Circling around Jerusalem as being a West Bank Palestinian, I’m not allowed to enter the city, I made my way to it’s northern edge – the Qalandiya refugee camp. By the time we arrived it looked like a battlefield. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and special forces staring at the Palestinian youth through their gun’s eyepieces. Hundreds of Palestinian youth on the other side, protesting the occupation.
Now circling the battlefield, we made it into the city of Ramallah, where five minutes away from the chaos at Qalandiya, NGO workers and government clerics began their march from Yassir Arrafat’s tomb (the Al Moqatta) to al Manara square. Ten minutes later their chants in support of Palestinian unity and the right of return were once again drowned out by the bustling city market.
The city was teeming with PA police. Young, strong, men with Jordanian guns and American training. “If the protesters don’t come close to the conflict points with the Israeli army, they’re allowed every peaceful action,” tells us a PA security officer. But this is precisely the order the youth in Qalandiya, Gaza, and in the Golan Heights refused to obey as they tried to the very last moment to practice their right to return to their lands.
Their coordination and bravery marks a historic moment in which hundreds of thousands of all kinds of Palestinians poured onto the streets. The refugees stopped waiting for Arab armies to liberate them, to break the way for their return by bursting through the border with nothing but their bodies and determination. The Gazan refugees tried to do the same but Israeli snipers waited for them along the wall. Across the various fronts many have died on Sunday and though the importance of this day is paramount, I think we must still question some of the things that happened.
For example while the NGO workers began and finished their lunch-time demo, Palestinian youth at Qalandiya relentlessly attempted again and again to approach the checkpoint, to make their stand. Each time, they would get within 100 meters, and the army would fire tear gas. Running away to catch their breath, they would return again and again, each time to be met with more gas, then rubber-coated steel bullets, and then live fire.
From the first tear gas canister that hit an Israeli photographer straight in the head, to the last bullet, the Israel army intention was clear. But five minutes away, in the city of Ramallah which Israel (with the indirect assistance of the NGO community) is fashioning to be the Palestinian capital, a very different reality played itself out. The youth made it clear who is ready to sacrifice for the unyielding struggle for full rights, and who will secure their international funding.
The media is already calling this the “Arab spring” coming to Palestine, but Palestine has never had a winter in its resistance to the occupation. It may that Facebook was the main factor in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions but here in the west bank it seems that the same boys who generation after generation protest in their camps and villages continued to organize, with Facebook or without it. While the new technology will come and go, their protests will not end until their rights to leave their refugee cement blocks are recognized and respected.
The only question that remains is how far will the stains from their spilled blood will reach? Will their sacrifices get diverted into a zero-advance game like the last Intifadahs, or will they reach something different?
Nidal Hatim is a Palestinian journalist and author. His articles have appeared in many publications including the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi and Al Hewar Al Motmden Online. His book, to be published in 2012, analyses the class-struggle dimensions in the historically acclaimed works of Palestinian cartoonist Naji Alali.