Al-Ahram Weekly Online
11 - 17 April 2002
Issue No.581
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Angry streets

Demonstrations against Israel's assault on the Palestinians have continued to sweep the Arab world this week. Rasha Saad reports on popular outrage

Hundreds of thousands of Arabs have protested daily on the streets since Israeli troops attacked Palestinian towns and laid siege to President Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound on 29 March.

Daily demonstrations have erupted in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Large turnouts were reported in Libya and Iraq. But the largest were in Morocco and Sudan where marching crowds swelled to a million each. Marches, a rare occurrence in the conservative Gulf states, were also reported in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. Arab officials joined in more than one demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Recurring slogans have called for war against Israel and demanded that Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel, break off relations. Demonstrators have also held the US accountable for the crisis, accusing Washington of giving Israel the green light for its offensive. Burning US and Israeli flags is a common scene.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II criticised protesters when 138 policemen were injured in clashes and 182 vehicles, including 95 police cars, were also damaged during demonstrations.

"Destruction and attacks on our own [public and private] property does not serve the Palestinian cause," King Abdullah said whilst asking demonstrators to protest peacefully.

According to Interior Minister Kaftan Majali, a total of 374 demonstrations and rallies denouncing Israel's offensive against Palestine have been held in Jordan. In a seminal act in the kingdom, some demonstrations were attended by cabinet ministers.

On many occasions riot police where pelted with stones as they tried to prevent protesters marching in the streets of Amman. Public demonstrations are strictly banned in Jordan, unless they have official authorisation.

In the Bakaa refugee camp on Sunday, a 10-year- old Palestinian boy died of injuries sustained as police tried to break up a demonstration.

In Lebanon, daily protests in front of the UN regional headquarters called for international protection for the Palestinians and urged the Arab governments to act against Israel's invasion of Palestinian territory.

STOP THE KILLING: The leaders and the people in the Muslim world spoke, or shouted, the same message this week, from top to bottom, Saudi Prince Abdullah with Powell in Casablanca; Queen Rania and other members of the Jordanian royal family lead a demonstration in Amman; Indonesian women take to the streets; Palestinian Hamas and Hizbullah supporters raise their flags in Beirut.
(photos: AFP)
In the centre of Damascus on Sunday, tens of thousands of Syrians marched to express their support for the Palestinians, who have been rocked by a 10-day Israeli military offensive in the West Bank. Demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament waving Syrian and Palestinian flags and brandished photos of President Bashar Al-Assad and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Syria's vice-president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, parliament speaker, Abdel-Qader Qaddura, and Prime Minister Mohamed Mustafa Miro were present at the rally alongside members of hard-line Damascus- backed Palestinian factions. Among them were Khaled Mesh'al, head of the Palestinian Islamic

Hamas movement's political wing, and Ahmed Jibril, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command (PFLP-GC.)

Nearly one million Sudanese from all political backgrounds condemned Israel and the United States in one of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in the capital on Monday. The crowd walked to the United Nations offices, where a delegation handed in a memorandum addressed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It urged the organisation to bring about the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate Israeli military withdrawal or lose its credibility.

Also organisers said that more than a million people took to the streets of the Moroccan capital Rabat on Sunday in support of the Palestinians. Many were carrying portraits of Arafat and Palestinian flags, shouting slogans denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US President George W Bush.

Members of the government including Prime Minister Abdel-Rahman Youssufi took part in the protest.

In an unusual move, some 5,000 Saudi protesters took part in a three-hour pro-Palestinian march in Dhahran on Friday. The protest was peaceful except for a few scuffles with security forces.

Also on Tuesday, some 3,000 Saudis took part in a demonstration in the northern Jof province, throwing stones at security forces and burning Israeli and US flags. Saudi police reportedly detained 300 protesters.

In Bahrain, a key US Gulf ally and home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet, about 10,000 demonstrators staged a violent protest on Friday and demanded US troops leave the state. Molotov cocktails were thrown inside the US Embassy compound, setting alight a satellite dish and a sentry box. No embassy personnel was injured, but 80 protesters were hurt, two critically.

Over 10,000 marched to the Kuwaiti parliament on Monday in its biggest pro-Palestinian rally since the Gulf War. They called on Arab leaders to support the Palestinians. "No to normalisation [with Israel], No to surrender," the protesters chanted. Despite a rift with Yasser Arafat over his siding with Iraq in the Gulf crisis, Kuwait has come out strongly in support of Palestinians.

The reaction of Arab officials, though strongly condemning the Israeli assault, was far less fiery than that of the masses. With the exception of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who has cut off oil supplies until Israel retreats from Palestinian towns, Arab officials have only sent several tons of medical and food supplies and asked for international intervention. Jordanian officials said last week that the government is considering expelling the Israeli ambassador, but ruled out cutting diplomatic ties with the Israel.

The official Arab reaction has been strongly criticised by protesters. They shouted slogans calling on their governments to take action themselves. On television, viewers expressed their frustration that it was European peace activists and not the Arabs who marched through Israeli tank lines to defend the Palestinian leader and his people.

In the harshest criticism of the Arab regimes Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, described the Arab stance as shocking and depressing. In an interview with Abu Dhabi news channel, she asked "How can the Arab leaders [find peace] when they sleep [while the slaughtering of Palestinians is taking place]?"

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