Palestinians at home, abroad protest division, leadership

Palestinians under occupation are calling for unity protests on 15 March. (Luay Sababa/MaanImages)

Palestinian civil society groups are preparing for a day of mass sit-ins on 15 March, to protest the widening split between Palestinian political and resistance factions as Israel’s illegal occupation grinds on. 

As The Electronic Intifada reported, most of the groups involved in the 15 March organizing are led by Palestinian youth who are gravely concerned by the prospect that legislative elections, called for September by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, could occur without the involvement of opposition parties. 

Hamas leaders stated that they would not take part in the September elections, but called for a rebuilding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the formation of a new governmental structure. Elections have not been held in Palestine since 2006, when Hamas won the majority vote. In the West Bank, elected Hamas leaders were subsequently disempowered, arrested and jailed by the Israeli military, as Fatah appointed unelected ministers to fill governmental positions. 

Though inter-factional tension is not a new phenomenon, it has only increased after the release of the Palestine Papers — documents recently revealed by Al Jazeera that expose deep collusion by the Fatah-led PA with Israeli and American officials. 

Eighty-one non-governmental organizations in Palestine issued a statement through the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) calling for immediate reconciliation between political factions, Ma’an News Agency reported (“81 NGOs urge rival factions to reconcile,” 21 February 2011). 

The statement urged a restructuring of the PLO “so it becomes representative to the Palestinian national movement including all its parties,” the statement added.

Other political parties, such as the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), as well as independent groups, are working within their leadership and rank-and-file constituency to work toward democratic, political unity at the top level. 

Abu Ahmed Fuad of the Political Bureau of the PFLP stated on 24 February that it is “clear that the Oslo agreement and the political leadership committed to it is directly responsible for Palestinian weakness and for today’s division” (“Comrade Fuad: ‘Ending the division’ means ending Oslo, the cause of the division,” 24 February 2011). 

Fuad added that a discussion towards ending the factional divisions “means ending the reasons for the division; thus, terminating the Oslo accord and all that has followed from it and returning instead to mobilizing the Palestinian community everywhere it is present.”

In the Gaza Strip, members of all independent factions held a meeting to “discuss current options to end the Palestinian split,” reported Ma’an (“Unity tops agenda in West Bank, Gaza,” 27 February 2011).

An independent party official told Ma’an that invitations to the meeting was sent to members of all factions, “and that while there had been a positive response from most, rival factions Hamas and Fatah had not responded.”

The day before in the West Bank, Ma’an added in the same report, Palestinian lawmakers, law professors, judges, human rights activists and attorneys agreed to “prepare a document based on Palestinian Basic Law and the constitution which would attempt to repair the division between the executive and juridical authorities.”

“Officials made clear that the initiative was independent, and not commissioned by the Palestinian Authority,” Ma’an stated.

Protests planned, shut down

On 18 February, more than one thousand persons gathered in central Ramallah to “express their rejection of the Palestinian internal divisions,” stated PNGO in a news release (“Initiative of PNGO: thousands of Palestinians gathered on 18 Feb 2011 at the Al-Manarah Square,” 18 February 2011).

PNGO views the internal division as [a] threat to the Palestinians’ aspirations and national struggle against occupation, and believes that the Palestinian Authority’s call for elections in September 2011 can deepen the internal gap,” the report added. “This is not to say that PNGO is against elections in principle, but it sees that elections under these circumstances would lead to more friction if reconciliation is not reached between Fatah and Hamas.”

Approximately 1,500 protesters “took to the main streets of the city carrying flags and banners and calling for unity and liberation, Ma’an reported. Protesters represented every faction, among them Hamas, Fatah, and the leftist parties” (“Thousands rally for change in West Bank,” 25 February 2011). 

In the Gaza Strip on 28 February, youth organizers of a protest calling for national unity said that governmental security officers shut down the demonstration and detained several protesters, reported Ma’an (“Youth group: Hamas shut down unity protest,” 28 February 2011). 

A Palestinian youth initiative involved with the organizing of the protest reportedly used social media “to issue a call for demonstrations in Gaza and across the West Bank on February 28 to demand an end to the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah,” Ma’an reported.

However, Ma’an added that approximately 20 protesters, including local journalists, showed up for the demonstration. Security forces allegedly ordered protesters to leave the area, and detained four people. 

An organizer with the youth group told Ma’an that concurrent protests planned for the West Bank did not happen “because Palestinian Authority security forces summoned the coordinators of the initiative.”

Activists in the US present “pink slip” to Palestinian Authority

Meanwhile, in the US, members of the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) in Washington, DC, presented the Palestinian Authority with a “pink slip” in a symbolic action outside the PLO mission’s office building on 28 February. 

A simultaneous demonstration took place in New York City, which was also organized by USPCN.

USPCN stated in a press release that Palestinians in the US have hereby terminated the PA’s “employment as the leadership of the Palestinian people for failure to uphold its duties as a governing body” (“USPCN DC: Notice of termination to be served at the PLO Mission to the US Feb. 28,” 23 February 2011).

Following the release of the Palestine Papers, a cache of secret documents released by Al Jazeera in January that exposed widespread collusion and collaboration between the PA, Israel and the United States, USPCN stated that the rights of the Palestinian people have been compromised by the current PA leadership.

USPCN demanded that the PA be dismantled and that the PLO make reforms to reflect “the will and aspirations of the Palestinian people.” A list of specific demands included the suspension and termination of all agreements made during the Oslo accords in the mid-1990s, the end to the ongoing blockade in Gaza, the release of all Palestinian political prisoners from PA jails, and an end to all security arrangements with the Israeli government. 

They also called for direct and inclusive elections to the Palestinian National Council, and a unification of resistance towards building a national platform “in which to coalesce Palestinian political parties and formations in their resistance to apartheid, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing.”

Noura Erakat, co-founder of USPCN and a leading member of the DC chapter, told The Electronic Intifada that the protest was organized in order for the Palestinian diaspora “to insert itself into a narrative from which it has been categorically excluded.”

Dozens of people protested in front of the offices of the PLO mission, Erakat said, in a demonstration that “expands the Palestinian struggle as one that is not just about resistance to apartheid and colonialism and occupation, but as a domestic demand for representational governments and transparency.”

Despite tornado warnings and torrential rain, Erakat told The Electronic Intifada that the protest was uplifting, with many playing drums and chanting political slogans in Arabic. 

“At one point, two of our members went upstairs to the PLO mission office to serve the pink slip directly,” she said. “But not only did they lock the door to the office, they had locked the elevator so it wouldn’t open on the second floor, where the office is located. It showed that there is a real lack of transparency and representation — they didn’t even open their doors to us. So we taped the pink slip to the outside door.”

A video of the demonstration at the PLO mission’s office in Washington, DC was posted to YouTube. 

Erakat said that USPCN activists are now trying to use the momentum of current revolts in the Arab world to build a stronger base here in the US. “We’re hoping this resonates with other actions throughout the world in the diaspora Palestinian community. We want to make this [movement] more broad and inclusive.”