New Internationalist

Palestine: shaking up the occupiers

October 2012

The frustrations of Palestinian youth, voiced by Linah Alsaafin.

This feature was published in the October issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Six-year-old Salam Tamimi has seen a lot in his few years. He is the youngest child of Nariman and Bassem Tamimi, leaders of the grassroots ‘popular resistance committee’ in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

The villagers here have held weekly demonstrations since an Israeli settlement seized control of their water source in 2009. Nabi Saleh is now famous for its defiance of the occupation, and bears the brunt of a brutal campaign by the Israeli military.

Salam has witnessed soldiers drag off his mother and arrest her. He has seen his two older brothers injured by teargas canisters and rubber bullets. His father was detained for over a year in a military prison. Israeli soldiers repeatedly undertake midnight raids on his home, which is under threat of demolition.

Anne Paq/Activestills.org
Linah Alsaafin remonstrates with Israeli soldiers at the rebel West Bank village Nabi Sameh. Anne Paq/Activestills.org

‘I throw rocks at the soldiers and their jeeps,’ Salam says, ‘because they took our land and always fire teargas at us.’ Salam has vowed to throw rocks for as long as the soldiers remain.

The people of Nabi Saleh are fighting what I call the ‘visible occupation’. In these rural areas, the Israeli occupation is present in every aspect of people’s lives. Settlers build illegally on and around their land and harass them. Their farms are confiscated, their olive groves burned. Soldiers fire live ammunition on unarmed protesters and attack them with the skunk truck – a foul-smelling chemically enhanced liquid that stays on clothes for weeks. Raids, arrests and curfews happen throughout the week.

But there is also another struggle going on in occupied Palestine. For youth activists, it is increasingly clear that they must also struggle against the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and other forms of non-representative Palestinian leadership – what I call the ‘invisible occupation’. Time and time again the PA has shown itself to be a bunch of outdated, corrupt old farts, with no imagination, who collaborate with and amount to an extension of the occupation.

It was a handful of Palestinian politicians acting in their own interests who signed the Oslo Accords back in 1993. They ended the first intifada(uprising) and created a pseudo Palestinian ‘state’ under the 1967 borders, made up of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – just 22 per cent of the Palestinian homeland. They chose these territories, which are still under Israeli occupation, instead of building a broad resistance movement. This decision paved the way to a growing police state that has increased its grip under Mahmoud Abbas, the current de facto president of the PA.

The Palestinian Authority has shown itself to be a bunch of outdated, corrupt old farts, with no imagination

The PA’s flagrant security co-ordination with Israel has shaped my own political consciousness. Behind the handshakes with Israeli officials and the smiles for the world’s cameras, I have seen Palestinian prisoners detained without trial in the West Bank and the PA’s abject failure to internationalize their cause. I have heard the PA blame Hamas for the vicious siege in Gaza. I have seen the PA’s inability to stop either the spread of settlements in East Jerusalem or the routine demolitions in the Jordan Valley. I read about arrests of journalists who speak out against the PA or who shed light on corruption – the list goes on.

Over in Gaza, Hamas is also not exempt from criticism. They too have crackdowns on dissenters and allegedly profit from the blockade imposed on the strip.

No spring for Palestine

Both regimes made sure that the wave of uprisings in the Arab world would not be repeated at home. As the crowds prepared to topple Hosni Mubarak, protesters who demonstrated in solidarity in front of the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah were beaten up by PA security forces.

Nonetheless, events in Tahrir Square directly inspired Palestine’s short-lived March 15 movement. Almost exclusively youth-led, it called for national reconciliation and was a sign of a more outspoken and savvy generation who were growing increasingly frustrated by life under the PA and Hamas.

The PA responded with infiltration, co-option, arrests, threats and beatings in the cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem; while over in the Gaza Strip, Hamas torched protesters’ tents and ordered them to go home.

One year on, undeterred, young people formed a network called Palestinians for Dignity in Ramallah. The city is a bubble, with the artificial semblance of a state. It boasts new ministry buildings, high-rise restaurants and bars, new paved roads from USAid, and the centralized PA compound of al-Muqata’a.

But this hasn’t blinded young people to the invisible occupation. Palestinians for Dignity has grown in response to the ongoing negotiations between the PA and Israel, which, for many people, only represent yet more concessions of rights and land. The network is still in its infancy, working to define itself and become more inclusive. Yet members have faced harassment and interrogations, and police brutality on marches.

Hunger strikes and anti-apartheid

Elsewhere, politically non-affiliated young Palestinians are carving out their own paths of resistance. Mahmoud Sarsak, a 25-year-old national football player, carried out a 93-day hunger strike to secure his release from prison in early July 2012. Others’ activism takes a less dramatic but no less committed course.

‘The Israeli occupation has impacted me differently from Palestinians who live in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The biggest impact is psychological,’ explains Budour Hasan, a 23-year-old from Nazareth who studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

‘I began to encounter the built-in racism in Israeli society on buses and at university. Such is the bigotry that at many points I seriously thought about packing my stuff and leaving the country altogether.’

'What I would love to see happen in Palestine is a true mass grassroots movement from the bottom up'

Budour identifies herself as an occupied Palestinian citizen of Israel, as opposed to ‘Arab-Israeli’. She resists institutionalized prejudice by writing articles that highlight oppressive Israeli policies, organizing anti-apartheid campaigns on campus, and joining protests.

‘I don’t think there is one ideal form of resistance,’ she says. ‘What I would love to see happen in Palestine is a true mass grassroots movement from the bottom up, not just in the West Bank but in all parts of historic Palestine.’

Omar Ghraieb, a 25-year-old resident of the Gaza Strip, charts a similar path. ‘I resist by writing, spreading awareness, sharing the truth, and opening people’s eyes to the atrocities,’ he says.

Separation and sumoud

The division between Palestinian territories has directly split my family apart. My father and older brother were born in Gaza and both hold Israeli military-issued Gaza IDs. This means they are forbidden from entering the West Bank, including the city of Ramallah where we made our family home, as I and the rest of my siblings are registered under my mother’s West Bank ID.

Since my father was refused entry three years ago, we are left with a stark set of options. To live together we must either relocate to Gaza, the world’s biggest open-air prison, or leave Palestine completely and become victims of a kind of ethnic cleansing.

Hamas and the PA have lost sight of the bigger picture. They are obsessed with maintaining power in Gaza and the West Bank bantustans, with the 6 million refugees worldwide and the 1.5 million Palestinians living in what is now Israel effectively ignored. What’s missing is a national resistance strategy, built from the bottom up, and the national unity called for by the March 15 movement.

Resistance comes in more than one form and will require strikes, boycotts and protests, as in the early years of the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s.

Another form of resistance is sumoud or steadfastness. It means staying rooted in Palestine, no matter how many unbearable blows the occupation deals you. As for my family, our right to a family life – that basic human right – is compromised by another: the right to live in one’s homeland.

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