Why is the Palestinian Authority attacking Palestinian protests?
The Palestinian Authority is struggling with its loss of legitimacy as it clamps down on anti-Gaza-sanctions protests.
On Wednesday night in Ramallah, people mobilised once again around a new campaign calling for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to lift the sanctions it imposed on Gaza.
The sanctions include slashing the salaries of government employees by over 30 percent and the forced early retirement of nearly a third of PA employees in Gaza. Drastic moves at any time, these sanctions are made even more brutal in the context of the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza, which has aggravated unemployment and poverty.
The protesters view the sanctions as a tool in the siege of Gaza and a mechanism of collective punishment. They also reject political polarisation and the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.
Wednesday’s demonstration came on the back of a similar demonstration that took place in Ramallah on Sunday and was attended by nearly two thousand people. There was very little violence in Sunday’s demonstration, but what happened on Wednesday night was another story.
On Tuesday, one day before the planned demonstration, the PA announced a ban on all forms of protests until the end of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan. This allowed the PA to brand the planned demonstration “illegal” and organise its forces to shut it down.
Prior to the protest, the streets of Ramallah were filled with police. Officers were placed in strategic locations in an obvious effort to intimidate activists.
Soon after the protesters started to gather, armed with nothing but posters that read “Gaza unites us”, security forces started to fire tear gas and throw stun grenades. Heavily armed police officers in riot gear also wielded batons and used tasers against unarmed protesters. By the end of the night, over 40 protesters had been arrested. Detained protesters suffered beatings in police vehicles and police stations. Most detainees were released promptly, but they sustained injuries.
The worst violence came not from the police, but the paid thugs loyal to the Fatah party, known colloquially as “baltajiyeh”, who showed up to beat and intimidate protesters. Identifiable by the white caps they wore, these men were incredibly violent towards protesters and sexually harassed and assaulted several women in the crowd.
The intimidation of activists in Palestine, particularly those critical of the PA, is not new. Many similar protests have been suppressed in the past, what happened on Wednesday night shouldn’t surprise anyone. The leadership that attacked peaceful protesters this week has been stifling political opposition for years. It also failed to hold democratic elections for over a decade.
Yet despite all its authoritarianism and aggression towards its own people, the PA still has the support of the international community and its security forces are celebrated for their efficiency. In 2006, the PA security forces were reformed and retrained in an initiative led by the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) and the European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS). They have since been praised by various Israeli politicians for their cooperation and assistance in preventing so-called “terrorist activities”.
After last Sunday’s protest, the PA claimed the ongoing campaign in Ramallah against Gaza sanctions was organised directly by Hamas. However, this clearly is not the case. The campaign against Gaza sanctions is a non-partisan grassroots movement. Palestinians from all backgrounds and political affiliations gathered in Ramallah on Wednesday to protest.
The main goal of the campaign is to lift the sanctions that are exacerbating the suffering caused by the Israeli siege. But it is also attempting to challenge the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, stressing that they are one – from Gaza to Haifa to Ramallah – and that their adversary is not each other but the Israeli settler colony and all its mechanisms of control.
What is clearer than ever today is that the PA has lost its legitimacy. As a product of Oslo, it remains a mechanism that aims to keep the Palestinian people occupied and subdued within the 1967 territories. It fails to represent Palestinian refugees in other countries or the Palestinians living in the 1948 territories.
But the international community continues its partnership with the PA and even worse, continues to fund its brutality towards its own people.
The beginning of the Great March of Return protests in Gaza several months ago has shown the revival of Palestinian grassroots organising. Indeed from Haifa to Ramallah, Gaza is uniting the Palestinian people.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.