statement and going home. Nothing has changed yet in Gaza,” Omar said. Following the protest, “everyone is asking ‘what’s next?’ and this is good and we need to continue with the momentum and keep pressuring the leadership.”