A Year on, Unity Activists Ponder Next Steps

The anniversary of the March 15 movement to restore unity to the occupied territories passed quietly Thursday, with no major rallies in Palestinian cities.

The principle demands of the masses who demonstrated in the West Bank and Gaza have yet to be met, but the leaders of Fatah and Hamas technically agreed to reconcile in May 2011. Progress has stalled ever since.

The Palestinian National Council has not held elections, as promised, nor have the Fatah and Hamas factions formed a unity government. Parliament elections planned for this year seem unlikely anytime soon.

Abu Yazan, who organized protests in Gaza in March 2011, said Thursday the impact of the division on the Palestinian cause "has been a clear and major setback at a political, economic and social level."

Abu Yazan left the Gaza Strip last month fearing his arrest was imminent, and activists say they are still suffering the consequences of the protests which were harshly suppressed by the security forces.

"So many people — not only activists — left Gaza and some managed to apply for political asylum" abroad, says Ebaa Rezeq, a blogger based in Gaza City who supported the demonstrations.

She says the government never really let up on the activists, even when it was clear the movement posed no threat to Hamas’ rule of Gaza. "One of the main issues we’re facing here is political arrest," she says.

"In every reconciliation meeting they have in Cairo or any freaking place in the region, they talk about releasing the political detainees and putting an end to the act itself.

"Right after that, Fatah and Hamas officials in Gaza and West Bank come out to state that their detainees are criminal, not political. This has been going for years and now even March 15 activists are going through it."

As a writer, Rezeq says the issue of media freedom is a top concern. Yet despite promises to lift repressive measures against journalists, both governments continue to ban each other’s media.

Like many activists, Rezeq feels abandoned by the lack of attention to activists who were targeted in the aftermath of March 15. "After last year’s experience, one of the worst things that happened to us is that there wasn’t any kind of a follow up to the movement from the media or the human rights organizations."

She added: "Nothing could be done now that’ll make up (for) what wasn’t done last year."

In the West Bank, the Fatah government has allowed some protests but most are small.

"The major downside of the movement was the absence of mobilization," says Maath Musleh, one of the hunger-strikers who camped out in Ramallah’s Manara square for two months.

In an op-ed Wednesday, Musleh reflected on why March 15 failed.

"Hamas’ government in Gaza and Fatah’s in the West Bank were ready," he writes. "They had never dealt with such a mass movement, but they definitely planned to hijack it and direct it to their paths."

A year later, he says, the main goals were not achieved. But there were successes. One of them has been the leading role played by Palestinian women in organizing grassroots action.

"The past year has produced a female leadership within the youth movement. This leadership has been vital in the success of many activities, whether internally or against the occupation."

Musleh believes the year’s true lesson is the potential of the mass marches in May and June in which Palestinians from elsewhere in the Arab world marched toward the border.

"Palestinians in refugee camps in exile and inside Palestine set new rules to the game. It was the real unity Palestinians aspire for. We will see more of it in the coming days."

Abu Yazan agrees the stagnating disunity cannot continue indefinitely: "Faction leaders are well aware of the harmful effects," he told Ma’an, speaking from Germany.

"Unfortunately, some Palestinian figures benefit from the division and are trying to block the path of reconciliation due to personal interests.

"But the patience of the Palestinian people is beginning to wane. It’s a time bomb that will explode in all their faces if Fatah and Hamas cannot restrain those who benefit from the division."

(Ma’an News)

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