West Bank despair over Gaza assault

West Bank Palestinians say they feel powerless in the face of Israel's offensive.


    Palestinians in the West Bank burn an Israeli flag [AFP]

    "It is so much more than disappointment," explains Abir, a Gazan now living in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

    "In my worst nightmares I never imagined that Gaza would literally be slaughtered and the West Bank would be quiet."

    While protests against the Israeli assaults on Gaza have surged across the world in the past week, Ramallah - the demonstration capital of the West Bank - has been relatively quiet.

    At one point, a protest in Tel Aviv drew 10,000 people while a demonstration in Ramallah the day before drew a fraction of that number.  

    It is not that residents of Ramallah are indifferent to the bombardment in Gaza. "All the people, all day, are watching what is happening in Gaza and thinking about it and asking why," says Manal Mustafa, a 26-year-old from Ramallah.

    "In our homes, we are watching 24-hour TV."


    Some West Bank Palestinians say they feel ineffectual and that their protests are pointless.


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    "We can do nothing," says 23-year-old Hiba. "We just sit in our houses and pray." 

    Her friend, 17-year-old Mirna, agrees. "Our voices don't count," she says.

    "We can scream and scream about it and no-one will listen to us."

    Others say that it is Palestinian Authority policing of demonstrations that has put people off publically showing solidarity with Gaza.

    "We think that the PA is trying to keep control of everything," says one 18-year-old member of a Fatah youth organisation.

    "They worry that if we demonstrate in support for Gaza, we will attack the PA and they are afraid of that."

    Two men from Jenin agree. "It's clear that the PA wants to keep everything calm and prevents people from demonstrating," says one.

    "I am so ashamed and angry that we cannot show our solidarity with Gaza. It doesn't mean that we support Hamas - but in the end we are all the same nation, and what happens to them also happens to us."

    Palestinian Authority control

    Participants in a demonstration in Ramallah's Manara square last Friday say that a group of Hamas flag-wavers were swiftly corralled and arrested by PA police, some in plain-clothing.

    Others angrily point out that all attempts to demonstrate at Israeli checkpoints have been curtailed by PA forces, while yesterday a student protest at Bir Zeit university resulted in several injuries after stringent policing.

    A spokesman for the PA's interior ministry says that the aim is not to dissuade protest. "There have been a lot of demonstrations in all the cities of the West Bank," he says.

    "Nothing has prevented any of the demonstrators from expressing themselves clearly against Israeli aggression and the massacres perpetrated in Gaza."

    The PA wants to show Palestinian unity, he adds, which is why both Fatah and Hamas flags have been discouraged. 

    The authorities are anxious to avert confrontation with Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

    "We are not at peace with the Israelis - we are still under occupation," he says.

    "But we don't want to open another front in the West Bank against the Israelis. This is not our purpose and not our policy."

    Cyber war

    But if Palestinians are not demonstrating in their thousands, they are showing support and solidarity with Gaza in other ways - using new technology to arrange actions and initiatives. 

    Widely circulated emails provide Gaza area phone codes and encourage West Bank Palestinians to randomly phone numbers to contact and support Gazans.

    The phone number that the Israeli army text-messaged to Gazans asking for information about Hamas is sent to West Bank mobiles, with the request to jam the line with threats and hoax calls.

    Email boxes are crammed with requests from West Bank aid organisations that are desperately trying to get medical and food supplies into Gaza.

    Supporting resistance

    Some Palestinians in Ramallah are angry with Hamas.

    "They are responsible for what is happening in Gaza, they didn't renew the ceasefire with Israel," says 44-year-old Abel Aziz from a village near Ramallah. 

    But some of those who did not back Hamas before the Israeli attacks on Gaza are now behind them.

    "We support anyone who is a member of the resistance," says one man.

    "We didn't support Hamas before, but now we have to - it is our obligation."

    Another man, 50-year-old Abu Thayer, puts it another way. "I am against killing in principle, of Palestinians or of Jews," he says.

    "Now we are watching Palestinian kids being killed on the television and it hurts," he says.

    "I support my people - and Hamas is part of my people."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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