Insecure and Unsure (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Watching the war in Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank remain pessimistic about their future. A large crowd, waving giant Palestinian flags, walks slowly, chanting loudly and emotionally. "The war that Israel is waging is a war against the Palestinian people and not against Hamas," says 20-year-old Ahd Hamdan, 20, a smooth-faced boyish-looking young man, with gel on his well-trimmed hair and a keffiya (scarf) around his shoulders. "It's important to show the world that we are against what is happening in Gaza." When the war broke out on December 27, Hamdan joined the demonstrations, which took place every day in Ramallah at 1 p.m. for the first two weeks of the war. Initially, the Palestinian public seemed united in its grief and rage. Men, women, children, students - all made their way to the West Bank capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to chant slogans vilifying Israel for its attacks; the U.S. for its political and financial backing; and the Arab governments for their inaction. Most residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem strictly observed the three-day protest strike called by PA President Mahmud Abbas. Explains Hussam Al-Kawas, 29, owner of a women's clothing shop in downtown East Jerusalem, "It was important for Jerusalem residents to unite and send out the message that we were with the people of Gaza and against the Israeli attacks." At some of the demonstrations in Ramallah's Al-Manara Square, as many as 3,000 people from all sections of Palestinian society, elegantly dressed men and women, university students, children, Palestinians from nearby refugee camps, and elderly, all walked side by side. They were joined by journalists with a scattering of international sympathizers. Slogans proclaiming "We are all Gaza," in English and Arabic, appeared on banners, posters and T-shirts. Some protesters raised Venezuelan flags and carried large portraits of President Hugo Chavez, who expelled the Israeli ambassador from Caracas. "We bless the nation from where the shoe was thrown," chanted some, referring to Muntathar Al-Zaida, who threw his shoes at former U.S. president George Bush at a press conference during his last visit to Iraq. The demonstrators also called for Palestinian unity and for Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Abbas to bury their differences and unify. But by the time the war came to its end, with Palestinian unity more elusive than ever, the demonstrators had left Al-Manara Square. As protests throughout the world grew increasingly strident and violent, demonstrations in the West Bank petered out and both factions had difficulty mobilizing the West Bankers. The televisions in most shops remained fixed on Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya satellite news channels, but the coffee shops filled again, and even the graphic scenes of death and destruction didn't disrupt the regular card games and seemingly endless shopping. "The Palestinians in the West Bank are tired," said Brig. Gen. Adnan Damiri, a police spokesman. Just 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Israeli territory separate the West Bank from Gaza, and Palestinian rhetoric declares them to be one people with a common desire for a united Palestinian state. But by the end of the war, the schisms between the Hamas rulers of Gaza and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority were pushing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank toward different fates. Other than demonstrating, West Bank Palestinians found numerous other ways to express their support for wounded and displaced Gazan civilians and as, political apathy grew, these activities increased. Birzeit University student body president Diaa Qondah tells The Report that the students organized a blood donation campaign among students, teachers and their family members. They collected some 100 units under the supervision of the Red Crescent, which transferred them to Gaza in cooperation with the Red Cross. Students also ran a "For You, Gaza" campaign, in which they collected first aid products, food staples, clothes and bedding. "We collected all these products on the condition that they not be American- or Israeli-made," Qondah emphasizes. Similar campaigns took place in Palestinian schools. "My son came home with a list of items they could donate," says banker Laila Shakkour, mother of four. "I told him he could take whatever he wants, but that I did not think the school will be able to get it through to Gaza." In an expression of solidarity, Palestinians also canceled all holiday season celebrations, staying home to watch Al-Jazeera reports during the initial days of the war. Birzeit University student Nidal Attallah, 21, tells The Report that he had planned to party on New Years Eve with his family until midnight and then with friends until dawn. But he changed his plans. "We stayed at home playing cards with the television on," he says. "I woke up with a news hangover." Bethlehem mayor Dr. Victor Batarseh tells The Report that the municipal council "unanimously agreed to cancel all celebrations and turn off the lights on the Christmas tree in Nativity Square, which traditionally remains lit until the Orthodox Christmas celebration in January. Economically, this was a big blow to Bethlehem. There had been Christmas and New Year's parties planned and paid for in every hotel and restaurant." But, the mayor says, "it was important to show that the people of Bethlehem, Christian and Muslim alike, would not celebrate while their brothers and sisters in Gaza were dying and suffering." Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.