Don’t forget that Umm al-Fahm is the underground name for Palestine,” Mayor Sheikh Hashem Abd al-Rahman told the thousands of demonstrators who gathered at one of the city’s soccer fields Tuesday to protest against the Israel Defense Forces recent operation in the Gaza Strip.
“Our city’s streets are narrow but in the hearts of its people there is room for all… Use caution as you leave,” he said in a fatherly tone to those who came to the city for the demonstration.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee decided to hold the demonstration in the city’s old center, away from the main road, in order to prevent clashes between hotheaded youths and the police officers deployed on the city’s outskirts. Despite this precaution, the police reported that some rocks were thrown at cars at the intersection leading to the city. No damage or injuries were reported. Two young men were arrested.
As is usual at mass events in Umm al-Fahm, ushers from the Islamic Movement were stationed at intersections to direct the demonstrators as efficiently as possible. The city’s topography foiled the best intentions of the organizers, however, as the streets leading to the main venue became clogged. Demonstrators were forced to spend at least 15 minutes climbing the steep byways just to get to the parade’s starting point.
Arab community leaders expressed satisfaction with the turnout, although the initial estimates of the crowd numbers proved to be exaggerated. “I would have expected twice as many people,” one Arab politician told Haaretz, “but apparently people knew there were technical difficulties. Apart from that, maybe we’ve already lost the momentum.”
One difficulty faced by the monitoring committee is the high cost of organizing public events, due to the need to obtain a consensus among all of the relevant political parties. On Saturday, when the date for Tuesday’s demonstration was set, it appeared that the IDF operation was going to continue for several more days. In Israel, as in the Arab world, the public was greatly affected by the images broadcast from Gaza. The
parties had no problem organizing protest vigils, but by Tuesday a mass recruitment of support was difficult and most of the demonstrators were local residents.
Those who did attend found themselves at a particularly noisy event clearly tilted in favor of youth. Some of the young demonstrators clumsily wrapped keffiyehs around their faces in imitation of Palestinian militants, but they were exposed when their inexpert knots came undone. The crowd was roused with the obligatory chant, “With blood and fire
we will redeem Palestine.” Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, the head of the northern faction of the Islamic Movement, arrived late at the field where the protest march ended, accompanied by a television crew and trailed by demonstrators.
Activists from other organizations did not concede the attention to the Islamic Movement. Important figures from Hadash, Balad and Soms of the Village were in attendance. There were even a few Jews who came, much to the pleasure of the Hadash members.
Large Palestinian flags were evident everywhere, and there was even a Syrian flag. “From Gaza to Jenin, one people unbroken,” the crowd yelled. Many demonstrators wore black-and-white keffiyehs around their necks as a mark of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Despite the impressive VIP turnout, the organizers decided in advance to save the public from having to listen to numerous speeches. Only two leaders spoke: the mayor, Abd al-Rahman, and the head of the monitoring committee, Shuweiki Hatib.
Abd al-Rahman, who is from the Islamic Movement, emphasized the need for the rival Fatah and Hamas movements to cooperate. His statement exposed one area of disagreement within the Arab public: The Islamic Movement is known to support cooperation between Fatah and Hamas, while Hadash and other groups stand behind the Fatah position, according to which Hamas fomented a revolution in Gaza.
“Our unity is here- from Umm al-Fahm, Sakhnin and Taibeh, from the Triangle, the Negev and the Galilee, we call in one voice: The Palestinians must be united so that we can create the independent Palestinian state,” Abd al-Rahman