(The following article was published in Mondoweiss)
The combined problem of hostile racist government and the growing prevalence of organized crime are haunting the Palestinian Arab society within the 48 occupied Palestine. The lack of personal security is multiplied by the feeling that there is no one to turn to for protection when your life is in danger. In the last years there were many struggles against organized crime and against the Israeli’s police giving free hand to the criminal gangs to terrorize the Arab population while the same police acts with excessive violence against people that struggle for their rights or even against ordinary Arab citizens.
Today, Friday, March 5, I took part in one of the biggest demonstrations of this kind. It was held in Umm al-Fahm, the main Palestinian town in the northern Triangle area. It was a high point in a long struggle of the people of the region, led by “al-Herak al-Fahmawi al-Muwahad” – “The United Fahmawi Movement” – after regular shooting at local citizens by armed gangs, and a murder attempt against Dr. Suleiman Aghbaria, a former mayor and one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement, arose tension and anger.
The previous Friday, February 26, Herak demonstrators tried to block the main road and were violently attacked by the police. One was dangerously wounded. The city’s mayor Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahamid and Knesset member Dr. Yousef Jabareen (also Fahmawi), that were trying to cool down the confrontation, were physically attacked by the police in front of the cameras. Four of the demonstrators were arrested. As a response, “The High Follow Up Committee”, the united leadership of the 1948 Palestinians, gathered in Umm al-Fahm and declared a national demonstration for this Friday.
Hours before the time of the demonstration, the police already closed the main highway leading to Umm al-Fahm, several kilometers away, on both sides. We, like thousands of others that were coming from out of the town, had to make our way on unmapped mountain roads through neighboring townships. When the crowd, that was estimated to be between ten and twenty thousand, finally marched to the main street it was already closed and deserted. Palestinian and black flags were hung on the traffic lights and the masses freely poured into the central junction, the same junction from which they were chased violently the other week.
Officially the demonstration was called by the follow-up committee, which is composed of all the 48-Palestinians’ parties and movements. But on the ground, it was clear that the demonstration was organized and led by al-Herak. On a central wall in the first circle of the town, in front of the municipality, a big billboard signed by the Herak waited the demonstrators. It declared “I will not wait until my son will be the next one… Umm al-Fahm started on the road”. It added a short cry in English and Hebrew: “Who’s next?”. Herak activist with specially printed yellow vests took control of the streets, turned away traffic and organized everything, including distributing water and halvah to the demonstrators.
The role of women in the demonstration very significant. Many of them marched in a special block, but most sections of the demonstration were mixed. Women carried Palestinian flags, led and chanted slogans and closed streets.
Al-Herak distributed to the participants a special, elegantly edited, 8-pages pamphlet explaining the background for the struggle. Its title was “The Police is The Problem”. It starts with the demonstrations of the second intifada in the year 2000 and the killing of three demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm by police fire. They relate to the colonialist approach of the Israeli government toward Arab Palestinian citizens and the government’s “justification” that internal violence is part of “the Arab culture”. They contrast the prevalence of violent organized crime in 48 Palestine to the relatively lower level of internal violent in the West Bank society. They show in graphs, numbers and details of police activities how the police systematically fail, or, rather, doesn’t even try, to defend Arab crime victims.
The Herak’s pamphlet ends with a slogan that was also repeated many times in the demonstration: “Revolutionaries, free people, we will march on”.
Internal political conflict
The demonstration was held two and a half weeks before the Knesset elections – the fourth election within two years. This time there is very little interest in the Palestinian society in the elections. The reasons for this lack of interest stems from two-way disappointment: On one side, the Israeli society looks like becoming ever more right-wing and anti-Palestinian, and almost nobody has an illusion that anything good can come from another elections. On the other side, the traditional Palestinian leadership that participates in the Knesset elections disappointed their voters first by supporting Gantz to head the Israeli government (and getting nothing for it) and then by splitting “The Common List”.
Near the entrance to Umm al-Fahm, this junction that was flooded with demonstrators, stands a big board with green election advertisement. It said: “The United Arab List – A realistic, influential and conservative voice”. The “united” list is the conservative alternative to the “common” list – led by Knesset member Dr. Mansur Abbas from the “Southern” (legal) branch of the Islamic Movement. Its slogans about “realism” and “influence” are understood as pointing to the group’s readiness to support Netanyahu, in his effort to remain in government spite of his indictment for corruption, in return for some material benefits. The reference to “conservative” might imply the attempt to use homophobic prejudice to discredit the other, relatively progressive, Arab parties.
In the demonstration, Dr. Abbas “realistic” politics were not welcomed. He was surrounded by angry demonstrators that called on him to go home. Activist from the Herak and other parties helped to drag him out safely in order to prevent farther embarrassment.