A violent rally ruptures in Gaza

A violent rally erupted between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. The gathering was a chance to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, who was the founder of Fatah.

More than 200,000 people attended the rally. Seven civilians were killed by the Hamas police and 130 wounded. About 50 Fatah members were detained by Hamas.

“These rallies are very common back at home,” said senior Palestinian student Yacoub Saad. “When something happens or when there is an annual memory for an important figure, such as Yasser Arafat, people usually go into streets, and get together to share their grief or anger in a peaceful way. It is a great way to let individuals know that there are other people in the community who have the same feelings, and express it in one voice that might be or might not be delivered to the rest of the world.”

Since Arafat’s death, Palestinians lost a key unifying figure that has brought tension between the two groups.

“Gaza is the world’s largest outdoor prison,” said Max Carter director of Friends Center and campus ministry coordinator. “You wonder how they stay sane without more anger. It is surprising to me that there’s not more of it. There is so much despair in Gaza. The situation has deteriorated over the years.”

The city buildings had large banners of Arafat in his trademark black and white Keffiyeh headdress. The Fatah supporters carried pictures of Arafat and waved yellow Fatah flags, while fighting black-or-blue-camouflage uniformed Hamas policemen.

“This rally was a chance to find a way into the future, to provide their children with hope and be able to have a semblance of the kind of life that we in the West take for granted,” Carter said.

“The rally was not only a chance for people to pay their respects to the former leader, but a rare opportunity for a show of Fatah strength in Gaza,” BBC News said.

Palestinian television showed protestors and armed men running through the streets while the police beat Fatah supporters with wooden batons.

“Palestinian lives are taken away by their own people,” said Palestinian Mohammad Khalaf, who graduated in’05, and is an English hall director as well as an assistant health and wellness coordinator. “How are we going to get the world’s respect without respecting ourselves? This is a perpetual disappointment.”

According to the Hindu News, the protestors threw stones at Hamas troops while moving forward, even though they were met with gunfire.

“The deaths added salt to the wounds of already bitter divisions among Palestinians, with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad blaming top Hamas leader for the killings,” said The Daily News.

Hamas blamed Fatah’s gunmen for starting the violence, accusing them of firing from rooftops around Gaza.

Fatah denied that there were any armed men and said it was not allowed at the rally. At the beginning of the rally, a Hindu News reporter saw 10 Fatah gunmen being turned away.

According to Al-Jazeera, Hamas had checkpoints on the main north-south road in Gaza to check vehicles that were attending the event.

“What is happening in Gaza today is the beginning of the end of Hamas on the popular, religious and moral level,” said Mohammed Dahlam, Fatah’s former security chief in Gaza to Al-Jazeera.

Khalaf is hoping that this rally will show people that change is needed.

“I am hoping this rally will give Palestinians an ultimatum and tell them that this has gone on long enough,” Khalaf said.

According to BBC News, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed three days of mourning for the dead and ordering that the flags fly half-mast.

The morning after the protest, the city was quiet with few Hamas policemen on the streets. The schools and stores were closed, according to Hindu News.

A 19-year-old victim’s funeral turned violent, leaving three people wounded when mourners fought Hamas men.

Some believe people need to understand the good and the bad parts of history to complete the mourning process.

“In the end, as a group of people, they need to reconcile with their history and take the good out of it,” said sophomore Atreese Watkins, who went to Palestine. “Reconciling does not mean you should forget, but to understand who we are. We all have the right to mourn our losses.”

Before the Annapolis peace conference, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to release 400 Palestinian prisoners. Palestine and Israel are trying to come together to form a blueprint for peace talks to present at the conference.

One problem that Palestinians, such as Saad, have with Israel is that Israel has the power over Palestinians rights and lifestyles.

“A formation of actual prison that controls every move a Palestinian takes, simply taking the basic human rights of a whole nation,” said Saad.

According to Hindu News, the two groups are having difficulty with the peace talk. The Palestinians want a detailed articulated plan to make sure past issues will not continue. The Israelis are pushing for vague language, so they can have room to maneuver.

“Words can never describe how I feel about the atrocities that the Israeli government commits towards Palestinians,” Khalaf said. “These crimes have been committed as long as I have lived, and I only have 20 years of built-up hopelessness and anger, more hopelessness and more anger.”