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Remembering Abu Ammar 10 years on

Last week, a caller to a local radio talk show in Ramallah vented his anger:

“People are dying in Jerusalem, al-Aqsa is being attacked and no-one is demonstrating here, no-one is doing anything. Next week thousands of you will go and dance in al-Muqata to remember Abu Ammar, but you do nothing for Jerusalem…”

As thousands of Fatah flags filled Ramallah yesterday to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (known locally as ‘Abu Ammar’), these words began to play out.

The Palestine that Abu Ammar was finally airlifted away from by helicopter, on his way to a hospital in Paris where he finally died, was quite different to todays – the Apartheid Wall was in its early stages back in 2004 and ten more years of Israeli colonisation have seen Palestinian land dwindle even further and ghettoisation increase. Jerusalem is today no longer even a memory for Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza – most of the young have never visited the city or watched the waves crash against the rocks in Jaffa or Akka.

Concurrently, Palestinian society and its cities and institutions have changed too. The Muqata that Arafat left was in ruins, bombed cars and shelled walls were the last sight of Palestine that the former guerilla leader took in. The new stone walls of the buildings in today’s presidential compound glisten in the sun, and the streets which lead to it today house KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants. Ramallah has become one of Area A’s ‘islands of life’ within the PA’s ‘state building under occupation’ project.

Looking beneath the surface, the entrenched factionalisation of today’s Palestine – born from a combination of colonial geography, the ties of international funding, corruption, and various other internationally-supported tools – saw the tenth anniversary of the death of the former Palestinian president marked seemingly as a Fatah event. Whilst officials of different PLO factions spoke alongside Mahmoud Abbas to the thousands crammed in to al-Muqata, not a single flag of any faction except Fatah was is evidence. Even national flags seemed to make up less than 10 percent of those waved.

When Abu Ammar himself was under siege in the compound, tens of thousands of Palestinians were in there with him despite the Israeli snipers that surrounded it. Flags of every faction were carried proudly and confidently, yet national flags stood as the majority.

The planned memorial event in Gaza was cancelled following the bombing of houses of some senior Fatah officials in the coastal ghetto. Fatah has accused Hamas of playing some role in these bombings, accusations with Hamas has strenuously denied.

Inside al-Muqata during the commemorative event, Palestinians found shade from the midday sun under a Bank of Palestine ATM machine bearing the design of the Palestinian kuffiyeh – the historic symbol of national struggle is today being used to promote capitalism and the journey to debt.

Is this what Abu Ammar would have wanted, or, more importantly, are these internal developments really steps towards liberation?

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