Crowds instead of ballot boxes in Gaza
The largest squares in Gaza and the long streets leading to them have been filled with Palestinians since the morning of November 27. The occasion was the commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat, the founder of the contemporary Palestinian national movement.
The crowd’s size and momentum should be viewed in several contexts beyond the immediate comparison between the intimate and sensitive relationship between Arafat and the Palestinian masses and the current relationship between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people.
The first relationship inspired nostalgia among Palestinians; the second relationship’s shortcomings were reflected in the people’s eagerness for the festival.
The popular position manifested itself contrary to Abbas’s wishes. He, along with his cronies, frustrated people when recalling the hazardous claims made against Palestinian MP and elected member of the Central Committee Mohammed Dahlan.
The claims were rejected by courts affiliated with Abbas, despite the seriousness of the charges. If there were any truth to them, they should be conferred to the courts and not to telephone and computer screens. Just because Dahlan was invited to the festival, a shadowy army of paid henchmen and minions were ordered to orchestrate a cyber-campaign against him.
The logic underlying attempts to undermine the Gaza festival in remembrance of Arafat and his virtues lacked a minimum of objectivity and political intelligence.
It is as if besieged Gaza, the target of exclusionary measures that seek to starve and strangle its patriots and their families, has nothing to say about its sufferance. It is as though the overall Palestinian status quo could offer any justification for the people’s obedience to Abbas, whether those justifications would be at the level of popular legitimacy for his reign or in the fairness of his approach to governing by relying on fait accompli politics or at the level of his political discourse and his consideration and kindness to citizens. The man has no alternative other than demonising others so he can come out like an angel.
However, ordinary folks, in their reticence to him, asked him a fittingly simple question: Why does he not, at least within the perimeter of his presidential headquarters in Ramallah, convene an assembly of just 200 people, not the 200,000 of Gaza, to commemorate Arafat and suggest measures to save his people from the bottleneck they are stuck in?
How can he explain the discrepancy between the fact that it was possible to have hundreds of thousands celebrate in Gaza and the fact that the same was not possible in the West Bank? After all, the man being remembered and celebrated is the same.
Palestinians are fed up with division and they know that the divisions are caused by two factions jockeying for power through securitisation, the exclusion of popular will and imposing people into power without delegation. Since the two warring parties are afraid of the results of the ballot box, they have done all they can to block the democratic process.
In such circumstances, people can only gather in public squares during anniversaries and memorial days. Many popular events and mobilisations in the West Bank have demonstrated the region’s potential for popular explosion. Most recently, there were protests against provisions of the Social Security Law, an insignificant issue relative to the question of self-determination.
In his speech to those gathered in Gaza, delivered through video conference, Dahlan called on Abbas to go to Gaza and form a government of national consensus. He pointed out that an exclusionary approach is destroying the Palestinian cause and that it is the masses that constitute the natural incubator for him and for others.
Dahlan reminded Abbas that exclusion and other practices that weaken the national movement would not yield the desired results and would reinforce nihilistic trends and the logic of unrealistic slogans. This would come at a time when the Palestinians need more than ever to hold on to the fundamental principles of their cause without ignoring reality and the political factors that encourage the world to sympathise with the Palestinian people and support their legitimate demands.
The message has been delivered from Gaza to all those concerned with Palestinian militancy, including Fatah’s divided popular base. At the peak of its eloquence, the message stressed that the attempts at exclusion had failed miserably and that those who were irked by Dahlan and the Gazan national cadre would eventually become much more irked with the Fatah militants who oppose them.
As long as the latter clamours for Palestinian unity, the cessation of monopolised power and the implementation of the constitution, no amount of virulent language, lies and persecution shall succeed in isolating them.
In Gaza, there has been a referendum with crowds in squares replacing ballot boxes!