Beware the Ides of March
K.S. - 13/03/2011
I’m at a meeting with a Palestinian rapper, an English student and a human rights activist in their twenties. I asked to meet them so that I could record their voices as they speak about Tuesday 15 March, the day they will be protesting in Gaza with other Palestinians in the West Bank, calling on Fatah and Hamas to end the crippling division. The issue is sensitive – a similar call for demonstrations a month ago was disrupted before it even started, and Hamas have been harassing the 15 March organisers over the last weeks. But after a long pre-emptive introduction telling them they didn’t have to use their real names if they feared retribution from the Gaza government, Musheera Jamaal, the 26-year-old activist, asks me to set up the video camera.
“I want to be filmed,” she said resolutely.
Her friend Noor Harizeen, 21, took the cue. “Me too. Use our names and faces.”
Bassam, the 24-year-old member of the popular hip-hop band Darg Team, is immediately thinking of what he wants to tell the world, also in his name.
Only a month ago, Palestinians were but whispering in secret about the planned demonstration, with nobody giving a straight answer whether they were participating or not. Mubarak was still clinging on to power, Libya had not yet started its revolution, and the protests here in Gaza were doomed as anti-Hamas demonstrations the moment a Fatah spokesman in Ramallah urged the youth living under blockade to get rid of the Islamist movement. On the day Mubarak was forced out by the neighbouring Egyptians, the Palestinian revolution remained confined to Facebook.
This Tuesday it is bound to be different. Over the last days, more and more young people referred openly to the planned demonstrations. Many more have committed themselves to organising the event and bring their own friends, breaking out of the polarising Fatah-Hamas divide that conditions everything in Palestinian politics.
“Palestinians are dying to do something, to get out on the streets, get something going,” a young doctor who spent seven years studying in the Ukraine told me early last week. “We’ve seen the Egyptians and the Tunisians doing the unthinkable, the Libyans are now following, and we have to do something that gets us out of our mould.”
As they witness the entire Arab world ablaze with the revolutionary fervour that is radically changing the region, the sense of envy at being stolen the limelight must be hitting every self-respecting Palestinian, whose nation has been living under 62 years of occupation and ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians are the most fearless Arabs. Democracy is within them – they speak their mind openly and they talk politics just like they eat their daily bread. For six decades, Israel has occupied their land but not their minds. It must have something to do with the fact that neither Fatah nor Hamas could ever be the kind of regimes we are witnessing falling one after the other right now. And also because occupation and repression, everywhere and inevitably, always fuel resistance.
Palestinians know well enough that Israel is the regime that is oppressing them. The divide, as crippling as the blockade of Gaza itself, is the outcome of decades of occupation and segregation of Gaza which precedes the official blockade declared four years ago by almost 20 years. When Palestinians turned up on themselves in the 2007 civil war, killing each other in the streets of Gaza, Israel’s racist, divide and rule policies against Palestinians were bearing its rotten fruit.
Now, inspired by their Arab brothers around them, networking and organising themselves from Facebook and Twitter to secretive to public meetings, Palestinian youth want to call for an end to the divisions and force Hamas and Fatah to stop paying lip service. The two movements say they want unity but have spent the last four years doing anything in their power to make unity impossible.
“We’re coming down (into the streets) to end the division,” says one of the stickers printed by the 15 March organisers. “Palestine is bigger than all of us”
Last Monday, around 100 students at Al Azhar University in Gaza City gathered for a conference on unity ended up taking to the streets, in the city’s main roads, calling for an end to the division. Impressively, the spontaneous demonstration was allowed to go on by Hamas, with no serious arrests reported later.
International community must support unity
Ending the division would expose the double standards of the American and European governments fomenting it in the first place by insisting on boycotting Hamas, persisting with branding it as a terrorist organisation after welcoming it to contest the elections. In the meantime, the US and EU have no qualms arming and funding the Palestinian Authority with security forces subservient to the occupation and used to arrest, harass and torture Palestinian dissidents. The politicisation of humanitarian aid channelled into Palestine is as immoral as supporting the blood-thirsty tyrants being overthrown in the region.
In the last week, the Palestinian prime minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad – who contested elections as an independent – called on Hamas to join his cabinet in a unity government. Hamas refused, and Fatah were not amused with Fayyad’s call, urging President Mahmoud Abbas to remove him from prime minister and install one of them instead.
The first signals from US and European diplomats are already that they would boycott a unity government once again. That is why it is only the Palestinian people – independently of the parties and factions – who can force change in their country in the same way the Egyptians and Tunisians are pushing through with their demands.
Hamas is an essential piece of the Palestinian political and social landscape. Irrespective of whether the Islamist movement is treated as a terrorist organisation or not, it is here to stay. The last four years of blockade and marginalisation have consolidated its grasp of the Gaza Strip, running all the institutions that matter like every administration does, only much less accountably given the international boycott.
Ending the division is essential for Palestinians’ road to freedom. It would another slap in the face to the international community’s hypocrisy and double standards. As Gaddafi awaits his international criminal court trial – if he gets out of Libya alive – Benyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and the names of countless generals would also, one day, have to be engraved on the files of the war crimes tribunal.
If there ever was a time to launch the third Intifada, this would be it.
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This Tuesday 15 March, Palestinian youth in Gaza and the West Bank will be calling for unity, waving only the Palestinian national flag