Economics and apathy outweighing protest in Ramallah

While tens of thousands protest in Turkey and Indonesia, only a dozen Palestinian youths show up to burn tires and throw stones at Israeli troops

December 19, 2017 05:45
4 minute read.
Ramallah protesters burn tires

Ramallah protesters burn tires. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

The site for clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces is a five-minute walk from the Mercedes-Benz dealership that is housed in the Brazil Tower in El-Bireh. Next to it is the Jawwal store, where locals can get phone service.

There is stark contrast between the flourishing businesses in Ramallah and El-Bireh, and the apathetic protests that have confronted Israel in the wake of the US government decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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On Monday, Palestinians seeking to get home from Ramallah shouted at local youths who tried to set up a road block to protest. A Palestinian Authority van with civil servants on it asked the kids to let them through. Daily life trumped the desire for another intifada against Israel.

On Monday, a week-and-a-half after US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech, a dozen Palestinian youths showed up on the road that leads from El-Bireh via the DCO checkpoint toward Beit El. This is where Muhammad Amin Aqel al-Adam, an 18-year-old Palestinian, was shot after stabbing an Israeli Border Police officer on Friday.

The young men wrapped their faces in khaffiyas and shirts or donned masks, while trying to set tires and trash alight on the road. All the traffic on the road was from Palestinians trying to get to Route 60, and many of them were annoyed to see the activists blocking their way. The drivers argued and shouted until the kids made way for, first one, and then more vehicles. A Palestinian truck-driver toting construction material drove over the stones and debris the kids had gathered. Palestinian shot after stabbing Israeli Border Police officer near Ramallah, December 15, 2017. (YouTube/ אביגדור ט)

The response in the Palestinian areas has been very different than that of the tens of thousands who have protested in Turkey, Indonesia and around the world.

On a hill nearby, the Israeli Border Police looked on. Every time the youths would seem to take control of the road, a few tear gas canisters would be fired at them. Then the cycle would begin again. This is the choreographed dance of protests and clashes in the West Bank.

When the youths didn’t get the response they wanted from the Israelis, they decided to move to another road nearby, where they burned more tires. Black smoke choked the air and more tear gas was fired. Some teens brought slingshots and stones and chucked them, falling short of an Israeli Army jeep. One young man wrapped in a green Hamas flag picked up a small butter knife from the ground. It wasn’t clear what he thought to do with it.

The youths were suspicious of outsiders who showed up, questioning foreign journalists. They were concerned that there might be undercover police among them, a common method Israel uses to disperse rioters. “We come to protest Jerusalem,” said one of the kids. “And to have fun,” said another who was wearing a red mask.

In Ramallah, the streets are full of people shopping. Young men try to attract patrons by handing out fliers, and at one store, pink balloons and the voice of a woman singing blared from loudspeakers. Lip service and symbolism is paid to the struggle against Israel. A new mural near the bus station shows a giant key, the golden Dome of the Rock and the Palestinian flag, emblematic of the desire of a “right of return” to Israel and rights to Jerusalem.

There are posters around the city that mourn 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, showing an image of Lord Balfour and a bloody hand. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has also put up posters commemorating 50 years since its founding. The poster shows a map of the Arab world with the image of a Palestinian kid pushing over the State of Israel. The kid is carrying an AK-47. There don’t seem to be any official Palestinian Authority posters up to protest the Jerusalem decision.

A shwarma shop on the road to Kalandiya from Ramallah has put up a Turkish flag, Turkey has been the largest supporters of the Palestinians on the issue of Jerusalem, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convening the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday, December 13th. Since then he has proposed opening a Turkish embassy in East Jerusalem and Turkey has criticized other Arab states for showing a “weak response,” to Israel.

Emblematic of the response was the flowing traffic at Kalandiya on the road from Ramallah to Jerusalem. For years, the concrete wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian areas has been adorned with iconic graffiti of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison.

Today both of them are partially obscured by a giant billboard advertising “phase two” of a new property development. For the moment, the struggle for real estate and making a living wage seems to be more important than taking to the streets for Jerusalem.

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