Palestinians poured into Ramallah's Yasser Arafat Square on Friday to watch Mahmoud Abbas submit Palestine's bid for full membership of the UN.
As a cool breeze engulfed Ramallah on Friday evening, crowds of Palestinians poured into the city’s recently renamed Yasser Arafat Square to watch Palestine Liberation Organisation chairperson and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas officially submit Palestine’s bid for full membership of the United Nations.
Throughout the West Bank, special gatherings were held in squares and cafés to watch the historic speech. Abbas’s ruling Fatah party sponsored an official viewing celebration in Ramallah which organisers estimated was attended by between 5 000 and 7 000 people.
Carrying Palestinian flags and portraits of Abbas, Palestinians of all backgrounds, young and old, men and women, watched attentively as Abbas made the case for his people and their desire for sovereignty in front of the UN’s General Assembly.
“Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will the world allow Israel to occupy us forever? Are we an unwanted people? Or are we a missing state?” Abbas said in his speech.
Mohammed Rahmah, from the small West Bank village of Salfit, came to Ramallah to be a part of the historic day. “The Palestinians have been waiting for this vote for 63 years and finally it is here,” he said half an hour before Abbas addressed the United Nations, “The whole world knows that we deserve a state and finally Abbas is fighting for our rights regardless of what Israel says.”
With the conclusion of Abbas’s defiant speech, Palestinians broke out in song and dance almost as if statehood had been declared. Lasting well into the night, Palestinians clogged the streets of Ramallah with flags demanding Palestine become the 194th member of the UN.
The excitement that the speech caused and the perception of Palestine as an equal member of the international community allowed Palestinians to momentarily forget about the hardships of their daily lives. But not all were satisfied with the performance of the Palestinian leadership.
Sitting in a smoky café, five floors above Arafat square, Linan Tamimi, a 24-year-old student from Ramallah, expressed concern over the handling of the statehood bid by the Palestinian Authority.
“The PA has been on a campaign to blind Palestinians from the truth of the situation,” said Tamimi.
“Palestinians think that everything is going to change with this vote and they simply do not understand that nothing is going to change.”
Hours before the speech, clashes broke out at the Qalandia checkpoint, the main gateway between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Hundreds of photographers from around the world snapped photos of Palestinian children as they threw stones and bottles at Israeli border police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Israel had bolstered its troop levels in anticipation of violence in the West Bank.
Palestinian medical sources reported that 30 were injured at Qalandia, mostly from rubber bullets. The Israeli army did not report any injuries to soldiers during the demonstration.
‘Israel is going to tease the Palestinians’
Rula Talonisi, a mother of four living in Ramallah, echoed concerns shared by many Palestinians regarding an escalation of violence with Israel in the coming weeks. “I think that Israel is going to tease the Palestinians in the coming days,” she said holding her two-year-old daughter in her lap.
“I hope that we will avoid confrontation with the Israeli army at checkpoints but I think that they are going to do everything to attack and tease us.”
While Ramallah was preparing for Abbas’s speech and Qalandia was engulfed in a barrage of stones and bullets, Israeli settlers marched into the Northern West Bank city of Qasra waving Israeli flags.
According to Palestinian sources inside the village, Israeli settlers began throwing stones which spiralled into a full-scale confrontation between villagers and settlers.
Responding to the clashes, Israeli soldiers entered the village firing live ammunition which resulted in the death of Essem Odah, a 33-year-old resident of the village and father of seven.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said in a press release that soldiers used “riot dispersal means and eventually, live fire during a mutual rock hurling incident between Israeli civilians and Palestinians.”
Palestinians in the West Bank are trying to take advantage of their euphoric hope that Palestine could soon be a state. Many feel that statehood is merely one small step in their 44-year-old struggle for freedom, but it is a step nonetheless.