Palestinians try to create ‘Facebook revolution’

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The mass demonstrations sweeping the Middle East are touching the Palestinian territories, where West Bank and Gaza Strip activists are trying to organize their own “Facebook revolutions.”

The Palestinian activists are inspired by the calls for democracy that toppled autocratic leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and threaten longtime rulers in Libya and Bahrain.

In recent weeks, activists using Facebook have brought hundreds of people onto streets of the West Bank, waving Palestinian flags and calling for change. Smaller gatherings have taken place in Gaza. The protesters hope to stage a massive demonstration in both areas on March 15.

Whether they can succeed is far from certain because of the unique situation of the Palestinians. In contrast to countries where crowds have rallied against a single, despised leader, the Palestinians face a series of intertwined problems, making it harder to rally around a common cause.

Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, areas wedged on different sides of Israel and ruled by rival governments. The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank, where Israel’s military still retains overall control. The militant Islamic group Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007.

The Palestinian split has crippled efforts to negotiate an independent state from Israel. Repeated efforts to reconcile, including a Palestinian Authority proposal to hold new elections, have foundered.

The Facebook activists have divisions of their own. Some want the rival Palestinian governments to reconcile. Others demand they resign. Still others want to demonstrate against Israel’s occupation.

Activist Hasan Farahat, 22, said there was enough common ground. “Everybody is sick of the situation. We want work, we want the right to speak freely. We want freedom,” he said.

The governments see even the smallest demonstrations as a challenge to their rule.

On Monday, Hamas moved swiftly to break up a small demonstration in Gaza City where people called for Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas police arrested a protest organizer, seizing a tape from a German TV crew showing a security official slapping the man.

In previous protest attempts, Hamas security arrested activists and seized their phones and computers, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The West Bank has seen about a dozen demonstrations, including two in Ramallah, where some 2,000 Palestinians demanded reconciliation. Others urged leaders to revoke interim peace agreements with Israel.

Palestinian Authority security forces initially broke up protests by beating participants. Now, organizers are threatened and sometimes arrested, they said.

(http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20110301/palestine-protests-110301/)

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