by Tony Cross
Article published on the 2009-01-14 Latest update 2009-01-28 11:46 TU
At the Baladna Cultural Centre, in Ramallah, collecting aid has replaced dance and poetry on the week’s programme. Cardboard boxes are piled up against the walls, bags of clothes and babies’ nappies lie on the ground.
Rezeq Barghouti, who works for the Palestinian Authority’s farming section, explains that people have given everything from agricultural produce to blood.
“Here’s olive oil from the farmers in the West Bank,” he says. "And here we have blankets, because they suffer from cold now in Gaza.”
An appeal to give blood received a big response, says Barghouti, “because you know that we cannot go to Gaza now. We cannot stand with our people there, so what can we do?”
Palestinian leaders remain bitterly divided between Hamas, which control Gaza, and President Mahmud Abbas’, Fatah. During demonstrations to support Gaza, the Authority’s police have beaten Hamas supporters. Abbas has claimed that the Israeli offensive was the Islamic movement’s responsibility, because it had broken off the truce with Israel.
While believing that Hamas should renew the truce and stop "crying, victory, victory", Rezeq Barghouti is most critical of Egypt, for closing the Rafah Crossing and preventing Palestinians from Gaza from leaving the territory. But also of Abbas for “standing with [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak”.
Most of all, he wants to see the Palestinian leadership unite.
“All the Palestinians in Gaza suffer the same enemy and they suffer the same killing, Israel doesn’t distinguish between this and this.”
He concludes however, that "Now, many things will change.”
In Al Menara Square, Ramallah’s main junction, the Authority’s ministries and the city council have set up a tent to collect donations. Boy-scouts in elaborately decorated uniforms carry packages into the shelter, officials supervise and give orders.
One of the organisers is Iman Nafeh, who works for the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
She praises people who have demonstrated against the offensive around the world, but she has no kind words for international leaders or those of the Palestinian Authority.
“We are very angry about what they said,” she says, “that they didn’t tell Israel that what she is doing is wrong.”
She accuses world leaders of hypocrisy when they declare that they stand for human rights but fail to oppose the offensive at the United Nations Security Council.
And she is furious with Mahmud Abbas, forecasting that he will not be elected President again.
“All the time he is saying that he wants peace and he’s supporting the peace, and he is even shaking hands with the people that killed the Palestinians and … they are not giving him anything.”
Outside a modern building in a street a kilometre or so outside the centre stands a small but noisy crowd, mainly women, waving the Palestinian flag and shouting slogans in Arabic and English.
They form a delegation of Palestinian political parties, who have come to present a letter of thanks to the Venezuelan consulate, which is inside the building, because Venezuela, along with Bolivia, have broken off diplomatic ties with Israel over the offensive.
Palestinian TV presenters have since asked why Arab countries, who are supposed to be the Palestinians’ allies, have not made such vigorous protests.
Khitam Fahim, an activist in a women’s organisation linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), sees the Venezuelan leader as a comrade in the struggle.
“So, we are here to say Viva Venezuela! Viva Hugo Chavez! Viva every freedom fighter in this world!” she exclaims. Foreign politicians should stop calling Palestinians “terrorists, she says, “We are freedom fighters and we are struggling for our freedom and we are with the freedom fighters in the world.”
As the delegation prepares to get in the lift and meet the consul, Khitam Fahim calls on Palestinian parties to mend the cracks in their ranks.
“The Palestinian leaders should hold emergency negotiations, emergency unified leadership for their people.”
"They should stop quarrelling and they should stop listening to the US", she says.
For all Fahim’s criticisms of the US, many Palestinians are aware that Washington has its role to play, and hope that Israel will want to finish its operations before the inauguration of Barack Obama as President next week.