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Real Democracy in the Middle East (no it is not Israel).

Harrison Heally – Ramallah

In the days leading up to the Palestinian election, in East Jerusalem you could be forgiven for not knowing that there was an election going on. You could not find a single poster in the city. There was no information on candidates, who to vote for or how. The Israeli government had banned Palestinians campaigning in the lead up to the election.

The vibe on the streets of Ramallah told a different story. The buses were shrines for various political factions. They were covered in stickers and posters inside and out. Flags and political murals decorated roofs of vehicles. Different buses and taxi’s played different songs supporting various factions Even as the service’s were taking off campaigners would stick more stickers on the windows.

You could barely find a single shop that didn’t have a candidate in the window (sometimes 10). From cafes to hardware stores, to mainstream clothing and video outlets, they all presented their candidates. Banners would hang every few meters across the streets with different factions represented.

Houses down back streets were being used as campaigning centres as everyone set out promoting their material. Newspapers were being handed out on the street as well as pamphlets saying what the candidates were about.

In the city square Fatah was holding a rally of about 150 people whilst only a few blocks away Hamas held a marching band of about 60 young people mostly about 6-15. Even in some of the smaller West Bank towns such as Bil’lin, (made famous for its anti-wall demonstrations), there were more posters around the place then you would see in the most intense of elections in Australia.

During the day of the election itself (January 25) I was posted at the largest polling stations in East Jerusalem. All the polling stations in Jerusalem were at post offices because the Israeli government didn’t want to recognise Jerusalem as being part of Palestine. The post offices were so the Palestinian people would be casting “postal absentee votes” that would be counted further in the West Bank.

There were hundreds of Palestinians surrounding the polling station as well as internationl observers from former US President Jimmy Carter to different NGO’s and peace groups making the crowd outside the polling station number well over a thousand. Teens handed out election material, something that was actually in violation of election regulations however given the ban by the Israeli government on campaigning this seemed like a good thing. People were extatic. The place being a Fatah strong hold had several people chanting.

The crowd grew even more as a Palestine Peace Coalition (PPC) staged a hundred strong rally outside the polling booth. The rally was non-factional but criticised the Israeli government for only allowing 6,300 Palestinians in East Jerusalem to register in this election.

A women was applauded for waving the Palestinian flag, illegal in Jerusalem under Israeli law. Yet the police stayed at bay and barely went past the polling both. There was a large police presence about 500 meters away with a Zionist rally of 20 people congregated with Israeli flags saying that this land was Israel and the Palestinians had no right to vote for the PA if they wanted to live in Jerusalem. When I approached to ask why the rally was so small, an organiser told me that there were only 20 people because the police said they could only have 20. Yet it didn’t look like they had any supporters near by and they packed up pretty early.

Later that night I was in Ramallah and people were all talking about the election and debating the outcomes.Whilst Fatah has lost ground in this election the participation from the people was inspiring. A Palestinian activist commented “hopefully this will mean more people will come to the [anti-wall] demonstrations.”