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Palestine

Palestinians and the ever-widening intifada across the Middle East and North Africa

An eye-witness report from Gaza

Friday 25 February 2011, by Keith Darwin

The mass upsurges that drove out Ben Ali from Tunisia and Mubarak from Egypt have electrified people everywhere, but nowhere more than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where people are still glued to al-Jazeera television, suspiciously evaluating the military “undertaker” regime in Cairo and alternatively excited and agonized by mass protests and brutal repression in Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Djibouti, Kuwait, Morocco and Iran. Keith Darwin, an Australian FI supporter, sent us this report.

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Ramallah February 5th, 2011
Photo: KD

For Palestinians who are every day humiliated both by Israel and by their own “regime”, the reassertion of dignity by the Tunisian, Egyptian and Middle Eastern masses has been a great inspiration.

On the evening of Friday 11 February — coincidentally the anniversary of the overthrow of the hated Shah of Iran in 1979 — as people saw the fall of Mubarak, spontaneous (or mobile phone message-announced) marches began in Salaheddin Street in East Jerusalem, and in Palestinian cities within 1948 Israel.

In the Gaza Strip where 1.6 million people are suffering not only from the tightened Israeli siege, but also from Egypt’s complete closure of the Rafah border, celebration marches took place that evening in Gaza and Khan Younis cities, and in the larger refugee camps. The people wanted to congratulate the people of Egypt, so close-by across the border, and some fired guns into the sky as if marking a wedding. The Hamas administration was quick to welcome the downfall of Mubarak, not only because they are historically associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but also they voiced optimism that the border would quickly open, and Egypt would massively aid post-Operation Cast Lead reconstruction. Hamas rarely allows rallies other than its own; previous Egypt solidarity protests had been stopped. Political repression is directed mainly at Fateh, while the flags of the Democratic Front and Popular Front fly in the streets alongside Hamas flags. Hamas’ television is more professional and democratic than that of the PA in Ramallah, but people also respect al Manar from Lebanon, and above all al-Jazeera from Qatar, whose ruling family is the main funder of the Hamas government. When the Egyptian satellite cut Jazeera, viewers were desperate until it was re-routed.

Whether Hamas can still command a strong vote is unknowable. Although their administration is regarded as clean, and their performance in service-delivery, such as in health and schools is markedly better than the PA, the life-line of the tunnel imports is wearing thin, and their strategic limitations are showing: the 40% of Gaza Strip land left by the Israeli settlers is underutilized, even though the population is short of fresh food, and fishing is forbidden by the Israelis. The only construction thus far on the former Israeli settlements has been a prison.

In Nablus, the biggest city of the West Bank, people could only celebrate in mosque, church and home. But in Ramallah, the Pal