It is certainly most challenging to write at a time when everyone and everything around you is expecting and urging you to write. When you know this is one of the few times when words lose their meanings, and feelings are impossible to transfer into words. I’d tried to escape this challenge but today I’ve come to face it.
March 15th was to be the day when, inspired by their fellow brothers in other Arab countries, namely Egypt, the youth of Gaza would put an end to the nightmarish disunity which has been racking the body of the Palestinian cause for years an years on end. Explicit well thought out agenda, organized plan, granted permissions, promised cooperation, immense mobilization, and high spirit preceded this long-awaited day.
As the protesters gathered at al-Jundi al-Majhool square, everyone was thunderstruck to see the green flags of Hamas raised jointly with the Palestine flag. We had agreed earlier that no flags whatsoever should to be raised but the Palestinian flag. This is a rally against the disunity between the Palestinian people embodied in the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank, and the Hamas-dominated government in the Gaza Strip. To end this disunity is to raise neither Fatah’s nor Hamas’s flag. To end it, we must raise but the Palestinian flag. However, as more and more protesters arrived at the square where a few minutes later our rally would begin, Hamas green flags kept fluttering in the air.
We gathered at some aria, and everyone seemed to grow more tense and concerned about this ominous forerunner. The chanting began, “people want to end the division.” Meanwhile, a huge protest came over and broke into where we already gathered. They raised more and more green flags among which Palestinian flags were also raised. They chanted echoing our chants, “People want to end the division.” As they arrived, tension seemed to grow more rapidly, and looming clashes could be envisioned. As expected, the Hamsawiyes (and here I label none, but describe them by how they decided to appear on such a day by raising their political party’s flags) tried to break into us and steal the show by leading the protest and raising their flags. Some of us tried to push them back and keep them from infiltrating our rally, chanting “Barra!” – get out. They soon overcame us by their huge numbers, and unmistakable will for stating a fight.
Helpless, we decided we could hold them back from taking control of the rallies and at the same time refrain from starting any fight by withdrawing from al-Jundi and protesting somewhere else. However, “somewhere else” in Gaza is no easy a task to find for protesters in such immense numbers, and so we started marching ahead aimlessly. For once we seemed to be heading to nowhere. We continued marching, chanting and clapping, until we arrived at as-Saraya (the main and largest prison in Gaza, located at an intersection at the end of the street leading to al-Jundi). There we waited for moments before we returned to where we were— al-Jundy al-Majhool area.
We tried to isolate ourselves from the other rally led by Hamas members since this is a rally organized by Palestinian youth for everyone who is sick and tired of the current division between the two largest Palestinian factions each trifling with the fate of Palestinians in their own area of governance, each blind with their political party’s interests and agenda, desecrating the pride of the Palestinian people. In an attempt to sort out this ironically divisive act, we came up with a new slogan, “people want a’lam Falasteen” –the flag of Palestine, waving our hands up and down for Hamas’s rally, in a motion so as to tell them to lay down their green flags. Cynically, they immediately replied by echoing our slogan, chanting, “people want a’lam Falasteen!” leaving us flabbergasted.
As we watched ourselves grow dispirited, and our rally become more dispersed, I thought I had already grasped the workings according to which this rally went. Whatever we chanted was echoed by the broadcast buses owned by Hamas organizers, so it seemed as though we were chanting after them. When we tried to disengage ourselves from them, they would send a bunch of “their protesters”, who would infiltrate our huge rally, carrying their green flags and wearing bands around their heads, so green flags fluttering among our rally, it would appear as if we were Hamsawiyes! (or at least led by them).One might wonder why we couldn’t overcome them by our large numbers, energy and enthusiasm since this was, supposedly, our revolution. Why did they always have the upper hand in leading the protest?
Primarily, for two reasons: first, we couldn’t help feeling helpless in confrontation with whoever wore a green band, or raised a green flag. To me, a sense of their belligerent animosity that has been generating inside us for many years that it has become impossible for us to not feel powerless in front of any Hamas-affiliated member. Second, we wanted to keep the protests as peaceful as possible, so we had to practice high levels of self-restraint, which at some point, I failed to do.
It dawned on me “We want a’lam Falasteen” is the most appropriate slogan to chant, and how paradoxical it would be if they tried to echo this slogan once again. The guys started to chant it. A few moment later, Hamas broadcast buses echoed it. All at once, I found myself waving my hands at our protesters, asking them to stop chanting, but they wouldn’t. I immediately addressed the guy with the microphone, asking him to lay down the green flags since they wanted “alam Falsteen” to be raised. I said to him, “Nazzel el-alam!” – lay down the flag, referring to Hamas green flags. And all at once it was repeated by thousands of our protesters, all chanting in unison, “lay down the flag” which certainly they couldn’t repeat this time.
And here I was to pay the price. Feeling defeated, and unable to join in our pro-unity (and this time anti-Hamas) chanting, Four to five Hamas-affiliated guys started pointing at me. My heart skipped a beat, and the protesters around me tried to run away as a group of 5 Hamsawiyes started off in our direction. Before I could even think of escaping, I found myself caught by the neck by one of them as he clutched my scarf in his hands. He shouted at me, “why don’t you lay down your scarf as well?” And I replied, “this is the Palestinian scarf,” and trying to hide any sing of fear in my voice, I went on, “you lay down the green flags!”
He bellowed back, leaving me dumbfounded “YOU WANT TO LAY DOWN THE FLAG OF ISLAM!”
With the help of a few protesters and an old classmate who’s become a member of Hamas security and to my luck who happened to be there, I managed to get back my scarf.
An hour later, we headed away from all this mayhem toward Al-Katiba ground to protest peacefully in there. We did. For about 6 hours on end, we chanted and clapped. A few tents were erected. Most of us were intent on spending the night on Al-Katiba ground until what we came for would be fulfilled. We chanted, “Mesh hanraweh mesh hannam, bedna nenhy lenqesam!” – we won’t sleep, we won’t go home, until we end the division!. These few hours highlighted the high spirit of the Palestinian youth, and I could see happiness shining from everyone’s eyes as the uneasiness of the early hours had come to an end though we couldn’t ignore the intense presence of Hamas security who kept searching everyone with their investigatory looks.
With the intent to spend the night with the protesters at Al-Katiba ground, I left to have lunch at about 6:30pm. I never felt as much empowered as during those former six hours. I never truly felt as much proud as I headed back home, wearing my Palestinian scarf, and my “Handala” T-shirt.
Once I arrived home, I received the news of how the protests were raided and dispersed, the protesters savagely beaten up, some of them detained, tents set on fire, cameras confiscated, girls obscenely cursed…
What was most infuriating to me was listening to the Hamas-owned al-Aqsa radio channel as they promulgated rumors and distorted the facts on al-Katiba ground denying that there had been any attack on the protesters, but rather “things ended peacefully as the protesters expressed their opinions freely and called for unity.”
Mohammed Rabah Suliman