Journalists Beaten, Cameras Destroyed: Palestinian Police Break Up anti-Abbas Protest in Ramallah

Dozens beaten and arrested, including foreign journalists, in breakup of demonstration against Abbas's economic sanctions on Gaza

Palestinian security forces break up a protest in Ramallah on Wednesday against President Mahmoud Abbas's financial sanctions on Gaza.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

Palestinian Authority riot police forcefully broke up a demonstration in Ramallah Wednesday evening, enforcing a ban on protests citing the Id al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.

The police arrested journalist and dozens of protesters, busted cameras and beat many of the demonstrators.

The protesters called for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remove sanctions he has imposed against Hamas and residents of the Gaza Strip, for Hamas's failure to follow through on a power share deal.

Palestinian security forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and shot bullets into the air. They confiscated cameras and smartphones, breaking a few of them and ordered journalists not to interview demonstrators. The police arrested foreign and Palestinian journalists and beat a large number of protesters. A number of Israeli citizens participated in the protest, too.

In spite of the violent repression of the protest, a small group of demonstrators managed to evade the police and gathered on side streets, chanting slogans such as: “Woe to the disgrace and woe to the shame,” and “With spirit and blood we will redeem you, Gaza.”

A child looks on as security officials keep watch during a protest calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to end financial sanctions on Palestinians in Gaza, in Ramallah
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

Reports said six to 15 people were treated in hospital for injuries including tear gas inhalation. Dozens of people were arrested; one report put the number at 80, including a number of young women. Foreign journalists taken into custody were released overnight.

Palestinian police dispersed a similar protest in Nablus on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority banned demonstrations through the end of the three-day Id al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. The PA said its decision was to avoid any disruption of holiday celebrations. The last day of the fast is Thursday and the holiday begins that evening, after sunset.

The organizers, a group of public figures and social activists who opened a Facebook page entitled “The sanctions against Gaza are a crime,” announced on Wednesday they would hold the demonstration in defiance of the ban. In advance of the latest demonstration, a statement distributed by the organizers reported that they had been subject to a slander campaign on social media, which was said to have included threats and intimidation and presented them as outside agitators.

The first of the series of protests against Abbas’ Gaza sanctions was held on Sunday evening with about 1,500 participants. The second, much smaller protest was held on Tuesday afternoon.

When the protesters arrived at Manara Square in Ramallah on Wednesday, they were met by a large number of Palestinian riot police wearing black and camouflage patterned uniforms and armed with rifles, tear gas and stun grenades and batons. The police tried to prevent the protesters from congregating and ordered everyone to disperse and leave the street immediately.

Witnesses say they saw the police grabbing a demonstrator, beating him and leading him to a police vehicle, while other officers tried to remove the rest of the protesters from the main street. When this didn’t work, the police began firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters, and many passersby who filled the streets in the evening after the end of the day’s Ramadan fast.

Security forces in civilian clothes also beat protesters and arrested a few of them in the tear gas-filled streets. After these measures failed to quash the protest, a third group appeared in civilian clothes wearing baseball hats of the Fatah movement. They, too, beat protesters and tried to disperse the crowds, while shouting slogans in support of Abbas and in memory of Yasser Arafat.

In response to the arrests of journalists, the Palestinian press association released a statement that its members would not publish any reports about the PA government and its security forces until further notice. They called on Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to resign, holding him responsible for the repression of the protests. Many comments on the association's Facebook page blamed Abbas himself for the decision to put down the protest. This is not the first time the PA has used such violence to repress protests and silence opposition.

The protests were against a series of financial sanctions Abbas has imposed on Gaza since the souring of a unity deal last year. In April he froze salaries to PA employees in the Strip. Officials have reported plans to extend these measures – which have worsened an already desperate poverty situation in Gaza - and to disrupt banking and Internet service there as well.