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Gazans in West Bank fear for their loved ones

Ahmad Melhem

July 17, 2014

RAMALLAH, West Bank — With each raid that Israeli planes launch on the Gaza Strip, Sameh, 38, grabs his mobile phone and calls his family there to make sure they’re fine.

Sameh, who preferred to give his first name only, hailed from the Gaza Strip, which he left 20 years ago. He works in Ramallah. "I'm constantly and persistently following what is happening. I sit at the breakfast table, with my phone by my side. I contact my parents and friends as soon as I hear about a raid in any region close to my family. I even take my phone with me into the shower," he told Al-Monitor.

Sameh who spends most of his time in front of the computer and TV to watch the news, said, "The Israeli offensive on Gaza has shortened distances and brought us closer. But, it upsets me to see the images of neighbors under the rubble. I'm sad for the innocent and the houses that used to shelter and accommodate us."

"It is very painful to see what was once yours damaged, but that is the fate of those who want freedom," he added bitterly.

Since July 8, Israel has been sent hundreds of air raids against the Gaza Strip. As a result, over 200 Palestinians have died so far and more than 1,700 have been wounded.

According to local sources, around 15,000 Gazans reside in Ramallah and live in fear for their families and friends in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, communication between them is often poor due to power cuts in large areas in Gaza and the persistent shelling.

This is not the first war waged by Israel against Gaza. Israel has already had two wars — the first in 2008 and the second in 2012 — but this war has a different objective, according to Sameh.

"This is a war targeting civilians. Houses are being shelled and neighborhoods are being destroyed, not to mention the crimes claiming the lives of children and women. This is a war of eviction, targeting people who are safe in their houses or those searching for shelter on the beach. These violations will drive Israel to the International Criminal Court," he said.

Al-Monitor met with Wafaa Abdel Rahman, the manager of Filastiniyat Association, which trains young journalists. Abdel Rahman has been living in the West Bank since 1990, and she has been participating in popular protests to support Gaza and condemn the Israeli aggression toward the Gaza Strip.

"I have a big family and many friends in Gaza, not to mention an office and employees following up on the events of the aggression and writing press reports from the field. This exposes them to a potential risk and increases my concerns for all of them. It also prompts me to follow the development of events, minute by minute."

During her participation with some 10 other women in the sit-in staged in front of the PLO headquarters on July 10 in Ramallah, she said, "The people of Gaza are more courageous, they are stronger and prouder than us. We collapse when we see pictures and hear sounds of shelling and destruction. They are strong despite the aggression that they are exposed to. They ask us how we are doing — 'We want to check on you.’ Their steadfastness and strength make us feel ashamed."

Abdel Rahman continued, "Whenever the shelling on the Gaza Strip intensifies, my mother in Gaza calls me to check on us, and I tell her, 'We're fine, mom, you have to reassure us about you,’ and she answers, 'We are all targets of the occupation.’"

"With the daily confrontations witnessed in the West Bank cities between youths and the occupation forces at the occupation army barriers and camps, and despite organizing events in Palestinian cities and towns, this is a state similar to that of the intifada. But the popular, factional and civil movement is still weak," she said.

Protesters took to the streets of several Palestinian cities in the West Bank on July 16 to express solidarity with those in the Gaza Strip.

The protests were mainly staged in Ramallah in response to a youth invitation on Facebook. At an evening protest, demonstrators were obstructed by Palestinian security forces as they were heading to the illegal Jewish settlement of Beit El.

Marches took place in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and in Hebron and Tulkarm. At a protest in Jenin, clashes with Palestinian security forces broke out.

Popular protests are usually organized haphazardly in response to initiatives from young activists and civil society groups, given the lack of leadership from the main Palestinian factions.

The weakness of a leading movement on Palestinian issues has resulted in a tamed response to the Gaza war, according to Abdel Rahman. "The people are usually called to be in solidarity with Gaza through social media, such as Facebook, and a fair number of people respond to the call, which confirms that the masses need to be directed, requiring one national leadership."

What is needed politically, according to Abdel Rahman, is that "the PLO refers immediately to the International Criminal Court, the ruling power stops its security coordination and the leadership speaks to its people, and that a strong political movement be established through ambassadors and consuls around the world."

For her part, Najah Awadallah is living a much more difficult experience. She seemed to be in shock during her participation in the same sit-in in front of the PLO headquarters, for this was the first time that she witnessed a war on the Gaza Strip without being part of it.

Awadallah, who works for Palestine TV, told Al-Monitor, "I still do not believe that I'm in Ramallah and protesting in solidarity with Gaza. I was in the heart of the battle during the past two wars, sharing with my family and friends and the people of Gaza the worry, torment and details of the war. Today I'm far away, while women and children die every minute."

Awadallah has friends and brothers in the Gaza Strip, and she calls them regularly to check on them.

While Al-Monitor was interviewing Awadallah, she fell silent for a moment, then she said, "We call them while feeling great fear. We hear the sounds of rockets and explosions through the handset. No one gives me strength, and I can't do anything. I feel really helpless."

As the war continues to rage on the ground, the eyes of the Palestinians in the remaining part of historic Palestine and the diaspora remain focused on Gaza, following the mass destruction and its victims, and support Gaza with any available means. In the meantime, Arab and international efforts are being exerted to establish a new truce that does not seem to be ready yet.


:: Article nr. 108545 sent on 26-jul-2014 02:22 ECT


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