As Israeli attacks against Jerusalem’s Palestinian population and al-Aqsa mosque continue, tensions continue to run high across the West Bank yet recent factional calls for demonstrations have not received mass popular support. Over the last week the PLO factions and Hamas have both failed to mobilise large followings with their calls for separate protests in the Ramallah area. In contrast, demonstrations last Friday held by popular committees including all factions from the Qalandia refugee camp managed to mobilise higher numbers with a united call for popular protest at Qalandia checkpoint.
On Sunday, PLO factions called for a mass demonstration to march to Qalandia checkpoint. In the event, attendees were outnumbered by both journalists and Israeli soldiers. The few who did heed the call were mainly factional representatives. Israeli soldiers forced the few protesters back with ease and the event was over within a few minutes. With only journalists remaining in the area, the Occupation forces proceeded to release clouds of toxic tear gas at the photographers and video journalists.
On Tuesday, Hamas publicly announced a call for participation in demonstrations across the West Bank to take place the following day. The Ramallah event was planned as a ‘human chain’ to be formed around the ‘al-Manara’ area in the centre of the city.
The holding of the demonstration in the centre of Ramallah instead of close to Israeli checkpoints suggests that Hamas was attempting to raise its visibility in Ramallah rather than directly confront the Occupation.
Between 200-250 people attended the event on Wednesday, far fewer than would have been hoped for to show widespread public support for the movement yet also more than had attended the event called for by the PLO a few days earlier. That said, by holding the event in central Ramallah it is possible that amongst the participants were people who may not have been willing to face the arsenal of potential Israeli firepower at Qalandia.
There is no doubt that since the creation of a to-date largely ineffective ‘unity government’, Hamas’ public visibility has grown in the West Bank. Its green flags are once more evident at most demonstrations and public events although whether or not that signifies a tangible growth in popular support seems uncertain.
Since the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza, the international media has regularly talked about the ever-growing public frustration with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and an accompanying mass upswing in Hamas’ popularity. It seems however that the situation is not so clear cut. Whilst Abbas is undoubtedly lacking widespread grassroots support, Hamas seems also unable to raise large numbers of participants for pubic events yet unified calls, such as the demonstration called by committees in Qalandia refugee camp last week and a Birzeit university protest held at Ofer prison are comparatively attracting larger numbers.
Maybe more relevant than the eternal Fateh-Hamas popularity debate, is a rising grassroots frustration in the West Bank at the Palestinian factions’ lack of tangible political strategy and the continued ‘factionalisation’ of national issues.
MEMO Photographer: Rich Wiles