Palestinians have their backs against the wall. In Gaza, they are subject to a devastating economic blockade and regular Israeli air offensives. In the West Bank, they have every aspect of their lives controlled and regulated by humiliating and often violent restrictions. Within the 1948 borders of Israel, they are routinely harassed, denied basic democratic rights and hounded out of their homes and off their land. In every part of historic Palestine, there are escalating levels of brutality, intimidation and repression. Nevertheless, there are flickers of resistance.
Israel and its backers in the West are not the only forces oppressing the Palestinians. In the West Bank, the population is ruled by the Palestinian Authority. The PA has long ceased to be a body for Palestinian resistance and is now the ruling class of the West Bank, albeit one that is limited by Israel. The PA is run by a corrupt and wealthy class of Palestinians renowned for siphoning funds from ministry budgets.
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his family are notorious. Abbas is worth around US$100 million. His family is worth even more. They got this money by creating monopolies over particular goods. For instance, all the American-made cigarettes sold in the Palestinian territories are run through them. What’s more, their role in the PA has allowed them to make millions from public works projects such as road and school construction.
The PA employs all public servants, organises basic services and runs “security” in the area. In fact, the Israeli state has outsourced much of its policing of the area to the PA, which arrests opponents of Israel and those who speak out against its own rule. There is no story that illustrates this more clearly than that of Nizar Banat. Banat was an outspoken critic of Fatah, the party that dominates the PA. He campaigned against corruption and the mistreatment of Palestinian political prisoners. For his activism he was physically threatened multiple times.
In May 2021, his home near Hebron was attacked by masked gunmen on motorbikes. After that, he decided it wasn’t safe to stay home. According to a Guardian article, he told his wife he was leaving because he “didn’t want to be killed in front of his children”. The following month, he was woken early in the morning, dragged from the bed in his “safe house” by fourteen men from the Palestinian security service, who were given permission by Israel to enter the area. He was beaten to death. The PA said his death was from natural causes. But according to an autopsy commissioned by his family, the activist died after suffering 42 injuries inflicted with metal pipes.
This is only one story of many. Human Rights Watch recently released a report alleging that Palestinian security forces “use solitary confinement and beatings, including whipping their feet, and force detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including hoisting their arms behind their backs with cables or rope, to punish and intimidate critics and opponents and elicit confessions”.
Such lawless violence against activists has sparked a response. After Banat’s murder, the streets of the West Bank were aflame with weeks of protests against the PA. Demonstrators in Ramallah chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime”.
There has also been some impressive working-class resistance in the West Bank. Palestinian teachers have been on strike for months. The strike, which involves around 52,000 teachers and affects nearly 1 million students, is demanding that teachers be paid their full salaries, as well as a 15 percent payment of outstanding funds owed to them. They are also fighting to have a freely elected teachers’ union.
Although initially the PA met their demands with silence, teachers are now facing aggression. Police surround and block their protests, and the PA has launched a major media offensive against them. But the teachers have refused to back down. Their defiance is clear. A statement by the teachers’ union said: “No one is able to bring Palestinian teachers to their knees”.
There is of course also more direct resistance to Israeli apartheid. In the last few years, there have been steps forward and steps backwards on this account. The steps forward overwhelmingly took place in 2021, when there was a major round of popular mobilisations sparked by resistance within the 1948 borders of Israel, which spilled out and inspired further rebellion.
In Jerusalem, Palestinian students and youth mobilised against efforts to expel Palestinian families from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. These mobilisations were largely spontaneous and operated outside the auspices of the traditional Palestinian leadership. One local activist offered this description to the Socialist Worker newspaper:
“Over the years people on some level lost their faith and self confidence in their ability to behave politically. So you need someone to tell you that you have to go to the demonstration, that you need someone to organise for you. The uprising broke this and people started to recognise they have the power to initiate political acts, even if they were never active politically.
“There were ways of organising that we who are involved in political work didn’t recognise as organising. This is the richness and beauty of what happened. For example, a group of girls in a school that moved from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, making graffiti and distributing flyers they printed at home, wouldn’t have thought about the need to have a name or call themselves a group.
“I know about a family that decided to issue a booklet for other families, and everyone was reading it. It’s like that family started to work as revolutionary educators. But no one thought of calling it a group or organisation.”
These were important developments in a new youthful form of Palestinian rebellion operating outside of the traditional resistance organisations. Furthermore, a new Palestinian national consciousness began to blossom across the traditional boundaries between Gaza, the West Bank and inside 1948 Israel.
Unfortunately, many of these green shoots have found it difficult to flourish in the face of Israeli offensives. Hundreds of new and longstanding activists have been arrested, beaten and brutalised. In many ways, the lack of organisational structures that gave the rebellion its energy has made it difficult to sustain. Nevertheless, there is a residue. Demonstrations and resistance continue where they can—against the imprisonment of political prisoners, the expansion of the Israeli settlements and the murder of activists.
The grinding realities of occupation and military bombardment have also spawned a series of new armed resistance groups. These are largely found in West Bank refugee camps, where young people feel they have nothing to lose. They have no faith (rightly) in the parliamentary machinations of the existing Palestinian leaders, but they have also (wrongly) lost hope that any other mass forms of resistance can achieve much.
There is a deep sense of desperation—one journalist described them as “having a wager with death”. One of these, a young man called Udai Tamimi, expressed these sentiments in a note he wrote before he shot up an Israeli checkpoint:
“I am Udai Tamimi, a wanted man from Shuafat refugee camp. My operation against the Shuafat checkpoint is a drop in the raging sea of the struggle. I know that I will attain martyrdom sooner or later. I know that I will not liberate Palestine with my operation, but I want to encourage hundreds of youth to pick up their guns after me.”
Tamimi was hunted down. Israeli forces spent weeks trying to find him. But young men all through his refugee camp shaved their heads to look like him and stymie the efforts of the military. Eventually, however, he was found and murdered. He was shot in the headlights of an Israeli military vehicle, in front of his friends.
Two militant groups, the Jenin Brigade and the Lions’ Den, have been recruiting. They gained support by initially launching defensive operations against Israeli military incursions but have now shifted to hit and run actions against Israeli soldiers. They have had some successes and have achieved a degree of popularity. In one widely publicised incident, they managed to push the Israeli forces out of part of a refugee camp.
All of this has resulted in an increase in military repression by the Israelis. The reality is that no matter how brave, how headstrong, how determined Palestinian militants are, they are never going to be able to withstand the brute force and firepower of the Israeli military. It is one of the most technologically advanced in the world and it is backed by many major imperial powers. So, while it is understandable that these young people join organisations like the Lion’s Den, the strategy is ultimately a futile one.
Israeli power is most diminished by mass rebellion: by intifadas, in which workers strike, communities refuse to pay tax and are increasingly self-organised. Such politics was on display in the late 1980s and again in the early 2000s. There was militant resistance, but mass, organised militant resistance.
Furthermore, Israeli rule can best be put under pressure by broader regional mobilisations. Indeed, it was only twelve years ago that the Arab Spring threatened the rule of all the dictatorial regimes across the region. Then, millions of workers and the poor poured onto the streets and into the squares of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond. They took over their textile factories, set fire to police stations and toppled dictators.
Solidarity poured across borders. Egyptians marched to Gaza, with the intention of breaking through the checkpoints. Thousands of Palestinians marched to that same border both to show solidarity with the Egyptian uprising and also to challenge their own oppression. They shared the same flags, the same chants, the same red-fisted salutes, the same smiles and laughter and joy at the prospect of the “overthrow of the regimes”.
Revolutionary struggle and working-class rebellion across the Middle East are the only force that has the capacity to liberate Palestine. Although the situation is currently bleak, the memory of the Arab Spring is not dead. In the last major round of struggle in Palestine, in 2021, demonstrators in one village were heard to chant: “From beneath the rubble we rise! ... From beneath the destruction we are reborn!”
Such sentiments, we can only hope, will continue to fuel resistance to one of the most barbaric states on the planet.
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