“God is great!” the crowd roared. “With our souls and blood, we will redeem you, Palestine!”
Men hoisted children on their shoulders, youths packed the rooftops, and people clapped and swayed to the beat of throbbing Arab music in what looked like an independence celebration for a state still unborn.
Like similar gatherings in other West Bank cities, the rally here was a moment of suspended disbelief, when Palestinians basked in the prospect of statehood, stirred by the televised images of representatives of nations of the world rising to their feet to applaud the Palestinian leader.
“The people want the state of Palestine!” people chanted, a variation of the battle cry of the Arab Spring, “The people want to topple the regime!”
Scout bands beat a deafening drumbeat and buildings were swathed in giant banners depicting Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whose appearance at the General Assembly in 1974 was evoked by speakers on the stage.
“This is the greatest event of my life,” said Saed Khalifeh, who came with his extended family from the northern West Bank city of Jenin. “This is a first step toward independence.”
Several people said they had brought their children so that they could witness history. One girl held up a sign that read, “Vote for Palestine, state 194,” a reference to the Palestinian bid to become the 194th member state of the United Nations.
But the festive mood was tempered with resentment at President Obama’s firm stance against the U.N. initiative. One girl held a sign that read, “Obama: No we can’t.”
“We are choking on the American double standard,” said Muhammad Ali, an engineer. “America supported the movements for freedom in Egypt, Tunis, Libya and Yemen, but this stops when it comes to the Palestinian people. We are asking, why?”
The celebration was also shadowed by violence earlier in the day. In the West Bank village of Qusra, Israeli soldiers fatally shot a Palestinian in stone-throwing clashes triggered by a confrontation with Jewish settlers. Similar clashes erupted at the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, where soldiers fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to repel stone-throwers.
The incidents were a reminder that despite the events at the United Nations, the conflict with Israel grinds on.
Still, one woman who went to the rally with her daughters said the push to secure U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood had given her hope.
“With other nations behind us, this will change a lot,” she said. “We are on the map.”