On Sunday the leaders of several Palestinian religious institutions and other organisations on the West Bank announced that a national strike would take place on Monday in protest at the situation in Gaza. Stores and workplaces were expected to close down as a symbol of solidarity with victims and their families, so as to enable those outside Gaza to attend rallies or demonstrations.
However at first glance it would seem that the message may not have been received.
Walk down any street in Ramallah and you can clearly see that there is life. Some shops remain open. People go about to make their purchases of fresh bread, fruit and vegetables from those stores that have remained open. After all, despite the conflict in Gaza, Ramadan continues and thus that time in the evening when families come together to break the fast is not far off, making it appear as if solidarity has been placed on hold.
Look more closely and you can quickly see that the situation in the streets is far from uniform. The more commercial businesses, those trading in electronics and similar non-essential items are closed.
Then there are the shopkeepers who try to find a middle ground, trying to demonstrate their solidarity and observe the general strike whilst at the same time, meeting the demands of their customers. Thus whilst the shop may appear closed for all intended purposes from the outside, it remains open so as to enable customers to make purchases. Customers simply have to walk up and knock on the shop’s doors.
Outside the shop there are a few that stand holding posters that express their condemnation for the situation in Gaza but not enough to block the streets or cause any real problems. The police can afford to simply sit back and just watch. But if that is all the day brings, then can it really be said that the Palestinians of the West Bank have acted in solidarity with their compatriots in the Gaza Strip?
There is no doubt that the Palestinian population outside of Gaza feel deeply for those who are trapped inside Gaza. However for those outside of Gaza life must go on. Unfortunately death, destruction and discrimination are the norm in Palestine. As much as a general strike may sound appealing as a strong demonstration of solidarity and protest, 70 years have taught many Palestinians they should not dwell for too long. Otherwise, shops would more or less remain forever closed and the streets blocked in protest.
However does that render the call for a general strike as nothing more than an empty gesture?
The Palestinians in the West Bank are not indifferent either to the situation in Gaza or to the call for the general strike. A strike can take many forms; it can result in shops and workplaces being closed, people taking to the streets and protest posters and flags being mounted around the city. Or it can result in an internal strike, the registering of an internal consciousness if you like. It is the latter that has taken hold of the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Whilst the only chanting that can be heard in the streets is that coming from the vendors at the fruit and vegetable market, the strike continues. People move about the city, attending to everyday tasks, yet the strike can be seen. It can be seen with the missing normal hustle and bustle that brings life to the streets, the lack of jostling as people make their way between cars and taxis and the blank faces of people as they walk on by. Spirits are clearly dampened.
In attending to their daily routine, Palestinians in the West Bank are on strike. It is not the type of action that a westerner might normally comprehend as constituting a strike, but taken in the context of Palestine it is a strike nonetheless. In Palestine the call for a strike is not made carelessly, it is done in times of (greater than normal) turmoil. It acts as a public reminder to Palestinians that they must not allow themselves to become overwhelmed by the situation at hand, no matter how grim the circumstances. It is a reminder that life must go on in Palestine.