Defiant Palestinians Challenge PA Security Forces With Rally Against Arrests, Crackdown on Freedoms (with VIDEO)
The Palestinian Authority security forces have used harsh methods in dealing with the protesters, and the PA has not condemned them.
In defiance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces, dozens of Palestinians gathered for a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a stone’s throw from the presidential compound, to protest arbitrary arrests and the continued crackdown on personal freedoms.
The arrests of more than 35 Palestinians since Saturday, among them women, a scientist, a poet and activists, infuriated the public. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told The Media Line that the crackdown on freedoms must stop.
“We are here to protest against political arrests, to demand the freedom of all political prisoners, to demand that the Authority stop any form of oppression of freedom of expression and to demand the right of the Palestinian people to have free and democratic elections,” he said.
The protest on Wednesday night was one of many in a series of events condemning the PA leadership for the death while in custody of Nizar Banat, a prominent activist who spoke against the rampant corruption, nepotism and the curbing of civil rights in the PA.
Ramzi Rabah, a member of the political bureau of the Democratic Front, told The Media Line that there’s only one way out of the current crisis.
“There is no alternative but to return to the democratic path. Note that the timing of the tension coincided with the postponement of the elections. Thus, elections are the only way out of the deep crisis that the Palestinian situation is experiencing,” he said.
Activists like Jihad Abdo and Maher al-Akhras, both outspoken critics of the PA, were among those taken into custody but later released.
Akhras, who was previously arrested six times by Israel for his affiliation with the Islamic Jihad organization, went on a long hunger strike while in Israel’s Ofer Prison last year.
The PA also arrested Prof. Imad Barghouthi, from Al-Quds University’s Physics Department, and renowned poet Zakaria Mohammad. Both men were released on Sunday.
But no arrests were made at Wednesday night’s rally despite the relatively large number of participants, and the heavy police presence.
Palestinians from all points on the social and political spectrum showed up, as did what the protesters call “Big Brother” – the Mukhabarat, or PA intelligence.
Jamila Jalal Abed from the Women’s Movement told The Media Line that she came out for the rally because she is against political arrests and the suppression of freedoms.
“I never expected that we would reach this level and that our authority would deal with us in this way while we are still under occupation,” she said.
She had scathing criticism for the PA leadership and its security forces.
“I am sorry to say that no one from the Authority can go to buy a falafel sandwich without getting permission from Israel,” she said.
Those who have been arrested are accused of taking part in an “illegal gathering” and “stirring up sectarian strife,” which is a term the PA often uses to characterize any form of criticism of the Palestinian leadership.
Film director Mohammad al-Attar was arrested and held for 48 hours over the weekend; but that didn’t keep him from returning to the street.
“Whoever thinks that by arresting us he’s scaring us; I tell him you are wrong. They should look at our experience with Israel. Those who entered Israel’s prisons are the fiercest resistance to the Israeli occupation,” he said.
But despite his arrest, Attar offered a conciliatory message for all.
“Maybe it’s time for us and the Authority to take a breath and go back and think about it. This country is for both of us. We must find a way to live together. We cannot accept this oppression and lack of freedoms. But we do not seek to ruin the country,” he said.
The PA security forces have used harsh methods in dealing with the protesters, and the PA has not condemned them. In fact, many Palestinian officials came to the defense of the security forces, justifying their actions.
This is puzzling to many Palestinians. Not even Barghouti has an answer to why the PA is behaving this way, but he says this is harmful to all Palestinians.
“I have no explanation as to why they do that, but I know that what they’ve done is wrong and it hurts them as much as it hurts the Palestinian people,” he said.
International pressure on the Palestinian leadership grows as global criticism – in particular from the US and Europe – intensifies.
These continued demonstrations reveal the widespread discontent and resentment that Palestinians feel toward the PA.
And despite the PA’s crackdown on dissents, these Palestinians have vowed to continue their defiant protests.