March 15 Protests: Thousands Gather in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Gaza City

15.03.11 – 11:50| PNN – Palestine News Network

Ramallah – PNN – Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Gaza City on Tuesday for a planned rally in support of national unity and the beginning of hunger strikes. In the Gaza Strip, however, independent youth activists witnessed their protests co-opted by Hamas supporters as the green flag of Hamas flew in the streets of Gaza City.

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Youths chant slogans at a unity rally in Bethlehem (Staff Photographer, PNN).

“We condemn this act [of co-optation],” said Hassan Farahat, one of the organizers. “We were hoping that our brothers would only carry the Palestinian flag that represents all Palestinians instead of the Hamas flags.”

Hassan previously estimated that 20,000 people would join in Gaza City, but current numbers are unclear. Some youths began a hunger strike in the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City, echoing similar actions in Bethlehem, where at least ten youths began a Manger Square sit-in, and Ramallah, where hunger strikers took to al-Manar Square.

The Palestinian protests are composed of a mixture of activists with different demands, but organizers claim the main thrust of the rally is to end the division between Fatah and Hamas as a means of creating national unity and ending the 63-year Israeli occupation.

In Ramallah, at least 3,000 Palestinians marched through the central square of al-Manara. Palestinian police and security forces said on Monday that they would not try to stop the rally.

Hazem Abu Hilal, an organizer with the Sharek Youth Forum, told PNN, “What we are witnessing in al-Manara square is a great youth movement. But sadly, political figures and leaders tried to co-opt the protest. We reiterate as the March 15 Youth Movement, from this square, that we are calling for national unity and elections of a new Palestinian National Council representing Palestinians all over the world.”

“This is our demand as the youth,” he reiterated, “away from political influence.”

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Palestinian flags fly in Manger Square with the Nativity Church in the background (Staff Photographer, PNN).

In Bethlehem, at least 2,000 people marched from the Bab al-Ziqaq intersection on the Bethlehem-Hebron road toward Manger Square, a place usually packed only around Christmas time. Rally organizers handed out Palestinian flags and kept factional banners out as youths chanted, “The people want to end the division” and “Abbas and Haniyeh, Palestine is the point.”

“We want one country,” said Muhammad al-Toz, a young man from Bethlehem. “We demanded the end to all forms of division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

Rajan Nassar, a local activist, agreed.

“As a Palestinian, I’m against the divisions that are happening in the Palestinian community,” she told PNN. “We have to be unified as a nation.”

Some at the rally pointed to the examples of Egypt and Tunisia, where independent youth movements overthrew unrepresentative governments. Nisreen Dwayk said she took off school on Tuesday to echo that sentiment.

“The youth are the driving force of change and we saw that in Arab countries. Palestinian unity will come from us.”

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Palestinians gather under their flag in Bethlehem (Staff Photographer, PNN).

The demand for a Palestinian National Council (PNC) includes a one-person-one-vote scheme to include all Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and the Diaspora. Palestinians are expected to demonstrate as far abroad as London and New York City, representing the 5 million Palestinian refugees displaced over the years as a result of the 1948 Nakba and ensuing Israeli policies.

In Hebron, Palestinian state-run news wire Wafa reported a “massive” rally calling for the end to divisions and condemning political parties for attempting to co-opt the idea. A smaller protest was reported in the village of Dura, south of Hebron.

In response to the rallies, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Wafa, “Today our people expressed through mighty demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza that they want the end of the division and the occupation. This confirms that the people stick to the idea of unity. We are with our people in their desire for freedom.”

 


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