Palestinian Authority security forces on Wednesday used force to prevent dozens of Palestinians in Ramallah from voicing their opposition to the US-sponsored direct talks with Israel.
PA security agents and policemen who stormed the building, where the press conference was supposed to be held, first turned off the lights and then beat some of the participants.
The policemen also beat cameramen, Khaled Milhem and Aysar Barghouti before confiscating their equipment. The two work for the local Al-Watan TV.
The incident is an indication of growing tensions among Palestinians in light of the PA leadership’s decision to abandon its previous conditions for conducting direct negotiations with Israel.
Many Palestinians have strongly condemned the PA leadership for “succumbing” to US and Israeli pressure by agreeing to negotiate with Israel unconditionally.
Following the incident, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to establish a special commission of inquiry to look into charges that PA security forces had used excessive force to prevent the conference from taking place.
A statement issued by Abbas’s office said that he showed “instant interest in the state of chaos that prevailed during the meeting at the Protestant Club [in Ramallah].”
Wednesday’s press conference was organized by the National Conference Against Direct Talks, a coalition consisting of hundreds of political factions, organizations, institutions and figures from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The event was supposed to be held simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through video conference.
Legislator Khaledah Jarrar, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one of the organizers of the gathering, said that Fatah-dominated security forces intervened to prevent the participants from convening.
She said that despite the ban, the organizers were planning to hold another conference to voice their strong opposition to the PA’s decision to negotiate with Israel unconditionally.
Jarrar said that the confrontation began after plainclothes security agents asked participants to march toward the center of Ramallah. As soon as dozens of people began following the agents, they were intercepted by policemen who blocked their way and assaulted some of them.
Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces in the West Bank, denied that his men had prevented the organizers from holding their conference. However, he admitted that the police broke up an “illegal march” in the center of Ramallah.
“The police didn’t have any order to ban the conference,” Damiri said. “No policeman or security officer entered the conference hall, not in uniform and not in civilian clothes. We were surprised to see a demonstration headed toward the studios of Al-Watan TV. When the police officers asked them about their identity, the protesters said that they are from the opposition and that they are planning a demonstration,” he insisted.
The spokesman said that the demonstration was banned because the organizers did not have a license and not because of their political affiliations. “Even if they supported the direct talks, they would still need a license to demonstrate,” he added. “The era of chaos is gone and forever.”
The TV station issued a statement in which it condemned the assault on its cameramen and called on Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to launch an inquiry against the assailants. The statement pointed out that attacks by PA security forces on Palestinian journalists had escalated, constituting a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and democracy.
Despite the ban, conference organizers issued a statement urging the PA leadership to reconsider its decision to participate in the direct talks with Israel in early September. They also asked for the reconsideration of the entire process of decision-making in the PA – a process which, they stressed, requires change, reform and renewal.
Muhsen Abu Ramadan, one of the organizers, warned that the Palestinians would never achieve their rights and aspirations “by constantly capitulating to American and Israeli pressure.” He said that the conference was now planning a series of popular protests throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against the PA’s decision.