GAZA CITY, March 8 (JMCC) - The voices of a group of young people fill a tent in an open air café in Gaza City
. They are quarreling over the details of the demonstrations they plan to launch on March 15 against Palestinian political division.
Most of them hold laptops, updating their pages on Facebook, while others use cell phones to receive calls or send SMS messages.
Assad al-Saftawi, 22, said that the group is organizing protests in the West Bank
, as well as Arab and foreign countries. Their cause is to pressure the main Palestinian factions of Fateh
to end years of rivalry.
Our demand is to end the internal division,” al-Saftawi said. “This division damages our Palestinian cause, while neither Fateh nor Hamas care about the people’s pain.
We are not against the Palestinian Authority
and Fateh, or against Hamas,” he asserted. “We are completely independent, calling for ending the division. On the 15th of March, we are going to the streets in mass demonstrations and will not retreat until we achieve our goal.”
The Islamist faction Hamas won 2006 general elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but was largely unable to govern due to an international funding boycott and domestic opposition.
In June 2007, Hamas forces overran Fateh-dominated Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and have since controlled the crowded coastal territory.
Attempts led by Egypt to reconcile the factions have stalled over security control, new elections and Hamas participation in the Palestine Liberation Organization
. But these Palestinian young people say the factions have not tried hard enough.
Twenty-year-old Yara Shaheen studies English literature at al-Azhar University. She has joined the March 15 group and exhorts her classmates to join the movement.
Political division strengthens Israel internationally while weakening Palestinians, she argued, and it is also justifies the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza four years ago.
Gaza is largely closed off to the outside world, its borders with Israel blocked to most people and goods, and its crossing with Egypt opened only sporadically to some travelers.
The March 15 group members say their slogan is “the people demand an end to the division,” echoing the rhythms of revolts that brought down both Tunisian and Egyptian leaders after decades of rule.
They have produced and circulated a song calling for an end to the political divide and designed a poster featuring a map of historic Palestine, distributing both on their Facebook page.
The group is unfunded, comprised of young people currently in college or just graduated.
It is completely voluntary,” said activist Mahmoud al-Minirawi. “We owe the café lots of money for hot drinks - we drink and do not pay. All of us are university students or jobless new graduates.”
One challenge the young people faced was unifying their efforts. Al-Saftawi said that originally tens of pages on Facebook were calling for an end to political division. The numerous groups have managed to rally over a campaign to be launched on March 15.
Another challenge has been to maintain independence from the existing political factions and their prejudices against each other.
For example,” said al-Saftawi, “if we demanded conducting new elections in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas would think we are Fateh members. If we called for elections in Palestine and abroad, Fateh would think we are Hamas. So we dropped the details.
Majdal Nijim, 20, a media student at Birzeit University, is helping to coordinate the group’s activities in Ramallah
We are fed up with the fruitless and senseless political statements from various officials,” she said in a phone interview. “We are in need of practical steps to end the division in order to end the suffering of Gaza’s people under siege, as well as to end the occupation.”
The question remains how Palestinian authorities will respond to the planned demonstrations.
Adnan al-Dhamiri, spokesperson for security apparatuses in the West Bank, told JMCC.org that the Palestinian Authority will not prevent any activity calling for an end to division, as long as it does not disrupt the public order.
We are for self-expression as long as there are no acts of violence,” said al-Dhamiri by phone from Ramallah. “By law, everybody has the right to express himself. Such expression should be under the rule of law and they should inform us 48 hours before launching their activity.”
In Gaza, spokesperson for Hamas police Ayman al-Batniji said no “special arrangements” were being made for March 15.
We believe that Gaza does not need such activities,” he said. “Such activities seek to shake security, but in general we will deal with them according to the nature of the demonstrations on March 15, al-Batniji said.
Ask these activists how Fateh and Hamas should end their competition over power and you will get a short response.
Agitated, twenty-two-year-old Fadi Sheikh Yousef set his cup of tea down firmly on the table.
Fateh and Hamas created the division and they should end it,” he said angrily, wiping at the table. “There are lots of initiatives and they must apply one of them. It is their problem.
He is optimistic that, faced with enough pressure, the two factions will be able to resolve their political differences. For this, the young people are calling on an important pressure group: the families of those killed and imprisoned by Israel.
Even the families of the martyrs and prisoners will participate,” he said. “The mothers of the martyrs and prisoners will be in the front of the rally.
Prisoners in Israeli jails plan to join the activities, perhaps by declaring a hunger strike or other action. Key imprisoned political leaders Ahmad Saadat
and Marwan Barghouti
have both announced their support for the campaign.
Clearly authorities are edgy, keeping close tabs on the loosely-organized group.
Al-Minirawi, 21, was detained when Hamas security forces raided the group’s nightly meeting. They stormed the café, confiscated the mobiles and the laptop of the group and ordered some of us to go to meet security for interrogation, he said.
Al-Minirawi said he was questioned and spent one night in jail. “I called on the jailer to join us in the demonstration on March 15, he smiled.
He has another “appointment” with the security forces in a few days.