Opinion |

While West Bank Palestinians Protest Trump, Gaza Faces a Bloodbath

Protesting the U.S. embassy move gives the Ramallah elite an opportunity for some rhetorical righteousness. It's an indulgence for Gazans, who are marching for their right to life

Muhammad Shehada
Muhammad Shehada
Palestinian protesters carry an injured man during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018.
Palestinian protesters carry an injured man during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, May 11, 2018.Credit: Khalil Hamra/AP
Muhammad Shehada
Muhammad Shehada

Wherever one turns in Gaza, there are murals and pictures of Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem isn’t only the Palestinian capital we seek, but visiting it is a tangible desire of every Gazan.

Yet, despite Jerusalem’s unique significance to Palestinians and the desperate attempts to prevent Trump’s unilateral plans to change the city's status in Israel's favor, that had little if no effect. Standing up for the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem has become a lost cause.

Not only have Palestinians never been weaker, more divided and more helpless, but they've never been more abandoned, even by those closest to them, and even by their own leadership.

Palestinian demonstrators react to teargas during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip, east of Gaza City, on May 11, 2018Credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Trump's Jerusalem announcement sparked relatively few protests and were concentrated in the most impoverished areas in the West Bank and Gaza. Brutal force suppressed them within a few weeks.

The biographies of those killed illustrated yet again that those who take to the streets are always the most oppressed and marginalized; poor young unemployable dreamers from decaying refugee camps, while the Palestinian leadership's family members are kept safe at home in Ramallah's bourgeois bubble.

As usual, Arab regimes and European governments reprinted, shyly and with evident bitterness, their usual obsolete rhetoric and "commitment" to peace, relieve themselves of blame or expectations. Their patience has worn thin from the intractable conflict.

Trump, then took the further step of meddling with UNRWA, Gaza's life-support system holding back its race towards becoming uninhabitable. Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t help but follow Trump’s lead and imposed further sanctions on Gaza that pushed it to the wall.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Ahrar protest against Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. May 2, 2017.Credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP

The portraits of Abbas and Trump joined the rogues gallery of enemies of Palestine. They were burned in Gaza alongside those of Netanyahu, as Trump implemented every last wish of the Israeli government. Losing credibility and leverage as a peace broker in the conflict was a price the American president didn't hesitate to pay.

Thousands of Gazans, most of whom have been living on bread and salt for months, couldn't wait any longer. No longer able to withstand being chained to a place where their children are being poisoned by the water they drink, crowds marched on the border with Israel, if only to scream at the world: "We are here." Despite the proven dangers that await, many believe that dying there is better than the slow death they face in Gaza's refugee camps.

However, Gazans' non-violent calls for life and dignity must have been muffled by the Israeli army tear gas. They weren't heard by their compatriots in the West Bank.

As Gazan protestors were being picked off one by one by Israeli snipers Ramallah was celebrating the PMX 2018 music exhibition at the Grand Park Hotel. And as the IDF wounded hundreds of Gazans this past Friday, causing permanent disabilities , Abbas was busy playing football in Chile. That, after he'd managed to indefinitely renew his presidency thanks to rigged internal elections at the widely-boycotted Palestinian National Council.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kicks a ball at La Cisterna Municipal Stadium during a visit to soccer club Deportivo Palestino. Santiago, Chile, May 10, 2018Credit: Esteban Felix/AP

The West Bank’s civil society, that same incubator of activism that developed the BDS movement to "represent our cause," were completely silent. The Palestinian diaspora was missing in (in)action. Those same voices, who always complain that no one cares about Palestinians, performed no concrete action in solidarity with Gaza. Where, in the U.S., were the mass petitions, hunger strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations or public forums in support of Gaza?

Gaza was again generalized as a symbol, while its particular suffering was overlooked.

My campus hosted the Palestinian ambassador to Sweden a few weeks ago. In her two hour-long speech, she mentioned Gaza twice, at most. Once, to prove her point on the magnitude of Palestinian suffering, another in reference to Gaza’s natural gas field that, if accessed, could raise up the West Bank’s economy. There was, of course, no mention of the damage the Palestinian Authority has inflicted on Gaza or, at least, what the PA could and should do to lift its own people in Gaza out of the abyss.

Thus the more violent the IDF’s rules of engagement became, and the deeper the silence of the international community and fellow Palestinians in response, the greater Gaza's despair and which fuels more protestors.

Betrayed, isolated and rained on with tear gas and live-bullets, at an unparalleled peak of desperation Gaza's young women, men and children have begun to fantasize about bringing down the separation fence with Israel, to evoke, not provoke, the sleeping conscience of a world ignoring the slow death of two million civilians.

Gaza and Israel are never two independent or equally sovereign countries; the former is still under occupation and a blockade that has turned the besieged enclave into what a Haaretz editorial has called "the Palestinian Ghetto," and what former UK Prime Minister David Cameron called an "open-air prison." Young protestors take pride in trying to break out of a ghetto and out of the confinement of an open-air prison.

The demand to return to Israel is a fantasy, but what it really constitutes is a call for escape from a 70-year saga. From the misery cause by the blockade implemented by Israel and Egypt blockade and Abbas’s sanctions. From the whirlpool of Arab betrayal and European silence. From the limbo of Trump’s recklessness and Hamas’s repression.

The calls for return come from people who deserve a normal life. From people who’re trying to right the only "wrong" in their life; being born on the wrong side of the fence.

Ivanka Trump, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, U.S. Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Dep Sec. of State John Sullivan and Jared Kushner arrive in Israel for the U.S. embassy opening. May 13, 2018Credit: \ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

The U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem this week will provide a proximate explanation for Gaza’s escalating protests and to break through the Israeli border - but that is a misleading context. Gaza has been simmering for far longer.

But the lack of solidarity in the West Bank means that it's the U.S. embassy move, and Nakba Day, rather than a bloodbath in Gaza, that will ignite some rage in the West Bank - but it certainly won’t awaken much urgency for action, neither internationally, regionally nor locally.

Aside from the limited circulation of angry social media posts, the Palestinian diaspora and Ramallah’s people will commemorate Nakba Day with dabka dancing, music, folkloric outfits and tasting dishes from Palestinian national cuisine - as Gaza falls into the Valley of Death; failed, abandoned and unwanted.

Nonetheless, the 30,000 Gazans who are expected to show up to protest at their Nakba march will try everything to grab the international community's attention. And the protests will continue, because the alternative to closing this outlet for anger can only mean turning to firing rockets over the Israeli border and fanning the flames of war.

Commemorating the Nakba this week has precious little relevance for Gazans who experience true catastrophe every day in their besieged enclave.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

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