The three demonstrations that were held in Al-Manara Square in Ramallah last week evoked memories of Egypt’s Tahrir Square — and sometimes memories of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and Ibn Gvirol Street as well. A protest against negotiations with Israel turned into violent confrontations between hundreds of young demonstrators and police forces and led to additional demonstrations and the establishment of a commission of inquiry to probe “the Ramallah events.”
The first demonstration took place on Saturday in the wake of the intentions of Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Abu Mazen to meet with Shaul Mofaz, Israeli vice prime minister.
“Mofaz is a war criminal, he was behind the elimination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin [spiritual leader and founder of Hamas] and the siege on former President Yasser Arafat,” wrote the “Palestinians for Honor” group. This is also the group that led the campaign in support of the hunger strike of the prisoners and administrative detainees in Israeli prisons.
The demonstrators expressed their objections to negotiations with Israel. One of their slogans was, “The nation wants to overturn [the] Oslo [agreement]” and they emphasized that they call on the Palestinian leadership “to set a new strategic political policy based on the nation instead of conducting negotiations [with Israel].”
The first demonstration became violent and then another demonstration was held on Sunday against police violence — a gathering that was also violently suppressed. Events reached their peak when a Reuters video photographer was beaten by a man in civilian clothing and who also tried to strangle him.
That event turned into the symbol of the protest, and the picture of the photographer being beaten was spread on social networks. The policemen received the unflattering labels of “shabbiha,” the epithet given to the gangs supporting Assad’s regime in Syria, and “zuran,” meaning “hooligans” an idiom in Palestinian Arabic.
A commission of inquiry was created
An additional demonstration was scheduled for Tuesday (July 3) but a few hours before it was scheduled to begin, Abu Mazen met with officers of the security apparatus to discuss the strong criticism he received from human rights organizations and Palestinian journalists. Mazen emphasized to the officers that freedom of expression must be respected. He also announced the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry, headed by the billionaire Munib al Masri.
The protestors left Al-Manara Square, continued via al-Arsal Road to the Muka’ata, the compound of the head of the PNA. Dozens of policemen and soldiers from the presidential guard waited for the protestors there — but this time, they had been instructed not to instigate violence.
This time, the demonstration was peaceful and without skirmishes. However, the fast-paced developments may become a problem for Abu Mazen — while similar demonstrations attracted only a few dozen demonstrators a few months ago, hundreds protested this week. There are a number of possible flash points that could ignite protests: the delay in salaries from the month of June, close to Ramadan, and the fact that the media took the side of the security forces and silenced the protestors. These issues could cause additional protests to break out and convince the demonstrators to take up civil, not just political, issues — similar to the events of the Arab Spring.