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A sad day of 'victory' in Ramallah

In spite of the headlines, the international media attention, and the flow of pictures showing celebrating Palestinians waving flags – the UN resolution sparked little excitement or joy in the streets of Ramallah, which is still surrounded by walls and settlements on all sides. If anything, it was an evening of sadness and despair.

Traveling to Ramallah for the late-night public screening of Palestine’s UN bid, I was not expecting much. Journalists who spent the day in the West Bank had already reported that very little was going on, that PA sponsored rallies had attracted only few people in the major cities in spite of the official holiday declared, and that there had been no special sense of enthusiasm in the air.

And why should there be? Aside from the fact that voting results were more or less known in advance, most people I talked to ahead of time felt that the bid would not really change anything on the ground. The Israeli government was unlikely to change anything about its behavior (not for the better, anyway), and the coming elections would only take the Knesset further away from any peace plan, with about 100 (five-sixths) MKs in parties defined as being either in the “center” or the right. No international sanctions seem to be around the corner to back the symbolic gesture, and unlike last September, there was no sense of a build-up towards renewed popular uprising.

And still, I went to Ramallah, looking for some kind of hope. After all – this was supposed to be a historic day, feared by Israel, symbolizing growing support for the anti-occupation cause even amongst Israel’s allies in the EU, and the shining achievement that PA officials have been struggling to gain for months if not years.

The big beautiful full moon rising over road 443 seemed to be a good sign for the evening to come. The traffic jam at Qalandia checkpoint could have made one think that people were rushing back home from Jerusalem to join the celebrations. But the closer you got to Ramallah’s city center, the less traffic you had to face – not what one might expect when nearing a major public event, and sure enough Arafat Square (formally Clock Square), where the screening was about to take place, was virtually empty, aside from the many television crews and photographers looking around aimlessly for something to do, and interviewing random uninterested passersby. “Well, maybe the masses will just turn up later, when it all starts,” I wished. And they didn’t. Not really.

So very far from Tahrir

By 22:00, when the live video from the General Assembly came up, there were few more than 300 people gathered near the screen. By 22:30 the event reached its peak, with about 1,000 people – leaving the small square about half empty. About half were police, journalists, foreigners, and young men who were said to be Fatah Youth, called up in a hurry when officials realized how grim things were looking (as Amira Hass also speculates in her Ha’aretz report today). Last year, said some reporters, more than 10,000 people swarmed the area, packing the square and all the surrounding streets. A single Egyptian flag between the Palestinian and Fatah flags (none from other parties) invoked the unhappy comparison of this fairly quiet crowd with the ones packing Tahrir Square during the revolution and again in recent days.

Arafat Square in Ramallah - only half full (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Arafat Square in Ramallah – only half full (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“The people will be happy once they actually get their state,” estimated Muhammad Khatib, of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, commenting on the small turnout. Khatib and several others in the square agreed that the one thing serving Palestinians best is that Israel is headed by Netanyahu and Lieberman. “Had it been Peres, Livni or any of those, practicing the same policies, the world would have bought their lies – but with these leaders of yours things are plain and clear,” laughed Khatib.

After Abu Mazen’s speech and a loud “boo” for the Israeli, the crowd started to disperse. The live video was replaced with PLO speakers on stage, music and some dancing, which no more than 100 people joined. By the time the vote actually took place, only some 400 people remained in the square. Something in their celebrations had an untrue ring to it, and photographers had to settle for pictures of ten people dancing and waving flags instead of rooftops shots of large masses. A few shots of joy were fired in the air from the random pistol (injuring one boy who was hurried away to the hospital), and within an hour only the municipality workers were left to clean up the mess and dismantle the stage. A few cars playing loud music and driving around town into the night was all that remained of the celebration. By morning, Ramallah had gone back to its routine life.

There is a crack in everything

Leaving the city for the weekly demonstration in Bil’in on Friday at noon I thought for a moment that I found the hope I had been looking for. Something about the move into the country, especially with the dazzlingly lively orchards surrounding the Ein A’rik natural spring, and the calm and ease of the villagers there, suggested a romantic notion of simplicity, and of a people entrenched so deeply in their homes and lives, so strongly connected to the ground, that nothing – not even the occupation – could destroy.

But then, just a minute’s drive away, was another settlement, which may well expand now towards the village with the government’s new plan to punish Palestinians for turning to the UN by building thousands of new settlement homes. And then Bil’in, with the wall as present as ever, the tear gas as burning as ever, the rubber coated bullets flying by close as ever.

Bil'in, the day after Palestine's UN bid passed (Haggai Matar)

Bil’in, the day after Palestine’s UN bid succeeded (Haggai Matar)

Still, in the face of all this brutality, the people of Bil’in still maintain their resistance and keep on fighting for their stolen land, every Friday in all weather, for more than seven years now, with other villages joining them over time. UN bid or no UN bid, new Israeli sanctions or no, these brave people will still be out there in their unarmed popular struggle, waiting for the rest of the Palestinians to join. And perhaps this is where hope truly lies.

[Updated: 16:00, 1.12]

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    1. iced whiterabbit

      we hop emankind will overcome in spite of this pain <3 from rabbit
      free palestine free teh world

      Reply to Comment
    2. Passe Dover

      I believe that if Palestine was made into part of Israel and everyone was in one country, there would have to be no wall and israelis could settle where they want and vice versa. As a separate nation, Palestine still has to put up with settlement and a wall…
      We are all brothers in the end and isn’t it good when brothers dwell together in unity?

      Reply to Comment
    3. I disagree with this analysis. The US was obviously opposed, and did everything it could to get a no vote, and the yes vote was overwhelming. Other than Canada, all the major countries in the world either voted yes, or abstained. A sea change has occurred. Israel’s politicians now know that the tide has changed, and for the rest of the future, more and more people in the world will become stronger and stronger in their opposition to the fascism of Zionism.

      The Palestinian people have obviously developed enough of a sense of being a people who deserve a state, that the rest of the world predominately responded with “we will recognize you as a state, but not yet be official about it”. And that is coming. The more and more the Palestinians develop individuality, and collectively consciously and unconsciously manifest they are a people who deserve citizen rights, the more and more insecure will become the Israeli politicians, and the more and more bizarre will be their actions. And the more and more the world will say “this is unacceptable”. Eventually the Palestinians will form a non-corrupt, secular, government, and begin to deal with Israel with more and more strength, and in time the Israeli government will sue for peace, exactly as did the South African government in the early 1990’s.

      I have a good friend, who grew up in SA. And he said one day more and more each day major changes occurred, and soon there was the official announcement of Mandela’s release. And it was all unexpected by the majority.

      The truth is that every major change in world history occurred because more and more people had an internal orientation toward a new view. Even through few may actually have openly discussed that view. And then one day, boom change is overt. And that is exactly what is going to occur in Israel. And when it does, the current Palestinian and Israeli leadership will be people who are not now seen as being future leaders.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        “Eventually the Palestinians will form a non-corrupt, secular, government”

        Do you honestly believe it is possible?

        Ever talked to Palestinians about such possibility?


        Reply to Comment
    4. “Still, in the face of all this brutality, the people of Bil’in still maintain their resistance and keep on fighting for their stolen land, every Friday in all weather, for more than seven years now, with other villages joining them over time. UN bid or no UN bid, new Israeli sanctions or no, these brave people will still be out there in their unarmed popular struggle, waiting for the rest of the Palestinians to join. And perhaps this is where hope truly lies.”

      If there are other social engines which can, have endured beyond all the administratively programed futility of daily occupation, please tell us of them.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      Palestine is free! Raise your wine glasses and light up the fireworks! Finally, after all these years the two state solution has been achieved and all thanks to the United Nations General Assembly. Victory was celebrated in the capital of Palestine – Ramallah – over the Zionist oppressors. From this day forward Ramallah is the liberated territory of the state of Palestine. I am so happy for all my Palestinian brothers and sisters that from now on can proudly raise their heads as the citizens of the state of Palestine! Congratulations!

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Strange quote:
      Eventually the Palestinians will form a non-corrupt, secular, government, and begin to deal with Israel with more and more strength, and in time the Israeli government will sue for peace

      This is a classic example of the fuzzy thinking of “progressives” or “purificationists” and it is similar to the bizarre belief of the Marxists-Bolsheviks that said “once we get rid of capitalsim, all of human nature will change, people will stop being self and greedy and we will have utoptia”. Of course, once it was seen that this is not true, the corollary became “of course we will have to keed killing those who don’t think like us until we reach this utopian state”.
      Same with this comment above and the Palestinians. “The only reason the Palestinians are violent or that fundamentalist Islamic states are non-democratic is because of Israel and Zionism. Once Israel and Zionism are eradicate, these people will AUTOMATICALLY become like us, liberal, progressive, un-corrupt secular. How do we know this? Because it is OBVIOUS that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS LIKE ME AND WANTS WHAT I WANT.” This is the cardinal belief of the modern “progressive”. This mentality has brought untold misery on the world. It is time they outgrew this childish view of things!

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Reading more and more of that “progressivist” nonsenses makes me think that it is some kind of mental disease, where people lose ability to think critically and are stuck repeating meaningless slogans over and over again.

        Reply to Comment