A demonstrator is evacuated during a protest calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to end financial sanctions on Palestinians in Gaza, in Ramallah, June 13, 2018..
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority Security Forces broke up protests in Ramallah on Wednesday night, after a week of rare public displays of opposition to the Palestinian leadership. Demonstrators called for an end to sanctions on the Gaza Strip, blaming PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for its role in isolating the Hamas-run enclave.
PA Security Forces – which include numerous layers of police, plainclothes officers, riot police and more heavily armed units – sought to prevent a mass protest by Palestinians in central Ramallah. They erected “flying checkpoints” at entrances to Ramallah, according to tweets by activist Mariam Barghouti. A group of predominantly young men and women chanted “Freedom, freedom,” as police used stun grenades and physical force to remove them, Barghouti wrote. “Downtown Ramallah is like a war zone. All we’re asking is stop punishing our people by our leadership.”
The demonstrations came several days after a major rally in Ramallah on June 10, in which hundreds gathered to protest PA policies against Hamas in Gaza. Protests were also staged in the lead-up to the end of Ramadan, when many people go out at night after breaking their fast, adding to the tension and populist outcry in Ramallah.
The PA has sought to cut salaries and apply other sanctions to Gaza as part of its pressure on Hamas after a reconciliation agreement fell apart in December 2017. In March, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and intelligence chief Majid Faraj were targeted with a bomb while visiting the Gaza Strip to inspect a new wastewater treatment facility. Since then, Abbas and his leadership have expressed outrage over Hamas’s actions.
The PA – and the Fatah movement, which makes up the pillar of PA support in the West Bank – have not joined in the protests in Gaza that Hamas has been carrying out against Israel. These include the ‘Great Return March’ and other mass border protests in which more than 100 people have been killed. Other Palestinian factions also issued calls during the Palestinian National Council meeting in April to boycott the mass events at the Gaza border. Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the Abbas-run conclave that was touted as representing the major decision-making congress of the Palestinians.
The protests this week therefore come in the wake of months of growing anger among opposition groups to the PA’s leadership. Palestinian media and activists expressed shock at the methods used by Palestinian Security Forces against the demonstrators. Quds Media showed photos of stun grenades and wrote, “This is how the security services responded.” Those who attended said the protest was peaceful until riot police and plainclothes officers were sent in to break it up.
Some drew parallels between the Palestinian Security Forces’ abuse of protesters and Israeli methods, giving voice to a feeling among some that the PA is a “collaborator” with Israel – a frequent refrain on social media during times of tension with the Jewish state. Palestinian Security Forces have been trained for more than a decade by the US under a program called the United States Security Coordinator. The Palestinian Police have also been trained by a European Union-led program called the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support, or EUPOL COPPS.
“Let the world witness, when Palestinians protest against injustice they are not confined to only resisting Israeli violence,” wrote Barghouti, “but the violence of their own people and leadership. Tonight, Ramallah was the evidence of that. Injustice is injustice, no matter what mask it wears.”