Amira Hass on Palestinian resistance
Amira Hass, 3 March 2010
Judging from articles written by both Israelis and Palestinians, the next intifada is already in the air. They are predicting it is on the way and the most punctilious know it will be “popular.” Bil’in and Na’alin are perceived as its models.
Some Palestinians are guessing it will first erupt in Jerusalem. There, the constant clash between a dispossessing first world and a misery-stricken world is palpable, and the presence of the discriminatory regime is particularly violent because of the daily mingling of the two worlds. In Jerusalem, as opposed to the Ramallah enclave, it is impossible to fake normalcy.
Jerusalem or Bil’in, the supreme challenge facing the initiators of the next uprising – if it indeed erupts – is to prevent its descent into a so-called armed struggle, which inevitably will expropriate the street and the struggle from the public. The militarization of the second intifada led to grave disasters – personal, collective and geo-political. Off the record, many admit this but a number of factors are still preventing frank, public debate.
For years the theory of armed struggle, until liberation and independence are achieved, has been held sacred. Many people feel ill at ease to criticize the militarization publicly, as though they would thereby dishonor the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and their families.
The Hamas movement has not only claimed the word “resistance” – muqawama – it has also succeeded in imposing a narrative claiming its armed resistance has borne fruit. According to this narrative, this resistance prevented the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization from surrendering to Israeli dictates in the 1990s, forced the Israeli occupation out of the Gaza Strip (and soon Jerusalem’s and Ashkelon’s turn will come), and prevented the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2009.
The truth is that the suicide attacks on civilians gave Israel a golden opportunity to implement plans, which had always existed, to confiscate more and more Palestinian lands, using the excuse of “security.” The use of weapons did not stop the colonialist expansion of the Jewish settlements. On the contrary. And the use of weapons only accelerated a process Israel began in 1991: disconnecting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
At an academic conference on Hamas’s political agenda, which took place in Ramallah two weeks ago, a senior member of the movement took pride at what he termed the resistance’s success in upsetting the normal course of life in Israel. Along similar veins of propaganda, Hamas succeeded in the past in “selling” to its public the “efficacy” of suicide attacks and the firing of Qassam rockets.
But Israel has proved it knows very well how to exploit the Palestinians’ primitive weapons in order to develop and upgrade its sophisticated security industry, an important export expertise and an asset in world politics. This connection is absent from the permitted public discourse on “the armed struggle.”
Free discussion will open a Pandora’s box in the Fatah movement, because it will be asked why its leaders encouraged the use of weapons (“Shooting at the sky,” as one opponent with a military background in Fatah described it). One explanation – but not the only one – is that in the first popular demonstrations in September and October of 2000, Yasser Arafat and his people heard the clear criticism directed at the PA government and Fatah. To silence this criticism and divert it they let the young men play before them – like King David and his people in the Second Book of Samuel (2:14). And many of the young men played with weapons in order to obtain social and economic status in the movement and the PA. When Fatah people dare today to renounce the sanctity of the armed struggle, their collective reputation as corrupt automatically detracts from peoples’ faith in their arguments, even if those arguments are logical.
Another challenge facing the initiators of the popular uprising, if it indeed erupts in the near future, is actually a challenge that Israeli society must face. Will it once again adopt the deceptive narrative of the IDF and the politicians (“the Palestinians attacked us,” “terror”) and allow them, as in the two previous intifadas, to suppress the uprising using disproportionate and deadly means? These are the deadly means that, in the Palestinians’ eyes, make Israeli rule look like a series of bloody acts from 1948 to this day.
Will Israel once again invent oppressive logistical and bureaucratic means instead of listening to the political message: Normalcy will not be possible for Israel as long as it perpetuates the sequence of dispossessions that began in 1948.