Jan 08 2005

Voting for Palestinian President

Published by at 12:00 am under Blogs

I left Amman very early to get to Ramallah for some work and a few interviews. My parents in law also wanted to go to Palestine and stay in Jericho. We left Amman at 7:30 and things went smoothly. My father in law, Odeh a Jordanian who lived many years in Jerusalem has a special love for Palestinians who he says are energetic and have an entrepreneurship spirit compared to many Jordanians who he says are lazy.

We talked about the elections and he said to me he was impressed with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti and his credentials. I told him I was planning to vote for Abu Mazen. This discussion intensified once I got to my Ramallah office with some of my staff grilling me for wanting to vote for Abu Mazen. I told them that he has been honest and straightforward not changing despite the pressures on him, unlike Barghouti who is for and against the use of violence, a secular former communist who is aligned with the PFLP and now in the elections he went three times to the mosque which he never did before.

My staff said that they didn’t want to vote for the establishment leader and that they want to have a strong opposition person win the elections even though they agreed with me about Barghouti’s wish washyness. Firas who works on our broadcasting section, told me he is voting for Abu Mazen. “But you are a Barghouti,” I inquired. Yes but if it was the other Barghouti meaning Marwan then all of us would have voted for him.

The issue of the lack of straightforwardness of Mustafa Barghouti came up in an interview I had in the afternoon with BBC world service. The reporter had interviewed his campaign manager who tried to downgrade the value for their campaign of their candidates recent arrest as he tried to enter Al Asqsa Mosque. On air she said that despite that statement, campaign workers were busy hanging posters of the arrest. I told her that I thought he tried very hard to get himself arrested so as to create publicity. She asked me about the Israeli decisions to remove checkpoints and I told her that the Israelis never promised to remove them and in fact didn’t make any clear statement about what they will do other than saying they will try and improve the situation.

In the evening I went to Jerusalem and waited in a long line at Qalandia. Everyone at the line was repeating the same statement- oh this is the tashillat- the easing of conditions at checkpoints. I had a nice get together with an American journalist friend Trudy Rubin from the Philadelphia Inquirer. She concentrated a lot on what will happen with Hamas and the militants after a victory of Abu Mazen. I told her that they are interested in the carrot and that the upcoming Legislative Elections due to take place in July are seen as very attractive to them. We talked about Hassan Yousef the Hamas leader from Ramallah who was just released. I told her that when he came to our TV station he told people off camera that if they were not boycotting the elections they would have recommended Abu Mazen.

I drove to Bethlehem and the road was so easy and fast and I kept thinking of how different the world is on the Israeli side of things. Even the border checkpoint in Bethlehem was easy. A woman greeted me and asked me from where I was, I turned the question to her and she said Russia. I asked her where it was colder and she had no problem in saying that Moscow was much colder than Jerusalem. I visited my friend Fadi Abu Saada who was busy preparing the PNN web site for the elections the next day. I gave him a few ideas of how to cover the elections and drove back to Jerusalem by midnight.

Election Day

January 9th 2005

I was surprised when I got home to find that Maher was there. Maher Hanna, an excellent lawyer from Nazareth works in my brother’s law firm and all three of us share an apartment in Beit Hanina. He had told me, a week earlier, that he was unhappy that he can’t vote so I asked him if he wanted to go with me the next morning. He said yes even though he doubted it would work.

We got up early and drove to a school in Hizma just after leaving the checkpoint near Pisgat Zeeve. When we found the school we were pointed to a woman who looked clearly like a school teacher. Maher told a guy outside that he is a supporter of Abu Mazen and wanted help. It turned out that we went to the wrong village, Jerusalemites who were not previously registered could only vote in specific locations and the nearest one was in Anata. We drove to the new location and on the way Maher told me he lied to the election worker and that in reality he planned to vote for Mustafa Barghouti as a protest vote rather than because of his faith in the man. I suggested sarcastically that he should vote for Abdel Halim Al Ashqar a Palestinian Islamist who is under home arrest in the States.

The Anata road was not very good, garbage was all over the street but when we got to the school it was modern newly built and well kept. The workers led us in and I showed them my ID card, they wrote down the details, a woman placed ink on my right hand thumb and I was given a ballot. The top two names were Mustafa Barghouti and the second was Mahmoud Abbas. I placed the x on Abbas, put my ballot in the see through plastic box and returned to find Maher. He was asked about the supplement that has his address and he told them he lost it. “I have been living in Beit Hanina and before that in the old city,” he said truthfully. The ID was issued in Nazareth so the workers asked if he had Israeli citizenship. He said yes. She then politely told him that he couldn’t vote according to instructions. He was told he could appeal to the head of the voting committee but he chose not to. On the way home he told me that he didn’t want to lie and that he really wanted to have the right to vote. I told him that even though everyone including supporter or all candidates would not have minded if he had voted, I was impressed that they were careful not to violate regulations.

I had packed earlier, so I took off for Jerusalem. At the Abdo Taxis in front of Damascus Gate, I bought two newspapers and the famous Jerusalem kaik (bread with sesame) and waited for the taxi to fill up. The driver said he didn’t care about voting, that it didn’t matter.

Crossing the bridge was easy and by 11am I was in my office in Amman showing off to everyone that was interested, my ink covered thumb proving that I indeed participated in the elections.


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