The days of peaceful protest in Palestine may soon be over

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17-year-old Ahed Tamimi was detained after slapping the face of an Israeli soldier who attacked her house and shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet (Image via #FreeAhedTamimi / @AlTamimiAhed)

Dr Ibraham Natil says the current wave of peaceful protest by Palestinians is at risk of becoming militant unless certain steps are taken.

Today, Palestinians have been engaging in a different wave of popular resistance/protest without classical or underground hierarchical leadership since Trump’s Proclamation on Jerusalem. This six weeks of protest is unlike the First Uprising during 1987-1993 or the Second Uprising of 2000-2004. Since 2000, the Palestinian society has already lost hope in the failed Oslo Peace Process with Israel. This process of illusion increases the Israeli expansion settlements and settlers in the West Bank, the collective punishment policies, including the siege on the Gaza Strip, that have already deteriorated human security at all levels.

Young people, however, confront the occupation peacefully in the current protests, supported by all spectrums of the society. Prior to the outbreak of the current wave of popular resistance, young people – those 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. They lead the current popular resistance in order to change the status quo, as the various factions, including Hamas, have failed to fulfil the Palestinian national project, either through negotiation in the West Bank or armed resistance in the Gaza Strip.

Since Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital on 6 December, there have been a number young people making headlines in the mainstream media and on social networks. Three stories, however, best represent the symbols of current wave of peaceful resistance.

The Symbols

First, the image of Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who was detained from her home in the early hours of 19 December is considered one of the most important image of the wave today. Ahed’s image of resisting the Israeli soldiers peacefully in her village Nabi Saheh had already been circulating online since she started participating in peaceful protests every Friday since the age of seven. In a protest against Trump’s proclamation, she slapped the face of an Israeli soldier who attacked her house and shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet. The Israelis considered the soldiers image of non-reaction humiliating as the story made headlines in many major media outlets, leading to her detention.

The second story is that of Fawzi al-Junaidi, a 16-year-old boy from Hebron who was arrested just a few days after protests broke out. He was handcuffed, blindfolded and surrounded by at least 20 Israeli soldiers.

The third symbol is that of Ibrahim Abu Thurayyah, a 29-year old Palestinian from Gaza who lost both his legs in the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza. The Israeli sniper killed him while he was in his own wheelchair, waving a Palestinian flag beside the fence between the Gaza Strip on 15 December.

Despite the fact of these sacrifices, the entire Palestinian society is still in desperate need of a future collective political programme that invests in the current popular resistance.

The future of unarmed 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 and expansion of the Israeli Jewish setlements.

The Palestinian factions must agree first on a collective strategy or a national plan and then they will be better placed to advise young people on the future of the current resistance. 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.

To fortify this six weeks of protest and sustain it as a popular, civil and peaceful resistance uprising, the Palestinians factions and groups must undertake as follows:

  • To establish a non-conventional ‘united leadership’ representing all spectrums of the Palestinian society in the occupied territories to undertake the events of the uprising collectively.
  • The PLO and all the Palestinian factions together must serve the Palestinian people by having a national consensus regarding the current wave of popular resistance.
  • Co-operation and coordination with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement must be speeded up to increase its impact globally.
  • Awareness must be raised of the local Palestinians of boycotting the Israeli goods and commodities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
  • The "united leadership" of Palestinians must bear responsibility and be careful to avoid being dragged into armed resistance in the Gaza Strip and/or the West Bank.  This leadership must be vigilant in reacting to Israeli policies aimed at changing the direction of popular resistance, as it did in both the First and Second Uprisings.

There are, however, voices who argue that the Gazans have suffered more than enough during the past few years. Excessive use of force by Israel against unarmed people who protest beside the security fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, however, might divert the current wave into an armed conflict in the Gaza Strip.

I think that if Israel fails to stop the current wave of popular resistance, it might provoke the Palestinian factions, dragging them into a new bout of armed confrontation in the Gaza Strip to end it.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a Fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City UniversityHe is a human rights campaigner and was a nominee for the Tällberg Foundation Global Leadership Prize, 2016. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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