Palestinians Could Soon Join Rumbling For Reform

Palestinian leaders are acutely aware the earthquake that's rumbling across the Middle East could soon arrive on their soil. The Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is trying to ease the pressure by promising general elections later this year. The prime minister has dismissed the Cabinet and will appoint a new one. Will this be enough?

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Elsewhere on today's program, we've heard about unrest in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Palestinian leaders are also worried the unrest rumbling across the Middle East could soon arrive on their soil. If so, what might happen?

NPR's Philip Reeves has been touring the cafes to find out if young Palestinians could rise up against their leaders.

PHILIP REEVES: You can't see it, you can't touch it, yet there's a strange atmosphere in the West Bank; a feeling change is in the air.

Sharaf Quran(ph) is 19 and studying to be a banker. He followed every episode of the Egyptian Revolution.

SHARAF QURAN: (Through translator) I think the feeling here in Palestine was a feeling of envy and jealousy.

REEVES: Quran's sitting outside a cafe in the city of Ramallah. These cafes are talking shops. There's a lot to talk about these days. General elections are more than a year overdue. The Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank has just announced they'll be in September. The cabinet's also being reshuffled.

These moves are an attempt to stop the revolutionary spirit of Egypt catching on here. They've not impressed Quran.

QURAN: (Through translator) The same prime minister is forming another government. I don't foresee a big change in ministers. We, the young people here of Palestine, want changes like the rest of the Arab world.

REEVES: Quran seems relaxed. The conversation turns to his civil rights and whether he has freedom of speech.

QURAN: (Through translator) No. There is no freedom of speech in our country.

REEVES: Suddenly, Quran ends the interview. He seems worried he'll be punished for speaking out. Some Palestinians are still afraid of their security services.

At another cafe, not far way, sits Ghrasan Namruti(ph), a 28-year-old accountant.

GHRASAN NAMRUTI: (Through translator) I think we're starting to see the roots, the seeds of a situation. We are seeing high prices in everything, administrative corruption, institutional corruption and political arrests.

REEVES: Yet, Namruti does not think the Palestinians of the West Bank are ready to revolt against their leaders. If there is an uprising, it'll be against Israel and its occupation of the West Bank. That's still the main issue for Palestinians, he says.

Iman Tirawi is having a lunch. Her father is a leading light in Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority.

IMAN TIRAWI: (Through translator) I don't think they will rise against the government here in the West Bank. I hope that they will rise against Gaza. We called for them to rebel, but no one dared rebel in Gaza.

REEVES: Inside Gaza itself, there's that same strange atmosphere. The blockaded Gaza Strip is ruled by Hamas. Hamas is at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and plans to boycott those September elections. It has a huge network and a powerful security apparatus.

Young Gazans haven't risen up, but some of them are thinking about it.

IBTIHAL AL: There are some Facebook groups already started to call for getting rid of the current government in Gaza.

REEVES: That's Ibtihal al-Aloul. She's in a restaurant in Gaza with another young Gazan, Fadi Bakheet, who's bubbling away on a hookah pipe.

AL: It's very dangerous. There wouldn't be a space for negotiation even. In Gaza, you have only one political party that people want to get rid of. This means that you are not with us or you are the enemy, so there will be - violence will start immediately.

FADI BAKHEET: That's exactly what's going to happen. And the number of casualties will be, like, up high in the air. And it's going to be like a massacre in Gaza if that happens.

AL: We were planning to have an event over Facebook to show solidarity with Egypt, so we agreed to gather in the center of the Gaza City. So then the police came to the place and they arrested the group and they took their mobile phones and ID cards.

BAKHEET: Well, it's not going to stay like this until the end of times. There's time for everything. And there will come the time that people will, like, just stand up and will have the upper hand. We need time. That's all.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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