RAMALLAH – Before Palestinian riots turned fatal Thursday, “Nakba” commemorations were hardly in evidence on the streets of the largest Palestinian city.
No more than a few hundred people attended the main Palestinian Authority/Hamas-sponsored Naqba Day demonstration in Manara Square, in downtown Ramallah, at an event described by one participant as a “celebration.” Elsewhere, no more Palestinian flags than usual were on display around the city, although the light poles that did fly the national flag were also adorned with black flags with an imprint of historic “Palestine” and the word “return” written in English and Arabic.
At Kalandia checkpoint, IDF troops were on high alert beginning this morning, but there, too, clashes with Palestinian youth took time to “heat up”, and at first bore little resemblance to the massive demonstrations that have characterised the Gregorian date of Israel’s founding in the past. Protests seemed to be an almost “obligatory” event to mark the day as two or three young men wrapped keffiyehs around their faces and swirled slingshots towards the checkpoint, where a small contingent of IDF soldiers gauged the situation tensely but did not respond to the provocations at first.
Obviously, the teens were ultimately successful at creating the headlines they sought, but both scenes seemed to confirm a general feeling throughout Ramallah this morning that the Nakba is far from prevalent in people’s minds. Where the Nakba was in evidence – mainly in Palestinian newspapers and websites and on Palestinian Authority TV, which broadcast ongoing live coverage of the Manara Square event – the coverage appeared forced, as if local authorities couldn’t bring themselves to let the day pass without mention.
Occasionally, Palestinian Authority TV coverage of Nakba Day cut away from Manara Square to focus on a standoff between IDF troops and residents of Wallaja, a village on the outskirts of south Jerusalem near the Jerusalem Zoo. But at least for the few minutes that this reporter surveyed that coverage, there was little “action” to report at Wallaja. As of this writing, there are no reports of clashes at that site.
In a shared taxi from Kalandia Checkpoint into downtown Ramallah, a 17 year old Jerusalem resident named Iyyad said he’d come to Ramallah in order to spend the afternoon with friends. He knew it was Nakba day, he said, because his school had cancelled classes for the afternoon today. But when asked why he wasn’t going to the protest, he simply laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
In comparison to older Ramallans, however, Iyyad’s involvement with Nakba Day was high. A second taxi driver, 28-year-old Mohammed said he hadn’t even remembered that today was May 15 until I had mentioned it (a further reminder arrived several minutes later as we approached the checkpoint and a stray rock landed on the roof of his taxi).
Instead, Mohammed said he was making plans to emigrate to the United States, where he has an uncle in San Francisco. He said he is sick and tired of the “pathetic” Palestinian government and that he has had enough of the difficulties of life in the Palestinian Authority.
“Look around you. How come the streets look like this? I will be sad to leave my home, but Abu Mazen won’t do anything for the people. He is only interested in lining his pockets and staying in power. The Nakba is sad, but I’m a lot more worried about having work,” he said.