Why Palestinians’ new resistance might just work
What took place between May 2021 and May 2022 was nothing less than a paradigm shift in Palestinian resistance. Thanks to the popular and inclusive nature of Palestinian mobilization against the Israeli occupation, resistance in Palestine is no longer an ideological, political or regional preference.
In the period between the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and only a few years ago, Palestinian “muqawama” (resistance) was constantly in the dock, often criticized and condemned, as if an oppressed nation had a moral responsibility to select the type of resistance used to suit the needs and interests of its oppressors.
As such, Palestinian resistance became a political and ideological litmus test. The Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and, later, Mahmoud Abbas, called for “popular resistance,” but it seems that it did not understand what that strategy actually meant and certainly was not prepared to act upon such a call.
Palestinian armed resistance was removed entirely from its own historical context; in fact, the context of all liberation movements throughout history. It was turned into a straw man, set up by Israel and its Western allies to condemn Palestinian “terrorism” and to present Israel as a victim facing an existential threat.
With the lack of a centralized Palestinian definition of resistance, even pro-Palestine civil society groups and organizations demarcated their relationship to the Palestinian struggle based on embracing certain forms of resistance and condemning others.
The argument that only oppressed nations should have the right to choose the type of resistance that could speed up their salvation and freedom fell on deaf ears.
Palestinian resistance preceded the official establishment of Israel in 1948. Palestinians and Arabs who resisted British and Zionist colonialism used many methods of resistance that they perceived to be strategic and sustainable. There was no relationship whatsoever between the type of resistance and the religious, political or ideological identity of those who resisted.
This paradigm prevailed for many years, from the Fedayeen movement following the Nakba to the popular resistance to the brief Israeli occupation of Gaza in 1956 and the decades-long occupation and siege starting in 1967. The same reality was seen in the resistance in historic Palestine throughout the decades; armed resistance ebbed and flowed, but popular resistance remained intact. The two phenomena were always intrinsically linked, as the former was also sustained by the latter.
The Fatah movement, which dominates today’s PA, was formed in 1959 to model liberation movements in Vietnam and Algeria. Regarding its connection to the Algerian struggle, the Fatah manifesto read: “The guerrilla war in Algeria, launched five years before the creation of Fatah, has a profound influence on us… They symbolize the success we dreamed of.”
This sentiment was championed by most modern Palestinian movements, as it proved to be a successful strategy for most southern liberation movements. In the case of Vietnam, the resistance to US occupation was carried out even during the peace talks in Paris. The underground resistance in South Africa remained vigilant until it became clear that the country’s apartheid regime was in the process of being dismantled.
Palestinian disunity, however, which was a direct result of the Oslo Accords, made a unified position on resistance untenable. The very idea of resistance itself became subject to the political whims and interests of factions. When, in July 2013, PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned armed resistance, he was trying to score political points with his Western supporters and further sow the seeds of division among his people.
The truth is that Hamas neither invented nor has ownership of armed resistance. A June 2021 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research revealed that 60 percent of Palestinians support “a return to armed confrontations and intifada.” By stating this, they were not necessarily declaring allegiance to Hamas. Armed resistance — though in a different style and capacity — also exists in the West Bank and is largely championed by Fatah’s own Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. The recent Israeli attacks on the town of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, were not aimed at eliminating Hamas, Islamic Jihad or socialist fighters, but Fatah’s own.
Skewed media coverage and misrepresentation of the resistance, often by Palestinian factions themselves, turned the very idea of resistance into a political and factional scuffle, forcing everyone involved to take a position on the issue. However, the discourse on the resistance began changing in May last year.
That month’s rebellion and the Israeli war on Gaza — known among Palestinians as the “Unity Intifada” — created a paradigm shift. The language became unified; self-serving political references quickly dissipated; collective frames of reference began replacing provisional, regional and factional ones; occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque emerged as the unifying symbols of resistance; and a new generation began to emerge and quickly developed new platforms.
The Israeli government last month insisted on allowing the so-called flag march — a mass rally by Israeli Jewish extremists that celebrates the capture of the Palestinian city of Al-Quds — to pass through Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. This was the very occasion that instigated war the previous year. Aware of the clashes that often result from such provocations, Israel wanted to impose the timing and determine the nature of the violence. It failed. Gaza did not fire rockets. Instead, tens of thousands of Palestinians mobilized throughout the Occupied Territories, thus allowing the growth of popular mobilization and coordination between numerous communities. Palestinians proved able to coordinate their responsibilities, despite the numerous obstacles, hardships and logistical difficulties.
The events of the last year are testament to the fact that Palestinians are finally freeing their resistance of factional interests.
The events of the last year are testament to the fact that Palestinians are finally freeing their resistance of factional interests. The most recent confrontations show that Palestinians are even harnessing resistance as a strategic objective. Muqawama in Palestine is no longer “symbolic” or supposedly random violence that reflects “desperation” and the lack of a political horizon. It is becoming more defined, mature and well-coordinated.
This phenomenon must be extremely worrying to Israel, as the coming months and years could prove critical in changing the nature of the confrontation between the Palestinians and their occupiers. Considering that the new resistance is centered on homegrown, grassroots, community-oriented movements, it has a far greater chance of success than previous attempts. It is much easier for Israel to assassinate a fighter than it is to uproot the values of resistance from the heart of a community.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud