The scenes from Ramallah on Saturday and Sunday were ones Palestinians hoped they would never have to see. During a popular protest against the scheduled meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz on June 30, Palestinian youths took to the streets in condemnation. The overriding message was that Mofaz was not welcomed in Palestine and that President Abbas should never have accepted to host him.
Unfortunately, the situation did not remain in the realm of civilized protest. Much too reminiscent of scenes of brutality in other Arab countries during their own uprisings against tyrannical rule, Palestinian police and security forces used force to keep the protesters at bay. Disturbing pictures of protesters on the ground under the nightsticks and boots of police and – what protesters claim are ‘gangs’ recruited by the security forces to do their dirty work – spread like wildfire across the internet, further fanning the flames of fury. Youth movements quickly reassembled, calling for a march the next day towards the presidential headquarters in protest of the police brutality of the day before.
Sunday went just as badly, if not worse. Two journalists and up to 10 protesters were beaten, many of them arrested. President Abbas later ordered for seven protesters to be released, but frankly speaking, the damage was already done. Youths were being treated for broken bones, lacerations and bruises, all inflicted by overzealous Palestinian policemen. The pictures only served to further enflame emotions, coupled with statements coming out of the head of the security forces Adnan Dmeiri. He said police were investigating who was behind the protest, saying the "agendas of those unknown movements are to create chaos and harm security and attack Palestinian police."
The accusations sound all too familiar. Conspiracy theories and ill intentions have become part of the language of the Arab Spring and the Palestinians are well aware of the fact that such a path is far too dangerous to travel. Insinuations that ‘unknown movements’ are behind the protests, are simply counterproductive and add to the already fueled situation. Besides, regardless of whether the youths got out of hand or pushed a little too hard, it is the ultimate responsibility of the authority in charge of law and order to take the high ground and keep the peace.
The bottom line is that the police and security forces had absolutely no business cracking down on the protesters who were merely expressing their opinions about a very sensitive subject. Palestinian law ensures the right to freedom of expression and assembly as long as it is in an orderly fashion, principles grossly violated over the weekend.
The fear that our police and security forces are transforming into a regime similar to those recently ousted in Arab states is prevalent enough. But the bigger fear is that we have lived so long under the Israeli occupation that we are aping its ways. Palestinians resist military rule because mostly it has been Israel’s law of oppression that has ruled our lives. Likewise, the less-than-seasoned Palestinian police force has also lived and seen what Israel can do and is employing similar tactics. In both cases, this is an extremely slippery slope; there is no telling where it could take us.
Right now, the Palestinian Authority’s security services have some soul searching to do. They are ultimately to blame and they must surely know that this kind of oppression can never happen again if we are to have even the slightest chance at reconciliation and finally liberation. The people should be allowed to protest peacefully wherever they want, including in front of the presidential headquarters. They should be able to express their opinion, especially when it has to do with protesting a visit by someone like Shaul Mofaz, who had a personal hand in besieging late president Yasser Arafat in the very headquarters he was scheduled to have tea.
Let us not turn into a regime similar to the ones we all rooted for to fall. And mostly, let us not become like the occupier we all loathe. What is the point of fighting to rid ourselves of oppression only to look again and find it in our midst?
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.