Palestinian intellectuals demand 'unity' in actions, not words
Over recent years, two television programs have dominated Palestinian TV during Ramadan. The Syrian drama series ‘Bab al-Hara’ (‘Gate of the Neighbourhood’) takes centre stage in households across the country after the iftar meal, with its tales of Syrian life under French imperial rule.
Similarly, ‘Watan ala watar’ (‘Homeland on a string’) - a Palestinian comedy show which takes a satirical glance at Palestinian politics and culture under occupation - has become a firm family favourite. However, when Palestinians tuned in for ‘Watan ala Watar’ earlier this month, they found the scheduled programme was cancelled and replaced with a five minute message from one of the shows three main characters, played by Emad Faraji:
“Today the actors, artists and production team of Watan ala Watar are sending our feelings to all our brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza. We know the pain is getting bigger and bigger... This time we must not forget... In Gaza there are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. In Gaza they are human beings not animals... We don't just need Gaza to resist, we must all resist.
“We tried the peace process and it doesn't work...You [Palestinian] leaders are fighting for ministries and the settlers are killing us and putting petrol in our children's mouths... The game of 'Gaza' and the 'West Bank' does not work anymore - we are all one people, the Palestinian people...”
Faraji's message echoed the thoughts of so many Palestinians that are deeply frustrated with the Palestinian leadership in general, which they say has proven unable to deal with the current crisis.
Many Palestinian intellectuals say that the western media is dominated by the so-called “war” between Hamas and Israel, and is missing the real story on the ground, which is the collective upsurge of resistance and unity amongst the Palestinian community in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Rifat Odeh Kassis is one of the founders of Kairos Palestine, and the director of Defence for Children International-Palestine, both are human right monitoring groups that document abuses. Like so many Palestinians, Kassis is also a former political prisoner, and says that Israel is manipulating the media and international community.
"Israel is trying to paint a picture that this problem is between extreme Jewish settlers and Hamas, and that the Israeli government is a democratic one trying to bring order by dealing with their settlers 'according to the law' and by striking Gaza to 'defend itself',” says Kassis.
“But from a Palestinian perspective this is an intifada against the occupation, especially as Palestinians now realize more than ever that negotiations will not lead to anything, and that this Israeli government is not interested in peace. But Palestinians also see that a change in the Israeli government, such as a move to Labour party rule, will also did not bring anything new."
Palestinian intellectuals routinely point out that the fundamental issue at hand is not one between the so-called right and left-wing in Israeli government. Instead, they brand Israel a settler-colonial project, which by definition nullifies the concept of left or right wing because it underscores the fundamentally flawed nature of the Israeli government.
Believers of this narrative, often point out that it was the Labour Party that created the first West Bank settlement, and that settlements have expanded under left and right wing governments alike.
But focusing on the settlement issue yet again, misses the wider point, believes Manar Makhoul, resource unit coordinator at Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in Bethlehem (BADIL).
"The 'problem' in Palestine is not only the siege on Gaza, the settlements in the West Bank, imposing facts on the ground in Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees or Palestinian citizens of Israel,” says Makhoul.
“Palestinians are realising that all these are but different manifestations of a single issue - Zionism.
That understanding acknowledges that the problems of Palestinians in the Galilee are inseparable from solving the Palestinian refugee problem, or home demolitions in Jerusalem, for example.
“A holistic approach is emerging among the third and fourth generations, one that identifies Zionism - a colonial racist ideology - as the enemy that Palestinians and the world need to fight. It is this understanding that is bringing Palestinians to resist Israel - the Zionist state - in all corners of Palestine today," he adds.
According to Makhoul and others, the current uprising has allowed us to see signs of this new unity, which has pushed Palestinians in Nazareth and Haifa to take to the streets.
In Jerusalem mass demonstrations have been taking place across Palestinian areas of the city since the murder of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers on 2 July.
In the West Bank, demonstrations are also taking place alongside Israeli military bases and settlements when they are not halted by Palestinian Authority or the Israeli army. In Gaza where people are unable to escape the siege and demonstrate close to the Israeli military or settlements, the military wings of different factions have been firing rockets.
The forms of resistance adopted in different areas vary and, to some extent the specific local circumstances play a role in this, but the root cause is the same, explains Rinad Abdullla, a professor of International Law at BirZeit University.
"The rockets from Gaza and the popular, unorganised and organic uprisings we’re seeing in the 1948 territories and the West Bank are a 'self-help' reaction to the continued failure of the international community and [Palestinian] governments to address the systematic hegemony and domination over the Palestinians, their land and their livelihoods since the State of Israel was created in 1948,” says Rinad.
“The cause of the so-called conflict is grounded in settler-colonialism. Ignoring the bigger picture, and brushing aside the underlying injustice, will never bring an end to the death and destruction."
Israeli Arabs or 48 Palestinian?
Born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee, renowned contemporary artist, Rana Bishara, is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. Bishara similarly feels that what the Israeli response in recent weeks is part of a wider strategic plan for the whole region:
"In the current campaign there have many hundreds of arrests in the West Bank, and more than 200 in '48', as well as killings, widespread settler attacks and now the massacres in Gaza,” says Bishara.
“Israel is trying to clear all elements of Palestinian resistance to Zionist policies in Palestine and in the Middle East in general as part of the wider US-Israeli strategic plan for the region. This includes breaking the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation as well as grassroots Palestinian unity."
Few media reports from Mohammad Abu Khdeir's funeral addressed the wide representation of Palestinian political parties present. In this circumstance, affiliation beyond a common national identity seemed irrelevant which, was is rarity in often polarized Palestine.
A middle-aged interviewee on Palestine TV during the funeral described his journey of over 100 kilometers from Haifa to the funeral in Jerusalem simply because, “Mohammad was a son of the Palestinian people.”
BADIL's Makhoul believes it is this upsurge of collective “Palestinian-ism” that Israel really fears, and not Hamas:
"Whether it is Fatah and Hamas reaching common ground for forming a government, even within a framework that was created by and for Israel, or other expressions of Palestinian unity locally or globally - Israel's greatest enemy is Palestinian unity."
One major obstacle that Palestinians continuously strive to overcome is the absence of a strong national leadership, and a collective and rights-based national political programme. As Palestinians demonstrate grassroots unity in the streets, the leadership remains both undemocratic and unrepresentative. Most analysts believe this is also a significant factor in current developments.
BirZeit University’s Abdulla believes more and more Palestinians have now seen through the Oslo Accords and the 20 years of fruitless negotiations that have followed its signing:
"The Palestinian Authority has proved time and time again that it will continue to seek the path of the Israeli imposed and self-serving peace process, as long as the financial incentives continue to flow […] The PA has essentially lost all legitimacy in the eyes of its people because of the conditions it submits to for its financial propping-up in its attempt to be a self-governing entity that does not account for the millions of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinians inside the 1948 territories."
Kassis also believes that unity is essential at the top, as well as at the grassroots level:
"We need to have a real unity between all parties and not only a 'paper agreement' between Hamas and Fatah. [We need to] strengthen the civil resistance, strengthen the BDS campaign internationally, and work on protecting the people and preserving their existence by supporting them to be steadfast and resist."
Many other Palestinian intellectuals say they are equally frustrated by the lack of tangible leadership, and believe that deeper structural changes are desperately needed.
"All Palestinians have one common set of legitimate goals: self-determination, [right of] return, and the establishment of an open and democratic society,” says Makhoul. “In order to achieve these, and based on a real understanding of the root causes of the conflict in Palestine, Palestinians need a 'holistic leadership' - one which represents all Palestinians around the world. This can either be achieved through the rehabilitation of the PLO, or by creating a new political body altogether."
Makhoul's sentiments of full representation are shared by Abdulla, who sees no way forward within the established PA framework:
"The only way forward is to stop pretending Palestinians can achieve self-determination by way of PA rule, and by dismantling the PA and focusing on decolonisation. The international legal framework is already available for this. The only formula is to include all Palestinians - whether inside the West Bank, Gaza, the territories colonized in 1948, or refugees in the Diaspora - and to demand their return, giving all Palestinians equal rights, dignity and freedom from discrimination."
Most analysts agree that continuing the current Palestinian political status quo and the Oslo process will achieve nothing. Palestinians are showing daily, across many areas of historic Palestine, that they share not only a collective identity, but also an acknowledgement that grassroots resistance is an essential factor in the struggle for inalienable rights.
Palestinian intellectuals and analysts insist that this unity and sumud (steadfastness) is not replicated or represented by the established Palestinian leadership and its political program. They argue that the leadership should be representative of the entire Palestinian people and be prepared to contextualise the political struggle clearly in accordance with full rights, and respond to that context collectively and strategically. Theories about the exact route required to reach that point vary, but the ends goals are the same.
Away from intellectual theorising, in the streets of Palestine people quite simply say they want change. Abu Mohammad, who did not want to give his full name, works in a bakery in Ramallah and feels Palestinians are now trapped between “a rock and a hard place.”
"Here we are living under the PA-Israeli security coordination. So we are stuck between them both - the occupation that kills and steals our land and the PA that prevents us from resisting the occupation's policies. Everyone's angry, how do you think Ramadan is in Gaza this year?"