President Barack Obama doesn’t arrive in Ramallah until Thursday, but Palestinians are already taking to the streets to demonstrate against his visit. Today’s protest was organized by a group known as Palestinians for Dignity. It was meant to reject Obama’s visit to the West Bank and demonstrate against the return to negotiations.
In a press release, they wrote:
On one hand, it would be naïve to presume US policy towards Israel has changed since Obama took office. On the other hand, it is hypocritical and disingenuous that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) disregards the role the Obama administration played in blocking its membership request in 2011 at the Security Council and its vote against the resolution at the General Assembly in 2012.
Although the original call focused on the United States’ rejection of Palestinian statehood, those who came to Al-Manara Square on Tuesday afternoon seemed more concerned with U.S. military aid to Israel—which, at $3.1 billion per year, is by far the largest beneficiary of both military and economic aid. Many protesters had signs that played on President Obama’s “Hope and Change” slogan, with “NO” scrawled in red letters over the familiar campaign type face, and a smiling President Obama holding a rifle against the backdrop of a military tank.
“As a Palestinian, it seems like the United States is only supporting Israel all the time,” a protester named Abdallah, who preferred not to give his last name, told me. “Because President Obama supports the occupation with money and weapons, the American people are also supporting the occupation—we ask for the American people to help end this.”
One woman carried a sign that said “End U.S. Military Aid to Israel” on one side and “AIPAC Poodle” on the other.
Still other protesters carried different messages. Some were sincere—like the woman who carried a sign that said, “Dear Obama, can you secure the release of 4800 Palestinian prisoners?” Others harkened to other elements of President Obama’s identity as the first black U.S. president. “We have a dream too” read one sign.
In a gesture to the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George Bush in 2008, some protesters waved their shoes in the air as they marched towards Al-Muqata’ah.
One protester, who preferred to remain anonymous, simply summed up his feelings as, “I don’t like Netanyahu, I don’t like Abbas and I don’t like Obama.”
Although only 200 or so initially gathered at Al-Manara Square, at times the protest reached as many as 400 or 500 as they marched to Al-Muqata’ah, the Presidential Compound and the site of Former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s grave.
As the procession reached Al Muqata’ah, three walls of Palestinian Authority security forces linking arms greeted protesters, only allowing press to pass. Although there were several moments where security forces pushed back on demonstrators who tried to push through, the march overall remained relatively peaceful.
Still, some protesters were discontent at the relatively small turnout.
“We are supposed to be a nation of millions, and yet only a few hundred people came out today,” one demonstrator named Laila, who did not share her last name, expressed. “Where are the Palestinian people?”