First-hand: Ramallah protests against Mofaz meeting attacked by PA police, thugs

بالفيديو الربيع العربي في فلسطين

Back when football player Mahmoud Sarsak was still on his third month of hunger strike, Maan News Agency reported that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas (whose term ended in January 2010 but still hasn’t budged from his position) would be meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz in Ramallah, a certified war criminal. Mofaz commanded the Israeli army from July 1998 to July 2002 and then as defense minister. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights notes:

Under his the Israeli Army implemented “Operation Defensive Shield” in the West Bank. This Operation, which started on 29 March 2002, resulted, inter alia, in the massacre in Jenin refugee camp in the north of the West Bank. On 04 November 2002, Mofaz was appointed as the Israeli Defense Minister. When he was serving in these 2 positions, the Israeli occupation forces committed many war crimes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death and injury of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians. PCHR has filed several cases before a number of European courts against Mofaz for his responsibility for such crimes.

For Abbas to meet with Mofaz in Ramallah in the PA compound is a severe insult and a blow to every Palestinian household that sacrificed so much as a result of the Israeli occupation.

Palestinians react

Fortunately, the Palestinian street was not silent, apathetic or unaware of this. Dissenting voices rose up, with even the Fatah student party in the universities issuing a statement condemning the meeting and accusing Abbas of being a traitor. Once the angry reaction reached the ears of the PA headquarters, Abbas “postponed” the meeting, and some individuals within the student party reverted back to praising Abbas as a revered figure of national dignity.

The youth network Palestinians for Dignity, the same group that was born in January of this year protesting the continued fallacious negotiations between the PA and Israel, also issued a statement and announced a protest on Saturday, 30 June - the day before Mofaz was initially set to be received by Abbas in Ramallah.

We will meet on Saturday at 5pm and then march on towards the PA compound al-Muqata’a to express our categorical rejection of the meeting with the murderer Mofaz, ex Israeli war minister and currently Netanyahu’s deputy prime minister, either in Ramallah or any other place. We will protest because the meeting is postponed and the policy of meeting with Israeli politicians is still the same.

Who is Shaul Mofaz?

Mofaz used to be the Chief of Staff in the occupying army during the second intifada. He went on to become Minister of Defense where he planned and supervised over:

  • Besieging Yasser Arafat in the Muqata’a
  • Operation Defensive Shield
  • The Jenin massacre
  • The assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa
  • The assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin
  • Building the Apartheid wall

Under Mofaz’s leadership in the occupying army, more than 1,705 Palestinian martyrs fell, and 5312 Palestinians imprisoned.

On Saturday, protesters gathered at Manara Square in downtown Ramallah holding up posters and chanting. One poster sarcastically read, “Why don’t we invite Israel to commemorate the Nakba Day with us too?” After swelling to around 80 people, the protest marched down Irsal Street where they were met by two ranks of EUPOL COPPS and Palestinian Authority police officers trained under the auspices of US General Keith Dayton holding up their sticks and batons, effectively blocking the street and preventing the protesters from passing through.

“Aggression” by police began before march

It should be noted, however, that the aggression and violence inflicted on the protesters started before they began to march. Artist Hafez Omar, the creative mind behind the brown prisoner poster that was widely used during the recent mass hunger strike, was attacked and left bleeding from his head by plainclothes policemen while still at the Manara Square.

Facing the police officers, the protesters were chanting. The young women were in the front to prevent any sudden outbreak of violence on the police’s part, but it didn’t make a difference. The police kept shoving the protesters back and some who fell and were in danger of getting trampled on. A few policewomen were brought in as well, and they shared in the pushing and shoving.

One yelled out to the policeman behind her to give her a stick. The policewomenn were pushing us back, with the policemen behind them kicking us repeatedly. Suddenly, my friend on my right began screaming loudly, doubled over in pain. There was quite a commotion, and protesters pulled my friend back, who was crying with pain. Later she revealed that one of the policewomen had grabbed her breasts and kept twisting and pinching them. Her waist, neck and upper arms were streaked with red scratches.

المتظاهرين السلمين في رام الله وتعامل الشرطة

Infiltrated by police

The protesters chanted more loudly, pushing back as they wanted to continue on down the street to the Muqata’a. It quickly became apparent that the protest was heavily infiltrated by plainclothes mukhabarat (intelligence), who were unabashedly giving each other orders and made no attempts to be secretive. The crowd would heave and swell, then heave again, as male protesters were attacked by the mukhabarat and some dragged away.

Young women braved the blows from the police batons as they tried to protect the male protesters from getting dragged away. Some were verbally assaulted, and were sneeringly told to back home “where they belong.” Journalist Mohammad Jaradat was filming the protest with his camera before a plainclothes officer came up to him, threatened him, and then proceeded to beat him up. Pictures of Jaradat lying on the floor while getting punched have been circulated widely. He was then dragged to the police station near Manara Square.

Another protester, Hasan Faraj was severely beaten. His whole shirt was ripped off in the process, and he was dragged while on the floor to the police station. In total, five protesters were arrested before they were let go after an hour, with most of them heading to the hospital to take care of their injuries. Faraj was beaten up even more inside the police station.

In the meantime, ten protesters managed to reach the Muqata’a compound with their flags and posters, where riot police decked out in full gear were waiting for them. The riot police then disappeared as apparently they were expecting a far larger number to make it to the compound. The larger group of protesters managed to march forward further down the street but couldn’t advance any more once they were a hundred meters away from the Muqata’a. It was decided that the protesters would go back to the police station and demand the release of all who were arrested.

Protest continues on Sunday

The next day, the protest continued. It was a continuation of protesters expressing their rejection of hosting or meeting with any representative of the Israeli occupation, but it was also a protest against the shocking police brutality we were subjected to the day before. Once again the protest took off from the Manara Square down Irsal Street. Once again the police were waiting for us, batons at the ready. A couple of the protesters marched to the police rank and informed them of their demands:

For Mahmoud Abbas to cancel his meeting with Shaul Mofaz, and to desist from meeting with any Israeli official whether under the guise of negotiations or not;

To conduct an independent investigation on what happened on Saturday;

The resignation of Abdul-Latif Qadoumi, the police chief of the Ramallah and Al-Bireh governate, and Mohammad Abu Bakr the director of police in Ramallah who were both present at the two protests and who were seen giving orders to attack protesters.

Whereas Saturday’s protest was filled with plainclothes police and intelligence beating up and arresting the youth, this time around it was the uniformed policemen who descended on the protesters, who again were only chanting.

Journalists attacked

The road was blocked, so a group of young women went around and managed to stand behind the policemen and began chanting. The mukhabarat surrounded them and pushed them back with the rest of the demonstrators. The police went crazy. They began to shove, kick, and beat protesters around them. Chants of “Your sister! Your sister! Your sister! Ukhtak!” went up as the young women in front were facing the brunt of the police aggression.

One police officer replied, “My sister knows her place and doesn’t go out to protest!” The crowd heaved and swelled, left right and center young men were being dragged away. Sticks were brought down with full force on protesters’ heads, back, arms, and legs. One girl suffered such a blow to her head and was taken to the hospital. We kept screaming we had the right to protest, the right to be on this street, the right to continue on down the street. We screamed at the police to lower their batons. Women police officers were absent. Journalists were attacked again, including Reuters photographer Saed Huwari, and photographers Issam Rimawi and Ahmad Musleh.

Physically assaulted and insulted

I saw a friend being dragged away by four thugs, and immediately went after them, trying to get my body between my friend and the thugs so that they wouldn’t take him. I couldn’t reach them though, and was pushed back more than once. I surged forward again and one thug began screaming at me, showering me with a plethora of insults. I yelled back for the thugs to let my friend go. The same thug drew back his arm and slapped me hard across the face, in broad daylight on one of Ramallah’s busiest streets, shouting “WHORE! PROSTITUTE!”

Getting slapped like that can break your spirit. I would have preferred being beaten on the ground by a mob of police. I can’t describe the humiliation I felt at that moment, the rage that swept through me as I tried to go after the thug, screaming at him that his day will come at my hands one way or the other. People were pushing me back, telling me to calm down. I turned on them, shouting at them for just standing there not doing anything, not going after the thug themselves.

My face stung, and I found myself in the middle of the protest again in the midst of friends, still screaming after the thug. My sister put her arms around me and led me inside one ambulances because I was lashing out at everyone in my sight. I cried for twenty seconds, just to get it out of my system. I have never been slapped across the face before. For a disgusting thug to do that to me and get away- well that was simply injustice.

The medic took care of one of my feet, which was bloodied from getting stamped on so many times. My sister told me she chopped off her hair.

“Where?”

“Salon in Surda building.”

“Who?”

“Cassandra. The one you went to for blue highlights.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah. I look like mama now.”

Marks of the batons

After somewhat calming down a bit, we left the ambulance with our arms around each other and walked to the police station, where the protest had gone to once again demand the release of the seven protesters. We were told they were let go, so we marched to the Ramallah Hospital to see the dozens who were injured, shouting “Down with the military regime! Down with Dayton’s regime!” over and over again.

A random person told me the name of the thug (who works in the PA security force) that attacked me and the village he was from. That lessened the hurt a bit. At the hospital, a policeman was waiting at the emergency entrance and wouldn’t allow anyone in unless they were injured.

I went inside and saw groups of people here and there, making light of the situation. Kifah Quzmar who fellow EI blogger Jalal Abukhater witnessed getting beaten up while on the ground had his shirt pulled up and someone was taking pictures of his horribly bruised back, the mark of the baton very clear.

Everyone began to filter outside the hospital and sat down on the sidewalks and benches in little groups, talking, laughing, crying, fuming, sharing pictures, joking, giving testimonies to a few people from rights groups. It was a good therapy session. Who would have thought a protest against police brutality would result in more police violence?

Speaking from the office of Addameer, lawmaker and member of the PFLP Khalida Jarar stated that the actions of the police were not an accident but completely intentional. “What happened on Sunday was not the police acting spontaneously,” she said. “It was a direct violent act on peaceful protesters that came from the highest commands. Moreover, it proved that the police brutality on Saturday and Sunday was deliberate.”

Official media denounce, slander protestors

The following day (Monday) the local papers, websites, and radio were flooded with spokespersons denouncing the protesters as (in the words of spokesman for PA security forces Adnan Dameiri), “an outsider group who carry a foreign agenda.” Osama Qawasmi, the spokesman for Fatah told one radio station that he had certified information that the protesters had nothing to do with national actions but were vandals.

The thugs and their ilk have spread rumors that the protesters are paid and receive money from outsiders, which is laughable considering the PA is barely getting by despite the millions of dollars poured into it via donor money. The protesters are labelled as “drunks” who enjoy Ramallah’s bars and are touted as the “Beit Aneesa folk”, after one of the more well known bars.

This is all to be expected. We’ve seen this before when the Mubarak regime were denouncing the Egyptian protesters, Assad’s regime and shabiha denouncing the Syrian protesters, the Hamed regime denouncing the Bahraini protesters, Qaddafi denouncing the Libyan protesters as druggies addicted on hallucinatory pills. It’s disappointing in the sense that this reaction, wholly expected and accounted for, is exhaustingly unoriginal.

Today’s protest will take place at 5pm, from Manara Square to the Muqata’a. Palestinians outside of Ramallah are joining us, from Haifa and Hebron and elsewhere. Zionist occupation does not necessarily mean an Israeli occupation, and in order to develop a strategy of resistance in the national interests for Palestinians to attain justice, liberty, and peace, the dirty rooms in our house must be cleaned first.

Palestinians for Dignity issued a new statement on their Facebook page, with an escalation in their demands:

The objective of the first demonstration which took place on Saturday was to protest the invitation of war criminal Shaul Mofaz to a meeting in Ramallah, and to demand that such a meeting be cancelled and not simply postponed or relocated. Moreover the protest aimed to convey clear demands to the Palestinian leadership, namely to:

  1. Cancel any meetings and negotiations with representatives of the Israeli apartheid regime;
  2. Halt all security coordination with the Israeli security forces and release all political prisoners in Palestinian jails;
  3. Develop a strategy of resistance capable of achieving the aspirations of our people for freedom and independence.

Following the brutal attack on the peaceful demonstrations Saturday and Sunday, we additionally call for:

  1. The formation of a committee to be chaired by independent legal personalities to review the serious violations committed by security personal with the aim of holding all those responsible accountable without exception, including those security forces thugs in civilian clothing;
  2. Civil society organizations to condemn these attacks and to work to curb the security forces which are now threatening internal peace. We also call on the legal and human rights institutions to prepare timely legal follow-up to the complaints filed by the participants in the demonstrations and to file charges in order to ensure that the aggressors are held accountable. We also call on the Palestinian judiciary to fulfil its responsibility and confirm its integrity by holding accountable those acting outside of the law.

We remind the Palestinian Authority that we still toil under the yoke of Israeli occupation, and that it is unacceptable under any circumstance to brutally repress the rights of people at a time when we are facing Israeli aggression all around us. We call upon the Palestinian Authority to return to the masses and to arm itself with the power of its people for the people are its source of strength and legitimacy. It is wrong for the Palestinian Authority to falsely accuse its people of receiving foreign funding and implementing foreign agendas, particularly at a time when foreign donors are politically blackmailing the Palestinian Authority. We reject such efforts to tarnish the image of Palestinian youth - the same youth who amplified the voice of Palestinian prisoners and who daily resist and confront the Israeli apartheid wall - using accusations we all know have become the language of regimes attempting to suppress the voice of freedom.