Palestinian youth groups in Jerusalem called for a march from the Old City’s Damascus Gate on 5 November in protest of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with Israeli Channel Two in which he renounced his right of return to Safad, his ethnically cleansed hometown in northern historic Palestine.
The march was scheduled to begin at 5pm but was marred by attacks on protesters by pro-Abbas thugs. Damascus Gate has seen some of the most vicious attacks by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian demonstrators this year, but this time around it was Palestinians who attacked fellow Palestinians and harassed them as surrounding Israeli soldiers gleefully watched the spectacle.
I made it to the spot where the protest was supposed to begin with my friend, Amany Khalifa, who was impressed by the turnout. “It seems like this is going to be a large protest. Who knows, perhaps Abbas’ statements will kindle an uprising at last,” she said.
But as soon as we got down to where the crowd was gathering, we were shocked to find out that those were not protesters but instead pro-Abbas thugs who were trying to disperse the protest and intimidate journalists (a video posted on YouTube shows the scene).
“Leave now, we will not allow this protest to happen,” shouted one Abbas supporter. A Palestinian photographer who was taking pictures was beaten by pro-Fatah thugs (their chants made clear their affiliation to the Fatah party, which controls the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority) who also injured another protester.
One protester told me that she heard a counter-demonstrator say to the approaching Israeli police: “We are defending Mahmoud Abbas.” Although the Palestinian Authority is technically banned from operating in Jerusalem, the police seemed to be fine with allowing these supporters of Abbas to gather in numbers and attack people.
We had to retreat to avoid getting stuck in the tangle. After a brief moment of silence, pro-Abbas supporters, who exceeded fifty while we were just ten, began chanting “National unity, national unity!”
National unity is a pretext tediously used by supporters of the Palestinian Authority to bully critics into silence, effectively deeming the term void of any actual meaning. It was ironic that while they shouted for national unity, they were beating a protester simply because he wanted to express an opinion that didn’t please them.
We fought back with chants for the right of return, for one Palestinian country from the river to the sea and for freedom. Among the chants we defiantly repeated were “Palestine is our country, not just the West Bank and Gaza,” and “O, Abbas, listen: the right of return will never be sold” and “you shall leave now, Abbas.”
Abbas supporters responded by admonishing us for protesting against “Mr. President” and stoking divisions while ignoring the plight of hunger striking prisoners. That claim was unashamedly hypocritical since I don’t remember seeing them at all the protests we held in solidarity with the prisoners in occupied Jerusalem.
As soon as they started shouting the name of hunger-striking prisoner Samer Issawi, his sister Shireen Issawi, who was protesting with us, yelled at them: “My brother was not imprisoned for Abbas to tread upon the right of return and give up historic Palestine. My brother is fighting behind bars for a free Palestine from the river to the sea, for our dignity and for the sacred right of return.”
Clearly upset by Shireen’s powerful words, pro-Abbas thugs could only tell us that if we were not women, they would have beaten us a long time ago.
After a long stand-off of chants, Abbas supporters failed to silence our voices despite significantly outnumbering us, so they began beating and pushing protesters. I was pushed to a metal barrier, stamped upon and barely avoided falling on my back. Shireen, who is a former prisoner in Israeli occupation jails herself, was also beaten.
“At least the attacks of pro-Abbas thugs don’t discriminate between men and women. This is probably the only form of gender equality they recognize,” one protester joked.
Palestinian Authority’s role revealed
Commenting on the attacks, Amany Khalifa said: “We are used to being beaten by Israeli soldiers but when your compatriots beat and accuse you of treason — as Israeli soldiers superciliously watch by — it is far more painful.”
While we were “only” beaten, Palestinians protesting Abbas in Hebron were brutally assaulted by PA security forces and at least two demonstrators were arrested, activists there told us.
The attack on protesters critical of Mahmoud Abbas and his renunciation of the right of return demonstrates once again that the Palestinian Authority is a major obstacle towards liberation and equal rights. Abbas’ statements on Friday were by no means a revelation.
Abbas’ shameful position regarding the right of return was revealed by the Palestine Papers long ago. The Palestinian Authority’s ongoing campaign of political arrests — including arrests of former prisoners in Israeli occupation jails — meetings with Israeli Knesset (parliament) members in Ramallah, the “security” coordination with the Israeli army and the blatant normalization with the Israeli occupation prove that Abbas’ statements on Friday were not a one-off event. Rather, they reflect the Palestinian Authority’s policy of violating Palestinian rights and speaking in the names of millions of Palestinians it has no legal mandate to represent.
Budour Hassan is a Palestinian anarchist and law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem. She can be followed on Twitter @Budour48.