New generation gives Palestinians renewed hope
The deadly Israeli invasion of Jenin last week was not a surprise. Also unsurprising is the fact that the killing of 12 Palestinians, wounding of 120 more and the destruction of nearly 80 percent of the refugee camp’s homes and infrastructure will make not one iota of difference.
Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite his lofty promises of destroying the “safe haven ... of the terrorist enclave in Jenin,” must have known that his bloody exercise would ultimately be futile.
As the Israeli military machine was toppling homes, smashing cars and harvesting lives, several Palestinian retaliatory attacks were reported, including in Tel Aviv last Tuesday and in the Kedumim illegal settlement two days later.
In fact, unlike the Israeli response to the Second Intifada of 2000, extreme violence will not weaken but will rather heighten the Palestinian resistance and counterattacks. Back then, the Palestinian Authority had a degree of control over Palestinian groups and managed, though with great difficulty, to contain the Palestinian street.
Now, the PA has no such leverage. Indeed, when a delegation of PA officials visited Jenin to show “solidarity” and to promise help in the recovery efforts, residents kicked the officials out of their camp. Thus, not only did Israel fail to regain any kind of control over Jenin, but the PA also did not succeed in reinventing itself as the savior of the people.
So, what was the point of all of this? Writing in Haaretz, analyst Zvi Bar’el linked the whole Jenin operation, dubbed “House and Garden,” to Netanyahu’s “loss of political control” over his government; in fact, the whole country. It was “a showy operation,” Bar’el wrote, and “no sensible person in the army or the Shin Bet security service, or even in the silent circles of the right, actually believed that the operation would eradicate” the armed resistance, not only in Jenin but anywhere in the West Bank.
It was indeed a “showy operation” and the best proof of that is the language emanating from official Israeli sources, lead among them Netanyahu himself. The politically and also legally embattled right-wing Israeli leader bragged about his army’s “comprehensive action,” which he said was carried out in a “very systemic way ... from the ground, from the air (and) with superb intelligence.” He vowed to “return to Jenin” if “Jenin returns to terror,” and this “will happen much faster and with much greater power than what people might imagine.”
Tel Aviv’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant also spoke of the military’s “success” in dealing “a heavy blow to the terror organizations in Jenin,” while recording “impressive operational achievements.”
But none of this hyped-up language is true. What Israel refers to as “terror organizations” in Jenin are part of a much larger phenomenon of armed resistance, which is itself an outcome of an even larger movement of popular resistance that is felt in every corner of the Occupied Territories.
Quelling the rebellion is not a question of firepower. On the contrary, Israel’s “impressive operational achievement” has simply poured fuel on a raging fire.
Extreme violence will not weaken but will rather heighten the Palestinian resistance and counterattacks.
To distract from his mounting problems — and to keep his hard-line coalition of far-right politicians and their popular base of illegal settlers happy — Netanyahu has done the most foolish thing. He has simply turned a potential armed rebellion in Palestine into an imminent West Bank-wide revolution.
Unlike the Second Intifada, neither Israel nor the PA has any leverage over the new generation of Palestinian resisters. They are neither moved by false promises of a state, jobs or international funds nor seem to fear threats of detention, torture or even death. On the contrary, the greater the violence Israel metes out against Palestinians, the more emboldened they become.
Any examination of the political discourse of this new Palestinian generation, including that of social media, demonstrates a degree of fearlessness that is truly unprecedented. This courage can be attributed in part to Gaza, whose ongoing resistance, despite the siege and horrific wars over the last two decades, have greatly impacted the youth of the West Bank.
And while PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian enemies engaged in the protracted charade of “national unity talks” and “power sharing,” the new generation operated entirely independently of these superficial and insincere slogans.
Though they were mostly born or matured after the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, they perceive the political language and culture of that era as alien to them. It is as if two different Palestines exist — one of Abbas, Fatah, factions, Oslo, donors’ money, the “peace process” and dirty politics, and another of united resistance on the ground, “sumud” (steadfastness), Gaza, Jenin, Nablus, the Lions’ Den and more.
Neither Netanyahu and Gallant nor Abbas and his PA allies seem to understand or are willing to understand this historical shift in political discourses, cultures and language. They are disinterested in the cultural shift simply because it does not serve the status quo, which has served them so well. Netanyahu wants to stay in power as long as possible, Gallant wants to demonstrate his military prowess — for the sake of running for higher office in the future — and Abbas wants to keep whatever share of power and money is allocated to him.
Perhaps, at a deeper level, they all understand that what worked in the past — more violence in the case of Israel and more financial bribes and corruption in the case of the PA — will not work in the present. However, they are likely to stay the course simply because they are weak, desperate and have no long-term vision, let alone a real understanding of what is transpiring in Palestine today.
In some ways, it is a generational problem, and a conflict. As soon as Israel invaded Jenin, all the traditional actors returned to the old script of previous Israeli wars and invasions. They scurried into position, using the ever-predictable language; approving, condemning, applauding and cautioning.
For the older generation, time has stood still. But on the ground, it has not. The new Palestinian generation has buried the ghosts of the past and moved on. Now, they are ready to speak for themselves and to fight for themselves. Jenin is just the start.
• 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.