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Mural of Palestinian Leader Marwan Barghouti on Wall near Ramallah, Qalandia checkpoint. All photos by Rhonda Spivak.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Mural of Yasser Arafat painted on Wall near Ramallah, Qalandia checkpoint
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Billboard glorifying Palestinian "martyr" with map of Israel under the gun.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Poster of Arafat and Saddam Hussein, with poster of Arafat and Abbas underneath on building in Ramallah.
photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Rhonda Spivak, September 1, 2010

RAMALLAH, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY - As  peace talks  between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are set to begin, a recent visit to Ramallah this August provided  very little evidence of support for P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas on the streets.

At the Kalandia checkpoint, on the  Israeli security fence or  “wall’ as the Palestinians refer to it , there is a gigantic mural of Yasser Arafat that appears to have been painted by a professional artist. Next to it there is an equally huge mural of  Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti, a native son of Ramallah  who is in Israeli prison  after having been convicted for seven counts of murder.  Barghouti  is a  Palestinian leader believed by many to  be far more popular than Abbas.

What is  obviously missing from this scene on the “wall” is a mural of Abbas himself,  notwithstanding that has been leader of the PA since 2005.

A large billboard of  a Palestinian terrorist with a machine gun and the date of his death  dominates the old centre of Ramallah.  There is no similar billboard of Abbas anywhere nearby. A Westerner I meet tells me that there are more billboards glorifying  violence similar to this one in Jenin. 

Elsewhere in the centre of  town on a stone building, there is a very large placard of  Yassir Arafat and Saddam  Hussein,  the former leader of  Iraq. Arafat supported Hussein in the Gulf war and Hussein supported  Arafat’s terrorism by providing money for the families of  suicide bombers after their deaths.  Although  a new Day’s Inn, a symbol of all things American is being built in Ramallah, it will be co-existing  rather unnaturally with the  image of  Sadam Hussein not  so far away.

There are still many old posters of Arafat on store fronts around Ramallah, and a taxi  driver I met  had a photo of Arafat hung from his front mirror.

Notwithstanding, I looked for  posters of Abbas,  the only ones  spotted were a very small sticker with  Arafat and Abbas on a door of a store, and a larger poster  of  Abbas also with Arafat.  There was only one place where I could find   a sign of Abbas by himself, without  Arafat.  It was in the newly  re-built modern looking  Muqata, the  PA government compound itself.  But as a  European resident of Ramallah  told me quietly as we passed by this sign, “This poster of Abbas doesn’t count. After all, it is in front of Abbas’s office," implying that it is to be expected to find it there.

Although Ramallah has been experiencing economic growth and has become a de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority- where diplomatic missions are located and government buildings and courthouses are being constructed- there is not one store I could find that had any souvenirs  at all with  Abbas on them.

In fact, the only touristy shop I could find was one inviting tourists to come in and have a photo taken of themselves inside a “real’ Bedouin tent.  Missing  were  other tourist stores  which one might have expected to find selling items such as Abbas T-shirts or  coffee cups or key chains or  postcards.

Notwithstanding that Abbas has been  the  Palestinian President  since 2005, after Arafat’s death, it appears that no Palestinian entrepreneur has thought  it worthwhile to begin producing  items such as Abbas postcards or buttons for  in Ramallah or Bethlehem or Jericho nearby.  Is this a sign of Abbas’s lack of popularity on the ground?  

The fact that  images other than those of Abbas ( be they of   Arafat, Marwan Barghouti and  Saddam Hussein) flourish on the streets of Ramallah,  rather than of Abbas, left me with the impression that if an election were held today in the Palestinian Authority (one which was to have occurred by January 2010, some  eight months ago), Abbas  may not even be able to carry Ramallah in a vote.  And Ramallah is a place which  I would have thought would be Abbas’s stronghold.  And if  Abbas couldn’t carry Ramallah, where in the West Bank  would he be victorious ?

In  this regard, it is worth remembering that in 2007, Hamas not Abbas won elections in all districts in the West Bank.  In July of this year, Salam Fayyad announced that no municipal elections that were scheduled to take place would occur. Presumably  Fatah feared it may  not have won over Hamas.


Athough the London-based Arabic-language Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported in April 2010 that Abbas was  in poor health, the  Arabic print  newspapers in the West Bank did not report on this, according to a source in Ramallah.

The Palestinian media Ma’an did publish the report in English,  but the source said that  most West Bank Palestinians still get their news from the print media not the internet, particularly in the older generation and in more rural communities.

On April 20th, Ynet News, the online English language Israeli news website of Yedioth Achronot  picked up the story about Abbas’s poor health, saying that  “According to the report [in  Al-Quds Al-Arabi], Abbas visited one of the biggest private hospitals in the Jordanian capital of Amman many times in the past three month, and six times in the past few weeks.

“The report did not provide any specific details on Abbas's medical condition or the illness he is suffering from. Private doctors interviewed by the paper estimated that he was suffering from a serious infection in some parts of his body, from high blood pressure or exhaustion, and even from heart problems.
According th the Ynet News report“The newspaper [Al-Quds Al-Aeabi]added that only a few of Abbas' associates were aware of his real medical condition.”

A Palestinian official later denied to another reporter that Abbas was suffering from poor health. 

A source in ramallah said that there is talk about Israel freeing Fatah's Marwan Barghouti who may be  a  unity leader "able to act as a bridge between Fatah and Hamas' in exchange for  Israel's Gilad Shalit,  athough there is no indication that this is about to happen.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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