I still haven’t learned how to stay away from a Ramallah protest, despite the detrimental irritating feeling disappointment that never fails to swell inside of me every time I attend one.
Ramadan started, and Bashar Al-Assad showed no sign of mercy as his murdering of Syrians did not let up. Combined with the two previous days, the numbers rose to over one hundred. A protest was needed here in Ramallah, if only to express our anger and horror at the Syrian dictator and solidarity with those suffering under the brutal killing machine regime.
As an oppressed people, we shouldn’t ignore the oppression of others. Other people seem to contend this point, believing that we as Palestinians already have a lot on our plate and don’t need to be involved in whatever shape or form in the affairs of other countries. That sounds exactly like the Palestinian Authority rhetoric, especially highlighted during Egypt’s January 25th revolution. In the most unlikely of all places given the humanitarian crisis gripping it, Gaza has dispelled this view as it actively involved in a campaign to raise money and aid for the starving refugees of Somalia.
Protests in Ramallah follow a certain agenda. They only happen with the full blessing of the PA, which inevitably means that the protests will get hijacked by Fateh thugs, the loudspeakers usurped with Fateh factional songs, and the yellow flags and memorabilia of Fateh will be waved in the air with furious gusto. Sometimes, it’s not that conspicuous. The protest, independently organized, will continue but if there are less than favorable chanting going on (read: calls for resistance) the police—plainclothes or otherwise—will move in to break it up. For the record, the plainclothes police aren’t the brightest light bulbs out there. You can always tell who they are because they stand at the peripheral edges of the crowd, and stare at you in a frank and unsettling manner.
A Facebook page materialized, announcing the Syrian solidarity march to be on Sunday the 14th. It was organized by something called the National Committee in Solidarity with the Arab Revolts, something I’ve never heard of. Searches proved to be fruitless, so I couldn’t tell whether this was independent from the PA or not. Nevertheless, I took my sister and we walked after iftar, deliberately ignoring all the other previous wasted protests we attended.
As we headed toward the Manara Square, Ramallah’s obtrusive schizophrenia tugged at all of my senses. Families, mostly women, were walking in a bid to healthily digest the iftar feast they must have consumed so readily. Young men were walking in couples, making me skirt their outstretched hands lest they “accidentally” brush against mine. Yellow-licensed (Israeli) cars revved their big engines, while the white-licensed cars (Palestinian) blasted their English and Arabic pop music in an attempt to drown out the engines. Lights were strewn all over stores, and a vendor seller shoved three plastic hairbrushes in our faces, before moving on to his next target. Weaving between the cars and the people on the disregarded sidewalks were men selling Barcelona/Real Madrid flags, keeping up a running commentary of only two words: “Barsha, Real, Barsha, Real, Barsha, Real.” It was the first leg of the Supercopa big between the two teams.
The Syrian solidarity protest was moving away from the square and down Rukab Street. I learned a long time ago not to spare a thought for how many were attending, since it was always going to be disappointing. The protesters were mainly from the villages. The ones leading the chants were from Nabi Saleh. We probably numbered around three hundred, a painfully low figure. My sister and I threaded our way to the middle of the chanting group and joined in. Chants against Bashar al-Assad and his cowardice, and his need to fix his lisp grew stronger. Only Palestinian and Syrian flags were waved. During that hour and a half, no one tried to take over the protest with their own factional party nonsense. I was aware of the other people, those who stood on the pavement and watched us pass, like we were a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on show. Did it occur to them to join in, to protest the killings of thousands of innocent lives? Or were we part of an unscheduled Ramadan festivity?
Protests are all about catharsis. Unless they generate a huge amount of people, it is naïve to think that demonstrating will actually influence the decision making of those in authority. We were helpless, watching the Syrians getting murdered on the streets, wishing we could aid them in any way. For me at least, protesting does not in any way make me feel like I had accomplished something, nor does it content me. It loosens the tightened knot in my heart a bit, mostly at the relief that officially Ramallah is in solidarity with Syria and that the protest was allowed to happen without any hindrances, but in no way is my state of mind placated.
Thursday came around and brought with it news of a three-pronged attack on Eilat, where the casualties were mostly IDF soldiers. Despite having no factual evidence that the assailants came from Gaza, and despite Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committee denying any involvement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack announced that the source of this terror attack came from Gaza and that they would retaliate accordingly. How can a retaliation be carried out if the source of the original provocation is not yet specified? That didn’t stop Israel from killing five Palestinians in Rafah, among them a two year old boy. As the attacks started to intensify after midnight, I stayed up, checking on my family there from time to time. North Gaza and Rafah in the south were bombarded, as well as Ansar compound and a training ground for resistance fighters in the area of Khuza’a in Khan Younis. There was no chance for my family going to sleep, and the children were once again huddled in one room next to each other, the older ones muttering prayers mixed with curses. By the end of the night, the total number of thos killed were seven, two of them children. How ironic that Israel did not foresee the attack on Eilat, but immediately had confidential precise information where the assailants had come from. How ironic indeed, and what a way to end the laughable apolitical social justice revolution in Israel.
A protest in solidarity with Gaza was quickly organized on Friday. I hoped that the people planning to attend weren’t coming just because of the seven martyrs killed on Thursday. Our memories must extend further than that. On Wednesday a seventeen year old boy was executed, his chest and riddle riddled with bullet holes. His name was Sa’d Al-Majdalawi. This year alone, one hundred and forty three martyrs have been killed by Israel. I was glad something was being done, because it’s been something of a norm for Ramallah, being the bubble it is, to ignore any news that has to do with Gaza. We don’t need another hundred people to be dead until we start thinking about calling for a protest.
The last time a protest for Gaza was held in Ramallah was in January 2009, during Israel’s savage and ruthless invasion of the Strip. On that Friday, I lay in my bed curled up in a ball, wide awake in a state of numbing fear for my family in Gaza. My mother and older brother went. They came back a few hours later, stunned and ashen-faced, reeking of tear gas, and beaten up. The PA has bussed in brainwashed fools from the northern West Bank in addition to its own security forces to deliberately instigate and then attack the crowds who had gathered for Gaza. They held up framed pictures of Mahmoud Abbas and Hosni Mubarak, highlighting the collusion between the two figureheads in contributing to the siege on Gaza, and sang Fateh songs before descending down on the women, men, and young children where they proceeded to assault them viciously.
At the Manara, around fifty people had shown up. In the middle, a group of people were singing nationalistic songs like they were performing onstage. Chanting started sporadically, but people were more eager to sing. Meanwhile, my friend received a text that two more were killed in the Bureij camp. In Ramallah the singing continued. I was recoiling on the inside. It was completely disrespectful. I looked behind me and desperately wanted to laugh at the identical postures of my mother and sister, with their arms crossed and deep scowls etched into their faces. That this protest was organized on such a short notice is no excuse (another protest is set for this Sunday the 22nd). The names of the martyrs should have been up somewhere. A silent candlelit vigil would have been more deferential to the memories of the seven killed in Gaza, not this cringe-worthy festive atmosphere. The men in the middle were now jumping up and down, still singing. As the song died out, one of them yelled, “We want a state in September!” The senseless sheep around him repeated what he said. My friend, sister and I all responded at the same time more than once, “We do NOT want a state in September!” The sheep didn’t know who to repeat after. I was close to throwing up my innards. One of the singing men grabbed the flag from my hand which was handed to me by someone and said, “Ok, we’re done now.”
The sheep dispersed, and my mother shrilly said that it was shameful for us to even say we were at a solidarity protest for Gaza. She and my sister decided to meet my aunt somewhere, so I walked home alone, my feet pounding the pavement, seething the whole time.