Meet the people bringing down the division

Published today (updated) 12/03/2011 20:57

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — “The people want to end the division,” said protesters in the Gaza Strip on Friday.

Activists in Gaza and elsewhere are gearing up for protests on Tuesday calling for an end to division and restoring national unity.

Leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others got an early start Friday in Gaza City. Noticeably absent were Fatah and five other factions, most of them leftist parties at odds with the Islamic movements.

In a statement, the Palestinian People’s Party said it would not participate Friday because it objected to Hamas’ “attempt to steer the rally.”

Saleh Nasser, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, encouraged the protesters to emphasize that the Palestinian people are one, united everywhere, and on the way to ending the division.

The PLO is the “house” of every Palestinian and all Palestinians have the right to be members, he said. Hamas is the largest non-member party.

March 15 movement led by Palestinian youth

Ma’an spoke with leaders of the movement leading calls to protest on Tuesday. Many of them are young, independent Palestinians who are university-educated but unemployed. They say they are fed up with the state of political disunity plaguing the occupied territories for the past five years and are calling for an uprising to force both governments to put aside their differences.

The revolutions in the Arab regions have paved the way for such action, they say. They consider the division one of the main reasons for the lack of employment opportunities. According to them, Hamas provides its members with work and Fatah does the same with its members but the new independent generation remains unemployed.

They’re also brave. When Hamas forces in Gaza detained a number of them in recent days, they refused to abandon their demands. They told the security forces that they were not against Hamas, just the division. They also informed the security forces that they were ready to offer their lives as a sacrifice to live a better life.

Palestinian leaders try to usurp movement

Hamas has asked those it detained to sign pledges that they will not protest. They refused. When Hamas realized it could not stop the movement by detention, they sent leaders like Ahmad Yousef, Yahya Moussa, and Gazzi Hamad to tell the youth movement that their goal was noble and they should hold slogans for national unity.

Hamas isn’t the only power getting edgy as the clock ticks down to March 15. Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank are increasingly demanding that the movement be stopped.

Ma’an asked the minister of information and telecommunications in Ramallah, Mashhour Abu Daqqa, if he had any plans to shut down the internet or phones like in Egypt and Tunisia.

“Any ministry who would consider doing so would be a fool,” Abu Daqqa responded.

The leadership has tried an alternative model by taking credit for the movement, according to the real organizers. Palestinian leaders are soaking up the limelight on TV claiming that they are funding it.

The truth is that the organizers are penniless, and that’s their real point. But it is hard to keep track of the movement since few of them will speak on record.

Real organizers: We’ll protest until demands met

The real organizers are all under the age of 25 and from Gaza. They meet at a place they call Gallery, but Hamas’ forces are catching on. The landlord of the Gallery has been detained repeatedly.

The planners say they’ll change the place’s name to Tahrir Gallery after they succeed.

On March 15, the demonstration will be held in front of the legislative council building in the Unknown Soldier square in Gaza City. In the afternoon, they will move to Al-Katiba square, the largest in Gaza.

The demonstrators say they will stay there until their demands are met: all factions announce reconciliation, form a unity government, and determine a solid date for elections that have been repeatedly postponed.

Their demands are simple, so will anyone claim they’re mercenaries? Will police open fire?

Human Rights Watch denounces Hamas crackdown

Yes, if history is any guide. Since late February, Hamas internal security officials have threatened, confiscated equipment from, and repeatedly questioned young activists trying to organize protests for March 15, activists told Human Rights Watch.

Organizer Ahmad Arar, 31, told the New-York based organization that on February 6, he and others used Facebook and other social media sites to call for a demonstration demanding national unity on February 28. They notified the Hamas Interior Ministry, but received no reply.

However, four police jeeps and a civilian car arrived at Gaza City’s Unknown Soldier square on February 28 and ordered a gathering of around 50 protesters to leave.

“When I said we’d informed the Interior Ministry beforehand and were going to protest peacefully, he hit me in the face,” Arar said. A policeman then hit Arar in the arm and face with his gun. “Then they pushed me into an unmarked car, kept beating me, and accused me of being a collaborator with the West Bank.”

A journalist told HRW he saw Hamas police beating Arar and pushing him into the car. “Then the police told the journalists that we should leave and if any of us had taken any pictures they would break his camera,” he said.

Organizer says accused of being ‘West Bank agent’

Arar was taken to a police station, refused medical treatment, tortured and interrogated for over 24 hours, he said.

“Abu Mohammed told me, ‘We will torture you unless you tell us who is paying you in Ramallah.’ I said, ‘[Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad sent me $1 million through Western Union,’ and he laughed and said no, it was too much,” Arar told Human Rights Watch. “Eventually I lied and told them that someone in the Youth and Sports Ministry had sent me $2,000.”

Arar said plainclothes officers then forced him to sign a statement naming a PA official.

When Arar later tried to retract the statement, explaining that he signed it in fear for his life, several officers spread his legs apart and pushed him to the floor.

“They said they were going to divide me in two, and they brought out a wire that was electrified,” Arar said. He retracted his denial of the statement.

Human Rights Watch has also documented several cases of abuses by Palestinian Authority security forces against peaceful protesters in recent months.

Soccer fans in Gaza cheer for unity

But in Gaza late Friday, the public at large seemed unfazed. For the first time in a Palestinian stadium, sports fans chanted that the “people want to end division” during a football match in Khan Younis.

Some 5,000 fans came to watch the game between Ar-Reyadi Gaza team and Al-Baladi Khan Younis team. The game was in honor of those who died during the January 25 revolution in Egypt.

The sports’ fans did not cheer for the game, they all cheered to end the division.

Maan News Agency: Meet the people bringing down the division.

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