RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser for provincial affairs, Hikmat Zeid, declared in a June 13 circular that permits for marches or rallies would not be granted for the rest of Ramadan. "Once [the holidays] are over, the laws enforced shall be applied again.” The move came in response to a demonstration planned for that evening in Ramallah's city center to demand that the Palestinian Authority lift sanctions on the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian police have been instructed to prevent any protest from taking place in the streets and public squares, leaving the demonstration vulnerable to repression and deprived of security. A source within the organizing Movement to Lift Sanctions on Gaza who asked not to be named told Al-Monitor that the demonstration will take place as scheduled. He added, “The PA issued the circular in an attempt to scare us and prevent the protest from occurring, following Fatah’s calls for a counter-demonstration at the same time in the same place to clash with us and disturb ours, which came after the success of the previous demonstration held three days ago.”
Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi posted on Facebook June 12 that “suspicious persons” were behind the June 10 Ramallah protests against the Palestinian Authority's (PA) sanctions on Gaza. In the post, he questioned the motivations behind the demonstrations, speculating that the timing may be linked to the upcoming US-brokered deal and “attempts to mobilize the public under the pretext of [lifting] sanctions on Gaza."
More than 2,000 people rallied June 10 in Ramallah to protest the PA's sanctions on the Gaza Strip. The protest, the city's largest in years, started in the center of Ramallah with protesters voicing anger at the PA’s ongoing sanctions on their fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and demanding that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lift them at once.
In a June 1 statement, the movement demanded the sanctions imposed in Gaza be lifted immediately, affirmed the national unity between the West Bank and Gaza and that the campaign is only part the Palestinian people's fight to restore it, called for an end to the internal Palestinian conflict, condemned the use of political controversy as a justification for cutting funding, and expressed support for "Gaza and every other Palestinian gathering in its struggle with Zionism."
Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political factions, split violently in 2007. The Fatah-ruled PA administers the West Bank from Ramallah, while Hamas — which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist group — controls most aspects of the Gaza Strip.
The PA imposed its most recent sanctions in April 2017 in response to Hamas establishing an administrative committee to manage the Gaza Strip’s affairs. The PA's Ministry of Finance has cut the salaries of the Gaza government by 30% to 50%, halted some of their benefits, decreased by 80% the number of people allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment and stopped paying for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, causing Gazans to suffer long power cuts.
Journalist Shadha Hamadeh, spokesperson for the movement, told Al-Monitor, “The youth movement was launched to speak out for Gaza and lift the sanctions in light of the degenerating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.” She added, “It first began on social media with a campaign using the Arabic hashtag 'lift the sanctions.' Then, things evolved and the call for a mass demonstration in Ramallah was made.”
Hamadeh said that the movement consists of youths of all of political and intellectual backgrounds, as well as rights activists and journalists. "Coordination is occurring between the movement, civil institutions and civil society organizations to get them involved and raise their voices against sanctions.”
She went on, “National figures and rights activists expressed their support for the movement and their readiness to take part in it. Everyone was waiting for a spark to take action and demand that sanctions be lifted, believing that they are unfair and discriminatory.” She stressed that this march will not be the last.
The movement's complaints include the PA decision to stop paying for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, the reduction in medical referrals of patients out of Gaza and medications provided by the West Bank’s Ministry of Health to the Gaza Strip. Its statements relay that its ultimate goal is to end the split and achieve national reconciliation.
Hassan Khreisheh, second deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor, “The movement indicates that the Palestinian street is angry and dissatisfied with the sanctions on Gaza. The start of a movement on the ground via protests and other activities indicates anger with all of the politicians who promised to ease the measures against the Gaza Strip, but failed to deliver.” He said the public's anger began escalating March 30 with the Great March of Return, in which more than 110 Palestinians were killed as they protested the Israeli occupation and the United States relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Razi Nabulsi, a researcher for the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “The thing that makes this movement different is that it is independent. It has neither a partisan nor an ideological character, nor is it part of any Palestinian factional polarization.”
Nabulsi, who took part in the protests, added that the movement was built “on the foundation of preserving national unity and [preventing] the Palestinian people from being victims of the dispute and split between Fatah and Hamas.” He said the movement is open to all individuals as well as the full social and political spectrum and doesn't serve as an alternative for the Palestinian political parties.
For some Gazans, the movement offers a slim glimmer of hope that more people and institutions will join together to pressure the PA to lift the sanctions.