Intifada 3.0: How The West Bank Changes Gaza Calculus

Palestinian Authority President Abbas surprised some by backing Hamas. But it is growing protests among youth in Ramallah that may have the real power to make a change.

Protests in Ramallah this week.
Protests in Ramallah this week.
Maurizio Molinari

RAMALLAH — "The Gaza demands ... are the demands of the entire Palestinian people."

It was late Wednesday night when Yasser Abed Rabbo, a veteran of the Palestine Liberation Organization, came out of meetings with top leaders of Fatah, which governs the West Bank. He had come to let everyone know that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority had decided to align their stance with Hamas, rather than Egypt and Israel, in laying out specific demands in the negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza.

This marked a dramatic turning point on the standing position of the Palestinian Authority.

Until a few hours beforehand, Abbas had been a staunch supporter of the Egyptian position — in favor of an unconditional ceasefire — and was in Riyadh to consult with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, he was back in Ramallah, participating in closed meetings with his closest advisors and eventually opting to support Hamas.

Support has grown stronger and taken the form of violent street protests in Ramallah, following a deadly strike Thursday on a United Nations school building in Gaza that added to a rising civilian toll in the 19-day-old Israeli assault.

Abbas' reversal is welcomed by Washington because now it has created a channel for dialogue with Hamas, and could open up new scenarios — including a possible U.N. resolution to assign the Palestinian Authority control of Gaza’s borders.

Ahmad Rafiq Awad, a political scientist and formerly fierce critic of Hamas, explains that Abbas "had no other choice because the Palestinians feel proud that Hamas is resisting Israel. They are proud of the Gazan ideological purity and of the military qualities of the leaders, while they are unhappy with their own president who has held negotiations with Israelis, Americans and other Westerners."

These feelings explain why, for more than a week now, groups of demonstrators gather in the West Bank’s Manara Square every night at 10 p.m. to protest against the "Dayton Police," and "Dayton Friends" — the local political and military leaders identified with U.S. General Keith Dayton, who up until 2010 was responsible for training Palestinian forces.

A new generation

Some people threw stones at the police headquarters, with officers then emerging with batons to beat the demonstrators and camera crews who came to investigate. "When the Palestinian forces crack down on the Palestinians themselves rather than pursue the creation of the nation that means that something is not working," says Issam Bakin, coordinator of Islamic and nationalistic political parties, which constitutes a rare bipartisan umbrella after the Second Intifada.

Bakin is leading the protests in Manara Square and is hoarse because he has been "yelling into a megaphone until he is exhausted." It was he who tried to drive the protestors towards the Jewish settlement of Beit El "until the cops stopped us."

Activists, both men and women, traipse through his office doors because they claim "they are ashamed of the leadership, who are far too timid in supporting the people of Gaza."

A woman, 25, wearing jeans and no veil, accuses Abbas of "being too late in saying that Gaza is not alone."

A few meters away, in front of the town hall, are more than 600 symbolic coffins draped with Palestinian flags, representing the rapidly rising death toll in Gaza. Abbas has ordered three days of mourning, but Bakin claims that "at the point that it has got to now, we must denounce Israel before an international criminal court and ask the UN for a full investigation of the crimes it has committed."

Mash-hour Arouri, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, agrees.

"We are secular and not Islamists," says Arouri, an electrical engineer who trained in Dubai at the helm of a $3 million start-up. "We want to show solidarity with Hamas, to prove that the Palestinian government is united: Ramallah, Gaza and Nazareth."

Arouri is part of the 48,000 March group, which has spread on Facebook and is supported by the two most popular Palestinian leaders: Marwan Barghouti, ex-head of Tanzim, and Ahmed Sa’adat, from the Popular Front. Both are serving life sentences in Israel for terrorist attacks. Barghouti’s son, Qassem, is another of the organizers.

"Mahmoud Abbas lives in the past, he pursues goals that have already been achieved and he doesn’t inspire young people or militants," says Arouri. "It’s our generation’s turn to drive the activism from the bottom, to get what we most want: Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees."

What Arouri and Bakin have in common is being united against armed violence and "for an active militancy based on respect for human rights."

Arouri even goes as far as saying that, "We won’t launch rockets against Israel," and he promises that, "We won’t throw stones at Israeli soldiers at the Qalandia check point, but if we are stopped and detained, then we will come back every single night."

He adds that if the objective is to "express Palestinian pride in the West Bank to strengthen the people of Gaza," then at least "the battle for independence isn’t only in Hamas’ hands."

In the face of these rumblings in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas really never had any other choice than to voice his support for Hamas.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!