In looking around and assessing almost 19 months of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, one recognizes that Palestinians have undergone some important changes (I will refrain from calling these gains or losses, since the storm has not settled into calm).
One of the most crucial changes among Palestinians is that their peace euphoria has come to a more rational and rather depressing end. The strong belief among Palestinians was that Israeli stubbornness and the hard and endless negotiations were only intended to extract the maximum from the Palestinian negotiators–we all thought that Israel would be leaving in the end. This belief proved wrong and we have been forced to recognize that Israelis are not yet ready for historical compromise, one similar to the dramatic transformation of South Africa.
I remember how, after the signing of the Oslo accords, my children and I left our house holding olive branches and waving them in the streets of Ramallah. I was surprised that day to see an Israeli soldier kick my son’s hands with his boots in anger. I did not understand why. I thought a soldier like him should have been happy to leave a land not belonging to him, in which he was obliged to do a “nasty job” against a hostile population. Many years later, I realized that he was not happy because he did not want to leave. Perhaps he thought, as many Israelis still do, that this land must be his.
For me, as for many other Palestinians, the parameters for a real peace were measured in the size of the nearest settlement to one’s house. Is it shrinking or expanding? The settlement closest to me was continuously expanding and this meant for me, very simply, that there was no peace, but only attempts to steal more land. I began to believe that it was only a question of time until the coming confrontation.
With this in mind, I waited for a Palestinian strategy, one that would explain to the people what awaits them and how to be prepared. To my surprise, however, the Palestinian leadership has been silent. Now most people, including myself, are watching Arab satellite channels, in particular Al Manar owned by Hezballah, to get some analysis of the “situation” and to find some direction. I remember in the first months of what became the “Al Aqsa Intifada,” how Palestinians waited to hear anything from their leadership– clarification describing what is happening and why it is happening and to what end–to no avail. There were many symbolic military actions–heavy firing in demonstrations and the funerals of martyrs, masked people wearing black uniforms and weighted down with belts of bullets–but after the funerals and demonstrations, there was nothing else for someone like me to contribute.
I was an active participant in the first uprising, and I have heard many people say that this uprising is the one that will liberate us. Its motto has been to “endure all of the pain for one hour, instead of suffering for many hours.” That led me to believe that we would be asked to do much more than in the first uprising. I thought that the skills and experience we had gained at mobilizing support from all over the world would be more enhanced, more organized and more systematic than in the first uprising. I thought that we would have a clearer message for and discourse with the Israelis, the Arabs and the rest of the world. That message should have been that after seven years of waiting and endless negotiations, what we gained were more settlements, more land confiscation, more suffocating blockades and humiliation.
My faith that we would be able to send a consistent and powerful message to the world came out of the fact that now we had our national institutions, various ministries and long-awaited expertise from the Diaspora. I thought that if the first uprising succeeded in bringing the likes of Hanan Ashrawi into the media spotlight, this uprising, alongside our national institutions, would bring tens or maybe hundreds of Hanans to face the cunning and sophisticated Israeli propaganda machine. I thought that more careful civil defense measures would be taken to protect people’s lives and to prepare them for a long resistance, a resistance inevitable to finally gain their freedom. I thought that we would see a full-scale strategy to prepare Palestinians for long sieges and more brutal military “incursions,” whether by preparing shelters, makeshift hospitals, better communications and so on. None of this happened and instead, I saw chaos.
Wherever you went, national institutions lacked mandate and defined responsibilities. Everywhere, people were engaged in internal conflicts and many direly needed service and development projects were aborted because of those conflicts.
As a member of the public, I felt that we took the role of a passive audience, while the armed men became the main actors. I have read about the relationship between civilians and militants in many revolutions. Most of the literature out there speaks of genuine and productive relationships. But in our case, the militants, too, were not saying much. Why the arms? For what purpose? And what is the role of the people in relation to them? Many questions went without clear answers.
I, like many others, was skeptical over the value of we called “takhtakhat,” or sporadic shootings. But people did embrace and support well-planned and successful targeted military operations against Israeli settlers and soldiers. The public was divided concerning suicide attacks inside Israel, but Israeli brutalities filled many people’s hearts with the desire for revenge. Politically undirected revenge, however, can be a gift in the lap of one’s enemy and I am one of those who believes this is exactly what happened. We gave a prime minister like Ariel Sharon with his vast criminal record the chance to shed more Palestinian blood and to distort the main aim of our struggle of ending the Israeli occupation.
Yes, we have gained the support of many peoples all over the world. We have managed to present once again the naked reality on the ground, the reality of an occupied people under a classic foreign occupation. But we made great sacrifices and suffered dramatically for this result. Perhaps that might have been minimized, if we were better organized, if we had participated in the decisions made, if we were treated as citizens and not as “clients.”
The only way to get closer to our goals of liberty and independence is to change. In order to defeat our occupiers, we must be empowered as a people and draw the best from each capable person, attracting the merits from each individual.
The last Israeli incursion in March 29 has once again put the people on the right track. It encouraged individual initiative, public solidarity, heroism and spirit to rid us of this ugly occupation. The only way that this spirit will stay alive is through real democracy and respect for initiatives from the people.
Islah Jad is a lecturer at the Birzeit University Cultural Studies and Women’s Studies departments. She is also a long-time activist.