(c) Anne Paq/ Activestills.org, Ramallah, 10 January 2008
So Bush came to Ramallah, and of course the city was upside down.The Palestinian Authority wanted to show that they were up to the task of handling the security.
I managed to get a press pass and I was cynical but curious to see how the big show will go on. All the photographers and journalists were told to come at 6am at a certain location so that they could be taken all together to the Muquata.
I did not want to play this game. I wanted to show the “behind the scenes” of the visit and to feel the atmosphere of the streets. I wanted to show the absurdity of it all. The big circus that the PA agreed to play. I was also told that there would be some demonstrations and I did not want to miss them.
Early morning, I was waken up by the noise of the helicopters and the sirens. Was Ramallah attacked? Then I remembered that we were under siege because the visit of George W. Bush. As I moved around the city, I discovered that the streets were empy and the impression of a ghost town was reinforced by the presence of a heavy fog.
From Al Manara, the center of the city, two streets were closed. Some Palestinian Policemen were standing with their brand new uniforms; preventing people to go further. I argued with them that I had a press card and that I was on the list of the American Consulate, according to which I was allowed to get inside the Muquata. But they told me that it was not possible and that the whole area was now closed. I tried to go through the back streets, and soon faced some soldiers with very impressive army gear. For one moment i asked myself if i was confronted with Palestinians, Americans or Israeli soldiers. But they were Palestinians. Again they told me to go. I tried another road, in vain. I asked the Palestinian soldiers at what time they came and they answered me at 3 o’clock. Then I decided to go to a Palestinian friend’s house to watch AlJazeera Live. I asked my friend what she would tell Bush if she could talk to him and she answered: “Why you come here, killer?”.
Then we watched Bush at the press conference. My friend was not listening too much. As a sign said in the demonstration in Jerusalem the night before “No more Bushit”. There was an ironic superposition of titles in AlJazerra as the headlines appeared. You have Bush telling “Peace is possible” while at the same time the headline said “Two civilians killed in Gaza by Israeli Airstike”. Then with arrogance, he made joke about the checkpoint, and how he did not have to wait. And I remember yesterday when i went to Jerusalem and how we got stuck inside and had to wait in the freezing cold that the soldiers finally decided to let us go. I also remember the line of workers at Bethlehem checkpoint who queue up as early as 4am. How did he dare joking about it? Let him put a kaffieh and try to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem like a Palestinian. He would not bear one trip.
Then I had enough of the press conference and I moved to AlManara as there was supposed to have a demonstration there and indeed they were people peacefully handling banners with slogans such as “Our freedom is not for sale”; “Remove all settlements”, “It is the occupation stupid”; and “Gaza in on our mind”. Soon the Palestinian police came and began to shout at people not to stand on the road. Then they began to push and attempted to prevent photographers to do their work. A Palestinian photographer was arrested. I could not believe it. I was also shout at but I continued to move around to take pictures.
Soon we heard about a demonstration next to the Orthodox club so we went there, only to find more police and even special Palestinian security forces.
The police was blocking the street to prevent people to join the demonstrators. I argued that I was doing my job and that they had to let me pass but they would not. So with a few friends we had to climb some fences and ran towards the demonstration, only to find again more Palestinian forces ready to crush the demonstration.
The demonstrators include Palestinians from different factions and movements, and many women in the front row. Suddenly the Palestinian forces attacked the demonstrators with gas and sticks; beaten up the demonstrators, including the women who were numerous. Photographers and journalists were also attacked. I found myself taking the same type of pictures that I am taking at demonstrations against the Wall, only this time there were Palestinians against Palestinians. The Palestinian authority used the same tactics as the Israeli soldiers. The pushing, crushing, the gas. They even had some special forces in civilian clothes to identify the most active demonstrators.
All expression of dissent has to be crushed so that the plan can goes ahead.
As with Israeli soldiers, it was quite clear that some Palestinians were not at ease with beating up demonstrators. Some other were on the contrary very aggressive. Suddenly one policeman attacked one young Palestinian with a stick and broke his nose. Some policemen also angrily confiscated some signs against the occupation and tore them down into pieces. The crowd continued to shout “Bush and CIA out!”. The Palestinian film-maker Mohammad Alatar was also arrested; and another camera was taken from a Palestinian photographer.
All along I was thinking, “what a sad day for Palestine”. After almost two hours of confrontation, the demonstration finished. We all went away a little shocked. But i think we should face it and not pretend that this has not happened. The PA is acting more and more as a security proxi to the benefit of the Israelis, with methods comparable to the occupier. They learned well but we have also to draw the lessons from this episode. We; internationals working in Palestine, for what are we fighting for? Which Palestine? If we are talking about a pseudo Palestinian state ran by the methods used by the PA today, and for the service of t Israeli and US interests and the Palestinian elite; then this is not a worthy fight. I will not fight for a fateh- state. We internationals have the responsability to denounciate this dark side of the Palestinian moon. The Palestinian Authority must go. A revolution has to start both in Palestine and in Israel, rejecting the master plan well designed by Bush and Olmert; well implemented by the PA. There are some alternatives, and strong voices on both sides that are more and more advocating the vision for a one state solution. We internationals involved in the struggle should clearly position ourselves.
I would like to thank Mister Bush to have make me open my eyes on the true face of the PA. Now it appears clear that the struggle has different fronts. If we ignore one of them; we will loose it all.