Skepticism in east Jerusalem ahead of Nakba Day

Palestinians unconvinced commemoration will hasten end of "occupation," say it will take American, EU governments to bring change.

Nakba Day prayer_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nakba Day prayer_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ahead of mass demonstrations planned for the West Bank, Israel’s Arab sector and the Palestinian diaspora to mark Nakba Day on Sunday, Jerusalem district police seemed to not be taking any chances before noontime prayers on Friday.
Heavily armed police and border policemen were positioned at the junctions of alleyways throughout the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, while outside Damascus Gate, dozens of police in full riot gear set up a perimeter checking ID cards and barring entry to Arab men aged 18-45. Though Nakba Day is officially held on May 15, protests and clashes broke out beginning on Friday in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and demonstrations were held in Jaffa and elsewhere in the Arab sector on Saturday.
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On Friday, in conversations with locals outside the Damascus Gate and inside the alleys of the Arab quarters of the Old City, people appeared largely unconvinced that this year’s commemoration of the creation of the Palestinian diaspora would become a watershed event breathing new life into efforts to end the “occupation.”
According to Natshe Abu Amar, working at a toy store in the Muslim quarter, the hope brought on by the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia has been a source of inspiration, but it has been tempered by the realization that the situation in Israel and the West Bank is radically different.
“People were always afraid before [the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions] and they never thought it would make a difference; now they believe they can change things if they do something. Every leader in the Middle East is afraid after what happened in Egypt. Everyone is encouraged by what happened in Egypt or Tunisia.
“The difference,” said Abu Amar, “is that in those countries, when the police and the regime started killing people [protesters], the army came and protected them, saying these are our people. There the army and the protesters are from the same people; here the army is from the occupation. They are Jews, and they are against the [Palestinian] people.”
Abu Amar and others expressed skepticism that when faced by large crowds of peaceful protesters the IDF would back down or hold its fire, giving the crowds momentum.
East Jerusalem resident Nazen Salima, 40, for one, is not convinced that the IDF will back down in the face of mobs of unarmed rioters.
“You can’t say they [the IDF] wouldn’t shoot. If you live under the Israeli government long enough, you see what they’re capable of.”
Ras al-Amoud native Josef Houl, a 19-year-old Christian Arab who studies public administration at Bir Zeit University north of Ramallah, said Israel would have no reason to fear an international outcry and would use any and all means to put down mass protests.
“I think if they march like this, Israelis would just give orders to kill everyone who reaches the border and it would be finished.”
When asked if such actions would turn global opinion against Israel, possibly affecting some sort of diplomatic change, he said, “I don’t think so, because many awful things have happened here before and the world never changed its opinion, nothing happened.”
Houl said he didn’t believe that protests of any sort could change the situation on the ground for Palestinians in the West Bank or east Jerusalem.
“I don’t think this can work against the Israeli occupation,” he said. “The change has to come from America, and other big governments of the world like the European Union. But we already know the US and the European point of view, which is against the Palestinians.”
Meters away from where Houl was speaking, hundreds of Arab men were kneeling on pieces of cardboard and prayer rugs listening to a sermon ahead of noon prayers. Kept out of the Old City and the Aksa Mosque by police, they crowded the square across from Damascus Gate and listened to an imam giving a sermon that heaped praise on the upheavals taking place across the Arab world.
Later in the day, young men wearing bandanas and hoods over their faces threw rocks and clashed with police in the Silwan neighborhood.
During the clashes, Milad Sayed Ayash, 17, was shot and died of his injuries early Saturday morning.
Clashes renewed on Saturday as over 1,000 people took part in Ayash’s funeral, neighborhood residents vowing that the coming days would be marked by violence and bloodshed.
Though Silwan would erupt in rock-throwing and become awash in tear gas later in the afternoon, by noon on Friday, people in the Arab quarters of the Old City seemed resigned to the fact that a mass demonstration would probably not reap any results, and would not anyway gain the support of the masses.
East Jerusalemite Firas Fahar, 30, said that he heard that “people from all over the country and all over the region will leave their houses and start marching. It won’t bring anything, though.”
Fahar added that “in Israel and the West Bank, they’ll just close all the roads and people won’t be able to get anywhere. Also, people just don’t have the strength anymore. Ten years ago, during the [second] intifada, people had strength and there were protests everywhere. Now, people are just tired.”