Palestinian youth: A wave of popular resistance or a smart uprising?

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Dr Ibraham Natil looks at the new wave of popular resistance by Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and the dangerous new front this Third Intifada has in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The youth of occupied Palestine challenge the de facto

The generation of young people who were born during the time of the Oslo Peace Process and witnessed the establishment of both the Palestinian Authority and the rapid expansion of Israeli settlement have taken the initiative to challenge the de facto Israeli occupation of Palestine and the disastrous impact of Palestinian division on the national project.

They have also witnessed very severe circumstances including the lack of human security at all levels owing to the latest cycle of violence between Hamas and Israel, the failure of the peace process itself, and frequent Israeli incursions into their holy Islamic shrines in Jerusalem.  

Youth popular resistance without leadership

Today, Palestinian youth are leading a new wave of popular resistance/smart uprising without official or underground hierarchical leadership, unlike the first uprising during 1987-1993 or the second uprising of 2000-2004.

Israeli forces have killed more than 47 young people and injured more than a thousand of them since 1 October 2014. Palestinian political factions are still hesitant in becoming engaged in the current wave of resistance and are exercising a policy of “wait and see”, in order to balance failure and success.

The factions are concerned about being accused of hijacking and exploiting the current popular resistance by the Palestinian public and youth. If “the factions” become engaged in the current smart uprising/wave of popular resistance, they will be dragged into experiencing rivalry amongst themselves in their attempts to demonstrate their contribution. If the factions become involved, using a variety of resistance tools including armed resistance, they will damage it without achieving any political gain.

This will open the way for Israel to use much more of its military arsenal’s destructive power, inflicting greater losses on the Palestinians and forcing them to accept a humiliating ceasefire and/or deal similar to those of the Oslo agreement, the second uprising, as well as the last three wars in the Gaza Strip.

The reluctance of the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian authority, to use armed resistance, however, is because they realize that Palestinian society has already paid a high enough price for armed resistance since 2000.

Prior to the outbreak of the current wave of popular resistance, the youth of the West Bank and Gaza, aged between 16 and 30 years, suffered a high number of human rights violations, poverty, lack of opportunities, as well as the absence of hope for living in peace and dignity after years of Israeli colonialism and restrictions to their visiting holy shrines in Jerusalem. The Islamic shrine of Jerusalem represents national symbolism to Palestinian youth from all spectrums of life.  

Young people, therefore, are leading the current popular resistance in order to change the status quo, as the various factions including Hamas, have failed to fulfill the Palestinian national project either through negotiation in the West Bank or armed resistance in the Gaza Strip.

The youth have already forced the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to change his long-standing position that “Jerusalem is unified under Israeli sovereignty and the Jews have free movement to the Al Aqsa mosque”. Israel, however, is now attempting to quell three weeks of Palestinian popular resistance by ramping up security in East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, because of its location and the fact that it is a holy city, has had a significant role in the formation of national identity. East Jerusalem is where the famous and most sacred holy sites and shrines of both Muslims and Christians are located. Palestinians are prevented from freely accessing Jerusalem from both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These shrines are considered as representing core values for Palestinian national identity.

The Palestinians of East Jerusalem suffer from Israeli policies of marginalisation and humiliation. Israel uses different restrictions and policies, which force Palestinians to keep fighting for their survival and searching for jobs in order to support their families, rather than experiencing a good economic environment and having time to fight for political causes. Once, an Israeli East Jerusalem portfolio Meretz city councilman, Meir Margalit said:

“The issue of humiliation is particularly acute for younger Palestinians who are forming their identities and who have been responsible for the vast majority of rioting that has engulfed the city. For them, the issue of dignity is a very important factor in their identity and this [lack of respect] makes them crazy”.

He also said:

 “To regular Israelis, all the Palestinians are potential terrorists, and the attitudes towards them are based on this perception”

The Palestinian youth in Jerusalem are seeking, at this time, to change the humiliating status quo and the so-called “united capital for Israel”.

The future of popular resistance

Prior to this wave, the future of unarmed resistance in Palestine was uncertain after the long Israeli strategy of maintaining the status quo of occupation, including expansion of the Israeli Jewish settlements.

The Palestinian unarmed resistance had an uncertain future, as the Palestinian Authority controlled it. More on this here.

There have been many voices from different spectrums of Palestinian society demanding that both the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian factions, including Hamas, allow the youth to continue leading the resistance.

The Palestinian factions must agree first on a collective strategy or a national plan, and then they will be better placed to advise youth on what the future of the current resistance is. If the political factions participate today in the current wave of resistance, without national consensus, they will work individually and this will complicate the status quo of the current wave of popular resistance and deepen the wounds of Palestinian society.

Today, Palestinian society is in desperate need of a collective political programme that invests in the current popular resistance. The political factions should exclude young activists from any political debate or polarization. The youth represent the majority of the population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

They are still trapped by the Palestinian division between Hamas and Fatah on the one hand and the Israeli occupation on the other. They need to succeed in employing their own new techniques of resistance, including a social network, to express their views and to escape from the suppression and violence of the security agencies.

In addition, they are deprived of any political elections owing to the Palestinian division. They have also attempted to change the Palestinian de facto, but have failed during the last few years to contribute to unifying Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah on the West Bank. On 15 March, 2011, the youth movement and youth groups failed to end the Palestinian division between Hamas and Fatah.

The Palestinian people hope that this time, the youth wave of popular resistance will achieve what Fatah and Hamas have failed to achieve. There have, however, been a number of voices from the Gaza Strip speaking against allowing the youth to get close to the Israeli border, as Israeli soldiers are protected by solid concrete walls.

There is concern because on Friday, 9 October, 2015, at the border between Israel and Gaza, Israeli soldiers killed in two hours protest 6 unarmed Gazan youth and injured dozens of others who protested about the Israeli occupation

These voices argue that the Gazans have suffered more than enough during the past few years. Excessive use of force by Israel against unarmed youth in the Gaza Strip, however, might divert the current wave into an armed conflict in the Gaza Strip. I believe that if Israel fails to stop the current wave of popular resistance, it might provoke the Palestinian factions, dragging them into armed conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Israel will then succeed in changing, once again, the direction of popular resistance, as it did in both the first and second uprisings.

The Palestinian factions must bear the responsibility and be vigilant in order to avoid being dragged into armed resistance in the Gaza Strip and/or the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and all the Palestinian factions together must serve the Palestinian people by having a national consensus regarding the current wave of popular resistance/ smart uprising.

Dr. Ibrahim Natil is currently a Visiting Fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin (UCD).

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