Palestinians rally to back U.N. statehood bid

September 21, 2011

Thousands of Palestinians rallied in cities across the West Bank on Wednesday in support of their leadership’s bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, with only scattered incidents of violence in the first test of the move’s impact on the streets.

About 2,000 people gathered in Ramallah, many of them civil servants, schoolchildren and private-sector workers given time off to participate. A downtown square was filled with a sea of Palestinian flags as speakers called for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with its capital in Jerusalem.

“The dream has come true,” Laila Ghanam, the governor of the Ramallah district, told the crowd. “Our state is coming!”

The gathering, organized by the Palestinian Authority, had a carnival atmosphere, with the faces of some young participants painted with the colors of the Palestinian flag and the number 194, a reference to the bid to become the 194th U.N. member state.

Karam Maher, who came with his high school class from the village of Taybeh, held up a model of a blue chair, symbolizing the sought-after Palestinian seat at the United Nations. “It’s a first step,” he said of a possible U.N. vote recognizing Palestinian statehood. “Step by step, the occupation will go.”

His classmates chanted, “No to the American veto!” — a reference to Washington’s pledge to block approval by the Security Council of the Palestinian application for U.N. membership, expected to be submitted on Friday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Masked youths drew cheers as they burned an American flag during a speech by Tayeb Abdel Rahim, an aide to Abbas, who scolded them from the podium. Another American flag was burned later during a musical performance.

In a dress shop down the street, away from the fanfare, Hanadi Jubran said she was skeptical that the U.N. move would bring tangible change. “This is all talk at the U.N.,” she said. “What’s important is that Israel has to be convinced that we should have a state. Everything is in its hands, and we’re living in a big prison. Negotiations is the only way.”

Iman Azzam, a pharmacist, said her friends had mixed reactions to the U.N. initiative: While some dismissed it, others were excited. “They want anything, any thread that could lead to a better life,” she said.

“I don’t have a lot of hope, because Israel does what it wants,” she added. “We have to wait and see. We have nothing to lose.”

Abbas has called for peaceful demonstrations in support of the U.N. bid, and Palestinian police were posted on the outskirts of Ramallah to prevent marches toward Israeli settlements and checkpoints.

Still, clashes erupted at the Qalandiya checkpoint south of the city — a complex of concrete walls and fences that restricts access to Jerusalem and is a symbol of Israeli control. Youths hurled stones and rolled burning tires toward Israeli border police and soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.

Similar clashes were reported in Hebron, where several hundred Jewish settlers live in an enclave protected by Israeli soldiers in the heart of the city.

A gunshot hit an Israeli car near the settlement of Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank, but there were no casualties, the army said.

The violence was relatively low-key, in contrast to concerns voiced in Israel about major unrest with mass marches on Israeli checkpoints and settlements.

At the settlement of Psagot overlooking Ramallah, police and army reinforcements were stationed at the perimeter but had little to do as the area remained quiet.

“There’s a bit of uncertainty about what might happen, but we’re pretty calm,” Miri Gross, a teacher, said as she walked home with her children. “The security is very good.

“And to those who are celebrating,” she added, “this is our land, and ours alone.”

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