Over 1,500 Palestinians took to the streets of Nablus, on Tuesday, urging for national unity and an end of internal division, in tandem with thousands of pro-unity protesters in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian protesters marched in the city of Nablus, on Tuesday morning, to demand unity between the polarised Hamas and Fatah factions, in a round of massive peaceful protests staged across Palestine. March the 15th was the date set by a number of activist groups and the Youth for the End of Internal Divisions campaign to hold the popular rallies under the slogan of ‘no to divisions’.
Groups of independent youth, University students, and other activists organized the public march independently, away from the influence of political factions.
Palestinians came to take part in the rally while representing themselves only, and no party or political movement of any kind.
Two an-Najah University female students claimed that more than 70,000 overall signed up on the Facebook page for the March 15th mass protest throughout Palestine.
One activist from the Youth for the End of Internal Divisions campaign informed that their Facebook group in Nablus counted 420 people to join the march. In addition, the youth movement connected with independent social organizations to participate either individually or as group representatives, however without expressing any political affiliation in the event. It seemed to be hard to get an-Najah students involved, and the local community too, as most people in Nablus would stand staunchly for one party or another, and not look beyond the political belonging.
Around 40 Palestinian students and unity supporters gathered across from the main entrance gate of an-Najah University, old campus, after being barred from rallying inside the gates by university security staff on the grounds that students had not requested formal authorization.
At the rally point, three members of Youth for the End of Internal Divisions campaign read their statement urging leaders of the two rival factions to initiate national dialogue leading to the establishment of a national unity government across the West Bank and Gaza. The Youth coalition highlighted that unity is the key to end the Occupation and bring peace and justice to the Palestinian people. Three more statements were read by other protestors.
The coalition also expressed solidarity with Palestinian fellows from villages in the Nablus area, namely the residents of Awarta village who are still under military curfew for the fourth day since Israeli forces began investigations over last Friday’s murder of five family members from the nearby Itamar settlement.
As the protest kicked off by 11.30am, the crowd started marching holding Palestinian flags, as protest organizers had insisted that no party-sympathetic flags would fly during the rally. Protestors carried banners reading ‘Why fight? we’re an occupied land’ and ‘Fatah & Hamas, we want your unity’. Slogans were chanted in Arabic such as ‘No Fatah, No Hamas, we want people united’ or ‘Haniyeh, Abbas: our unity is our basic demand’.
Participants marched peacefully along an-Najah street, and later stopped for a while after a small group showed signs carrying pro-Fatah messages, although protest organizers had warned that no flags or banners supporting one party or another would be allowed during this popular rally.
After ensuring that signs of political belonging were deleted from the banners, the mass resumed marching to head towards the city’s main square.
Dhima, a student at an-Najah, and her friend said protesters were asking to stop the division between Fatah and Hamas, free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, put a democratic vote through presidential and parliamentary elections, and have one elected national government in the West Bank and Gaza.
Dhima noted two problems in respect to the Nablus rally: most people joined the protest in Ramallah, and the majority of Palestinians would think this public march was a student or youth led initiative whereas it was planned to include every Palestinian (men, women, younger or older).
Estimates claimed there were more than 1,500 participants by the time marchers reached the city’s square. More people were expected to join later during the day. Protestors invited people to join from the street, walked by Martyrs’ Square and proceed further. The crowd converged on Martyrs’ square where two sit-ins were held with more slogans and popular songs chanted.
One protest organizer gave a speech emphasizing that people must be one to end the Occupation on Palestinian land, Palestinians are obliged to hold responsibility for their own cause, and national unity must be reached among all Palestinians and their factions. He further said on behalf of other activists that they would not leave before their demand of national unity is heard and backed adding that ordinary people, and not leaders, were speaking on this occasion.
Walid, protest organizer and activist from the Youth for the End of Internal Divisions campaign, explained that, despite belonging to the youth coalition, he and other members were there as a group of independent people, and wanted this pro-unity protest to take place everywhere, not just in Ramallah, and mobilize various people, not some factions. Their youth group in Nablus, connected with the branch in Ramallah as well as the other groups in the West Bank and Gaza.
Walid also pointed out that an-Najah should have suspended classes and exams for the day, but the Student council held that they could not get the decision approved by the University due to other preparations ahead of the central march in Ramallah.
He reinforced that the demands of the Youth for the End of Internal Divisions campaign essentially consists in ending divisions so to revive dialogue, to focus on common ground and leave minor differences aside, and holding elections to form a national unity government.
In addition, PA security officials had promised the coalition and other activist groups that police and forces would not stop the protests, and they proved to be cooperative in fact.
Protest organizers announced the event would continue until late evening on Tuesday, in an attempt to pressure Palestinian governments and progress with plans for unity. A tent was set up to continue to protest until national unity is achieved. Activists would spend the night there, take turns to allow people to study and work, discuss and update their strategies over the next few days.
In addressing a message to the international community, Walid said: ‘We want you to support us in our efforts to achieve unity and bring divisions to an end..we ask you to push your governments to promote dialogue between the two rival factions, and cooperate with our demands’
Several activist groups joined together last week, and called for peaceful protests on March 15th to say no to the internal divisions that have negatively impacted the Palestinian cause.
Protests were also staged in Ramallah, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Bethlehem, Hebron. Palestinians were also expected to hold simultaneous protests around the world.