Along the road to Ramallah from the Qalandia checkpoint separating the West Bank from east Jerusalem hang posters with the American stars and stripes and the iconic red-and-blue picture of President Barack Obama.
“President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to Internet — we have no 3G in Palestine!” Another sign gives the message: “President Obama, come early to your meeting in Ramallah. It may take you two hours to cross Qalandia checkpoint.”
The posters are designed by young Palestinian web consultant Mahir Alawneh, who decided along with a couple of friends to send a different kind of message to the American president.
”Most of our people talk about the major issues, but not about our lifestyles,” Alawneh told Al-Monitor in Ramallah, and explained that though 3G is a small issue for Palestinians, who have more pressing concerns, it serves as a point of comparison for Americans, who are likely to be very upset if it were suddenly banned in their country. He added, “So this is the point: If we don’t have this tiny thing, do you think we have the bigger things?”
"We have no 3G in Palestine," says a poster for Obama on the road to Ramallah.
Still, the posters might be the most positive greeting Obama will find among the Palestinians during his visit. U.S. diplomatic backing of Israel at the UN during Obama’s time in office and its more than three billion dollars per year in financial aid to Israel’s military — the largest amount ever, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council — has caused disappointment and resentment of the president among Palestinians.
Demonstrations against Obama’s visit to the West Bank were held on Tuesday, March 19 in both Ramallah and outside the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. In Ramallah, the protest was announced by "Palestinians for Dignity," an umbrella organization of different youth groups and individuals who fight for Palestinian rights and freedom.
“Obama has expressed his undeniable and unrelenting support to Israel no matter what,” a young activist wrote to Al-Monitor over email. She wished to remain anonymous and gave the name "Leila."
“Obama comes at a time when international pressure on Israel is increasing. He attempts by this visit to relieve the pressure on Israel and to pander to the current Israeli government,” Leila wrote, and accused the United States of enabling "Israeli massacring of the Gaza Strip in recent wars" and the doubling of Israeli settlements since the Oslo Accords 20 years ago with its military aid and lack of action against Israel. The demonstrations, therefore, call on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cancel the meeting and not be pressured into negotiations, which could leave the Palestinians in an even worse situation.
Visit will enable Obama to see reality
There seem to be no signs that the PA will grant the movement’s demands and Monday, March 18, military helicopters were spotted over Ramallah as a vivid sign of the security preparations for Obama’s visit.
Hussam Zomlot, a member of the Palestinian peace-negotiations team, said to Al-Monitor in Ramallah that though his expectations for a political outcome of the meeting were low, he had high hopes that during his visit, Obama will see the situation for Palestinians on the ground.
“Starting from Jerusalem, he will see how Israel is ‘de-Arabising’ the city. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem, he will see how the ‘City of Peace,’ this ancient city, is being encircled by the wall, suffocating it totally and turning it into a ghetto — a concentration camp, actually,” said Zomlot, who added that seeing this reality will increase the U.S. president’s responsibility to act.
According to Zomlot, the Palestinian leadership still wishes for the United States to play the role of a neutral and fair mediator in order to move toward the agreement which, he said, both the United States and the international community have endorsed — a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and with east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. And even if is this not on the agenda, there are for him three immediate concerns: the issue of political prisoners, the expansion of settlements and the restrictions imposed by Israel on the Palestinian economy.
“We expect from Obama that he will not just be concerned with minor issues. We want him to spell out words like ‘occupation,’ ‘settlements’ and ‘apartheid wall,’ and say that the future doesn’t include these practices and the Unite States cannot tolerate Israel’s creeping annexation [of the Palestinian territories],” said Zomlot, though recognizing the unlikelihood of this outcome.
“Perhaps the trip will educate Obama and his team that there’s a ticking clock on the settlement of a two-state solution — that this might not be an option in the foreseeable future,” said Zomlot. He added, “This is a big maybe and hope. The only thing that is certain is that Mr. Obama doesn’t come with a plan.”
Frustrations among Palestinian-Americans
Even among the significant number of Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank, frustrations were easy to track.
“It is very surprising that America still pays Israel to help them out with their crackdown of force on the Palestinians. America is all about freedom and peace, and then here they are taking it away from other people. It’s not right,” said 20-year-old waiter Hussein Asfour to Al-Monitor as he was putting together sandwiches at the American-style Sinatra Café in Ramallah. Not only does he share the president’s middle name, but was also born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Obama’s long-time home. Having lived the first 15 years of his life in the U.S, Asfour explained that while he then had the freedom to move and travel freely, he now constantly faces checkpoints, his mother struggles to get permission to stay and his uncle was jailed for a year without any official charges.
“When I was first came here, I believed 100% in peace and I was pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, but now I see how it affects me and my family. I’m a U.S. citizen so I have more benefits, but in the end I’m also Palestinian and my rights are killed,” said Asfour.
“I am very disappointed with the American government because they support such a horrible force.”