West Bank and Gaza Arabs likely to march in numbers, too?

Amira Hass in Haaretz says it’s highly unlikely because Palestinians are exhausted and both live in police states. They wonder; what would it really gain?

On Thursday, January 20, a group of young people wanted to demonstrate their support for the Tunisians. As is customary nowadays, they organized themselves using Facebook and e-mail. And in accordance with Palestinian law, they informed the police 48 hours in advance of their intention to gather in Manara Square – only to learn that public demonstrations in support of the Tunisian people had been forbidden.

Some of the young people arrived at the square anyway, at the scheduled time. They were surprised to find that, completely by chance, another demonstration was taking place there at that time – to express solidarity with and concern for Haytham Salhiyeh, a prisoner in an Israeli jail against whom, prisoner organizations claim, an attempted poisoning took place.

The people who had shown up to support the revolt in Tunisia decided to join the other demonstration. But because one of them was still carrying a Tunisian flag, policemen rushed over and dispersed the crowd. It is superfluous to add that, a few days later, protests against Al Jazeera – which had leaked the so-called Palestine Papers – were held without disturbance.

Can one therefore conclude that the Hamas authorities in Gaza are allowing solidarity demonstrations to be staged (just as they permitted protests against the PA last week following Al Jazeera’s publication of the Palestine Papers )? On Saturday, a young woman went to the Gaza police where she, too, relying on the same law mentioned above, announced the intention of a group of youths to demonstrate support for the current uprisings in Arab countries. Forget it, they told her. In case anyone thought differently, Hamas is also afraid of the subversive potential and the messages of emancipation.

Both in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have already proven their excellent ability to suppress demonstrations. Is this what is preventing Palestinians from expressing solidarity with their Arab brethren, who for years were inspired by the scenes of the Palestinian intifada?

The fear that the protests will be suppressed is not the central reason, said a friend who is older than the young people who sought to demonstrate in Ramallah and Gaza.

“We instigated two intifadas and look what came of them – the situation only got worse,” he told me. “The first brought us the Palestinian Authority and then the expansion of the settlements; the second – destruction, Israeli repression that is worse than before, and the Hamas regime. People are depressed. They don’t see any point in protests. The hope that the dictatorship of occupation would fall if we took to the streets – like in Tunisia and Egypt – has evaporated.”