From Ramallah, while Gaza burns

JK Bank

By Nina Butler, Special Correspondent | Palestine


[I] have found it very hard to write whilst being here in the West Bank. Since I arrived two and a half weeks ago I feel as though my words have dried up. I feel uncertain as to what my function is here and what right have to speak for anyone. I see so much destruction, hatred and inhumanity all around, and this silences me. Concurrently I have been dazzled by an aloof lifestyle ‘as per normal’ and how certain Palestinians profit from the suffering of others. I also watch the thrill-seeking on-lookers in NGO and media band-wagons speed by. I want to distance myself from this but then I have felt guilty in my silence.

I am glued to the news feeds pouring in all around as the apartment I am sharing has flooded with journalists. Everyone is hungry for disaster whilst the plumes of tobacco and coffee scatter time and space over satellite phones and video cameras. On the streets bellow Palestinians are shouting angry words against everyone – Hamas, Israel, Fatah, the US and mother in-laws.

Here in Ramallah, the seat of PA (Palestinian Authority) and Fatah power, there is a tense calm. Gaza may be a sanctioned and inaccessible region to West Bank Palestinians, but many have family and friends there and this severed arm of the fractured Palestinian body is bleeding. The latest reports say 28 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed in rocket fire attacks since Wednesday afternoon. A local friend tells me his wife, who he has been disallowed from seeing since the blockade of Gaza began in 2006, has received a mass-released text message from Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) warning everyone to stay away from Hamas tonight as “the second phase is coming”.

Bomb sirens from Jerusalem, which is under 50km away from where I sit in central Ramallah have been filling the night air with paranoia. The Israeli government certainly were not counting on Hamas being able to retaliate to the assassination of their commander Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday 14 November with long range missiles capable of reaching both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The scalp of the Hamas commando was clearly an intended vote clincher for Netanhayu in the build-up to the upcoming Israeli elections. In a macabre turn of events and words, the plan has back-fired horribly.

A further significant contextualisation is that Fatah, who rule Palestinian territories in the West Bank, and the PA leadership are pursuing a bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly. Their peaceful and deftly political manoeuvring is deeply troubling to an Israeli government that has made its intentions to continue the annexation of Palestinian land and genocidal blockade of Gaza, in violation of international law, clear. Statehood would not only give PA international legitimacy, but would also turn Israeli methods of occupation of ‘territories’ into Israeli methods of occupation of a state.

The singular focus on Hamas right now not only undermines the PA’s governance in real terms but also gives the impression in global media that Hamas is the pre-eminent representative of Palestinian people. As Hamas has been characterised as a “terrorist” organisation by the US, Israel and much of the international community this is a face of Palestinians that serves to justify continued illegal occupation under the claims of ‘right to self-defence’.

In an attempt to lure attention back to the West Bank and the methods of non-violent protest that have constituted the bulk of the Palestinians’ resistance strategy since the first intifada in 1987, Fatah have called for widespread protests across Palestinian towns and villages. At various hot-spots, such as Qalandiya checkpoint, and Ofer checkpoint and prison, there have been heated confrontations between protestors and Israeli forces. There was even a swift and forceful suppression of a demonstration at Damascus Gate, which is the entrance to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem after Friday prayers this afternoon.

I have heard whispers of a third intifada but it’s too early to be certain. For the time being all I and my Palestinian neighbours can do is hold fast and pray for Gazans, and Israelis in Hamas’ aim, tonight.

We have no choice but to be tied to Ramallah in steadfastness as Israel has closed all the major checkpoints encircling the West Bank’s Palestinian territories. Just like that, all Palestinians in Gaza and here are imprisoned. Any text messages or flyers the IDF may distributing and trumpeting as an act of humanity are a dark and absurd joke when you cannot escape the impending destruction you have been told to avoid.