More days of rage to come, but at what cost?


This article is also published at We Are Not Numbers and The Truth Out

Weekly protests are continuing in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with no sign of “surrender.” The death toll has reached 12—with most occurring in the Gaza Strip, where a caustic pall from burning tires hangs perpetually in the air. Meanwhile, amidst the chaos and rage, hopes for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian factions, are flagging as attention wanes.

In an attempt to ramp up the pressure on U.S. and international leaders, Fatah officials are calling for protests every day this week, both along the Gaza and Israeli border and at West Bank checkpoints. And all of the political factions have united in urging Palestinians everywhere to make this Friday (January 29) the largest “day of rage.”

Will such demonstrations be effective in provoking a backlash against the United States, or even in reversing Trump’s decision? Some Palestinians in Gaza say the protests aren’t worth the risk they pose.

Ahmed Abu Hatel, a 22-year old student at al-Azhar University, is staying away from the protests because, “despite being peaceful, Israeli forces can become violent at any time. I am the only son in my family, and my parents are old. If I died, who would take care of them?”

Instead, he said, there are safer ways to express the people’s anger and frustration. “You can write, for example, a poem about how we feel about Jerusalem, or make a YouTube video.” One example of protesting through poems and other forms of the written word is We Are Not Numbers, a Gaza-based youth storytelling project whose writers have written a number of poems and narratives expressing their passion for Jerusalem; they are published on the project’s website and shared widely through social media.

Photo by Mahmoud Abu Salama

Salwa Mohammed, a 31-year-old activist working with a media-production company, agreed with abu Hatel. “The Israeli occupation doesn’t differentiate between those protesting peacefully and others.” She cited the example of Ibrahim abu Thraya, a 29-year-old paraplegic who was shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers just for waving the Palestinian flag during a protest two weeks ago. And yet Israeli officials say they investigated the incident and found “no moral or professional failures” by its soldiers.

Mohammed added that Palestinians cannot withstand a new conflict with Israel.

“What is happening now could start a new war,” she cautioned. “And for what? Even if Trump withdraws his decision, the Israeli government will do its best to make Jerusalem the Israeli capital.”

Akram Attalah, a political analyst based in Gaza, reinforced Mohammed’s opinion. “We all know the American administration will back Israel in any new war from now on. And if another war is launched, Jerusalem would be forgotten. The war would end with a truce, and meanwhile Jerusalem would become Israel’s capital while everyone is focused elsewhere.”

What would be most effective, Attalah said, is an unarmed intifada, like the First Intifada in the 1980s. “Throwing rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israel might ignite a new war that would abort the peaceful marches in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The factions need to think carefully about this.”

Another consequence of the current protests is a lack of attention to the reconciliation process that had been launched between the rival Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Fatah. Hamas leader Yehia Senwar recently said the reconciliation “is collapsing and needs to be rescued.” The government of Egypt has said it remains committed to assuring the process stays on track, and will use the distraction caused by the protests to work behind the scenes.

Gaza-based writer Essam Shawer, who writes for Palestine newspaper, says allowing the reconciliation to falter would be a mistake, since ending the division would strengthen the Palestinian leadership so it could better face down U.S. President Trump.

“After Trump’s decision, the Palestinian Authority is without a key supporter, and it needs the reconciliation to face the challenge,” he warned.

However, although more talks took place in Cairo December 27, and the official report is that “the obstacles are being worked on,” most Gazans think the reconciliation is doomed.


Mohammed Arafat




Emotions run mixed and high in Gaza


This article is also published at We Are Not Numbers and the Truth Out

In the 10 days since American president Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, protests have continued to boil across the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza. At least five Palestinians were injured in Gaza Sunday, including one critically, during clashes that broke out along the border with Israel. The clashes, as well as the firing of two rockets into southern Israel, occurred the day after thousands attended the funeral for Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, 29, a quadriplegic fisherman who was shot to death on Friday in the bloodiest day of the protests. To date, six Palestinians from Gaza have been killed since the Trump announcement.

Palestinian factions have called for protests to be held every Friday in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to oppose the action of the United States. In response, the Israeli military has conducted more than a dozen air strikes in Gaza.

Friday demonstration (Photo by Mohammad Arafat)

Trump’s action defied international agreements, including the 1947 U.N.-approved partition plan that recognized Jerusalem as an international city. Following the fighting that ensued in the wake of that decision, the western part of the city was seized by the Israelis and the eastern segment was governed by Jordan. Although Israel took full control of Jerusalem after its 1967 invasion, Arabs of all stripes, as well as most international organizations, continued to consider East Jerusalem the capital of a future state of Palestine.

As they poured into the streets during the past week, Palestinians made it clear they would not accept Trump’s decision. In Gaza, they were as outspoken as those in the Old City: “We will not give up on our capital,” demonstrators yelled.

Mahmoud Qasim, one of the protestors at a march at the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City, said he is afraid Trump’s decision signals the end of Palestinians’ dream to have a state of their own.

“Today’s decision broke my heart! I can’t even comment on this. I just can say we’ve lost our soul. We lost Jerusalem,” he moaned.

Abbas Abu Zakareya echoed Qasim’s depression, saying U.S. action is designed to render Palestinians meaningless in the eyes of other countries.

“Does Trump really think he owns Jerusalem and can give it to the Israelis?” he fumed.

Although there were few female protestors at this particular demonstration since it was at night, one elderly woman could be seen in tears. She said her dream to eventually return to her old home in Haifa had gone up in smoke.

“I am a refugee from Haifa, and I always hoped to return to my city,” she wept. “But after this decision, I am sure my dream is hopeless! I only wish to have a state with Jerusalem as my capital and to return to my city.”

An older, angry man interrupted: “Where are the world leaders? Why are they not doing more than talking? Jerusalem is our capital. We will never recognize it as the capital of the Israeli occupation. I will die for it. I will die for it.”

Although virtually all other politicians have condemned the American decision for aggravating an already explosive conflict, with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas saying the U.S. has withdrawn its right to broker peace negotiations, many people on the street are skeptical. Abu-Mo`taz, another protestor, bitterly dismissed Arab and other world leaders, saying they have been silent for years and he doesn’t expect anything new from them.

“I believe the Arab leaders will do nothing but bemoan the suffering of Palestinian Muslims and Christians,” he says. “They’ll just talk.”

Others believe this action might actually shock some leaders into standing up, and could signal the start of a more forceful and effective rebellion.

“I believe this decision will move the dead souls of the Arab leaders who had neglected our case and force them to finally do something,” said Mohammed Abu Ma`rouf.

Mohammed Arafat


‘We Will Not Give Up on Our Capital!’ In Gaza, Rage Over Trump’s Jerusalem Move Is Rising


“We will not give up on our capital!” The demonstrators in Gaza’s Unknown Soldier Square yelled.

Mahmoud Qasim, one of the protesters told me Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was no less than the end of the Palestinian case and the Palestinian dream of an independent state.

“Today’s decision broke my heart. I can’t even comment. We lost our soul. We lost Jerusalem”.

Millions of Palestinians and Israelis are now waiting in nervous anticipation following Trump’s pronouncement to see if fears that the Palestinian territories will ignite will come to pass, and whether this will also inflame a related field of conflict – between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, which has been marked in recent months (especially regarding the Gulf) by warming ties.

Palestinians are well aware that Trump’s step appears to overwrite their legal, historical and moral claims to the Holy City with solely Israeli sovereignty. Despite Jerusalem, together with the West Bank, being territory occupied by Israel, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians and many international organizations consider east Jerusalem as the only future capital for Palestine. It is a shared policy objective from to the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian response has been vigorous across the political spectrum, from Hamas calling for a new Intifada to the chief PA negotiator declaring the end of the two-state solution.

Straight after Trump’s declaration Wednesday, hundreds of Palestinians poured into streets of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip to protest, waving Palestinian flags, while burning Donald Trump’s photo and the American and Israeli flags. The protesters held signs declaring the decision was a “new Balfour Declaration”  – a reviled designation – for the Palestinian people.

Another protester, Abbas Abu Zakareya, said that it was a purely destructive decision that humiliated Palestinians and their own agency.

“Today’s decision is shocking. Does Trump own Jerusalem, that he can gift it to the Israelis. Does he?” Abbas wondered.

Among the few female protesters I met an older woman, crying. Her interpretation of Trump act: the end of the Palestinian national project writ large.

“I am a refugee from Haifa, and I always hoped to return to my city. After this decision, every dream we have is gone.  I only wanted a state with Jerusalem and to return to my city…”

“Where are the world leaders?” an old and angry man interrupted.

“Jerusalem is our capital. We will never recognize the capital of Israeli Occupation. I will die for it. I will die for it.” He cried. “Nothing matters to me now, neither the Palestinian reconciliation process nor my life.”

There were few expectations that Arab leaders would speak out in solidarity with the Palestinians, Abu-Mo`taz, a protester, pointed out that those leaders haven’t spoken out in recent years: “After this decision, I believe the Arab leaders will do nothing.  but looking at the suffering of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians in every city of Palestine.” Abu-Mo`taz believed.

“The decision is a declaration that the US withdrew its role from the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians,” Abbas said after his press conference followed Trump’s speech.

The Palestinians who maintain some faint hope heard the muffled references to a two-state outcome from future negotiations in Trump’s remarks. But that feels worlds away from the accelerated pace of protests in Gaza today.

Mohammed Arafat





The ‘Gaza Cannon’: a reminder of a glorious past


This article is also published at We Are Not Numbers

“It’s my dream to see the cannon fire during Ramadan like in the old TV series Bab al-Hara,” says Omar Akeela, a Palestinian child living near Gaza City. He was referring to one of the Arab world’s most popular TV dramas, set in Syria during the years when its people yearned for independence from France. And the cannon is a relic that has sat for decades in a square in downtown Gaza City.

From 1870, during the Ottoman Empire, until 1967, when Israeli forces invaded and occupied the Gaza Strip, the cannon was used to notify Muslim worshippers that it was time to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Its bellow marked other special occasions as well, like Eid and the New Year. Nihad el-Moghani, manager of engineering and planning for Gaza City’s municipal government, says cannons were originally made by the Ottomans for this purpose in the 19th century because there were too few mosques and not every Muslim could hear the call to prayer. Thus, the sultans decided to use cannons to notify the people.

Believed to be the only one left in the Gaza Strip from the Ottoman Empire, the cannon was likely imported from Cairo or Jerusalem, since those two cities were the main sites for weapons factories from 1516 until 1917.

There are many stories about the use of cannons during Ramadan for Muslims, one of which is set during the French campaign in Egypt. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to stop Egyptians from revolting against him, so, to show he cared about their religion, he allowed the firing of cannons during Ramadan. Archaeology researcher Hiyam el-Baitar, who also works at the Ministry of Tourism and Heritage, adds that the cannon used to perch on the highest spot in Gaza, el-Montar Hill, allowing every part of the city to hear it fire.

“But life changed,” explains el-Moghani. “There are speakers in every mosque as well as watches and clocks in every home, so the cannon is no longer needed in our daily life.”

For decades, the cannon was neglected until the formation of the Palestinian National Authority around 1995. A new city council formed and decided to repair and paint the old cannon, putting it on display in the Square of the Municipality.

Despite the enormous need for reconstruction in the Strip following three Israeli wars in six years, care for historic monuments is part of el-Moghani’s mission. He believes the cannon is an important aspect of the people’s heritage, and has urged the Gaza government to look after such historic relics and sites so the Palestinian past blends with the present.

Abdullah Shaheen, a 62-year old Gazan, says he remembers hearing the cannon from el-Montar Hill before 1967. “Years ago during Ramadan, my family and I used to sit together in a room, waiting for the cannon to fire so we could start eating breakfast. The room was silent, even the kids. Those moments were the best. I wish they could come back again.”

The cannon has been here for decades and it witnessed the Ottoman era, British occupation, the defense of Palestine by the Arab armies in 1948, Egyptian control after the Nakba, Israeli occupation in 1967 and now the Hamas government. It’s a part of our long and worthy history.

Mohammed Arafat