Peaceful social organisations: Challenges of foreign occupation

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Palestinians continue their protests agains Israeli occupation, while social organisations find more peaceful ways to have their voices heard (Screenshot via YouTube)

While the Palestinian conflict rages on, voices of protest can be heard from peaceful social youth groups, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.

PALESTINIAN SOCIAL ORGANISATIONS play an essential role in the national struggle, community development, relief assistance and documentation of human rights violation by different authorities since the emergence of the Palestine/Israel conflict.

These organisations have been active contributors to relief, development and the civil society empowerment process since the beginning of the conflict and the establishment of Israel over 78 per cent of historical Palestine in 1948. They have done so despite social, cultural, economic and political challenges. They have a long history of organising themselves and leading civil social organisations. This has already made the S.O.s accommodate a new environment of operations under occupation during the various cycles of violence and conflict. Some national leaders use peaceful tools and mechanisms of engaging in community work, and establishing local social services and cultural organisations to reject the Israeli occupation policy of administering their affairs. Nowadays, they operate under different umbrellas in the occupied Palestinian territory (o.P.t.) as follows:


Local grassroots centres

In 1949, the United Nations Relief and Working Agency (UNRWA) established youth and women’s grassroots centres operating in 26 refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They aimed to serve young Palestinian refugees who were displaced after the Palestinian catastrophe and the establishment of Israel in 1948. These organisations deliver activities for young people in different fields of culture, social and sports activities, education, recreation and services. UNRWA used to provide technical and financial support for these centres since they were first established but no longer does today. This support was essential for delivery and sustainability, despite a continuous reduction of assistance.

These centres remain a pivotal hub for the growth of women and youth social movements in the marginalised areas in the o.P.t. in particular.

Supported by political factions or parties

Most political groups have been engaging in civic activism and grassroots engagement in delivering community services and awareness. Dr Haidar Abdel-Shafi, for example, a prominent national Leftist figure affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), established the first S.O.s in Gaza City in 1969. The Palestinian Red Crescent for the Gaza Strip was very active, promoting the national agenda through the provision of social and health services. These organisations have been active in different scopes of community awareness and societal mobilisation. They work with many issues, including women’s political participation, legal aid, psychosocial support and women’s self-sufficiency. Their work is based on the view of national liberation, active participation and women’s empowerment within the political group.

Post Oslo Agreement non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

In 1994, the NGO sector grew after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, when the foreign donors’ agenda focused on institutional building and supporting the Oslo peace process between Israel and PLO. Despite the failed peace process and the decreasing of foreign donations to the Palestinian NGOs, this sector still represents some “elites” in the society who lack the adequate capacity and power to change the social, economic, financial and political context. They also lack the ability to become involved in the policy-making processes of poverty alleviation and civil society empowerment, owing to the political monopolisation of two political groups as Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip (2007-2018). They have limited capacity to challenge situations contributing to policy-making development processes.

A number of NGOs, however, remain a third platform for many citizens who engage in their various activities to raise their voices to influence the political leaders and change the de facto of harsh economic, social and political circumstances in the o.P.t.

Attempts for change

Citizens’ influential voices through engaging in community activities have been limited, owing to the double dilemma of the Israeli occupation since 1967, and the political and geographical divisions between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There have been, however, a number of initiatives and attempts from civil society activists to change the de facto peacefully as follows:

Popular resistance

The failure of PLO to achieve a two-states solution has already encouraged local groups from various social, political and cultural groups, supported by social and grassroots organisations to organise “popular resistance” or peaceful popular protests in the West Bank. Popular resistance also includes monitoring and documentation of violations. These initiatives also attempted to promote the existence and protection of Palestinians in the area called C, which is under the full control of the Israeli military occupation according to the Oslo agreement. Peaceful popular resistance is a tool used by Palestinians to resist the Israeli plans of expansion settlements or demolition and expulsion of the Palestinian communities, such as Khan Al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village located about two kilometres south of the settlement of Kfar Adumim in Jerusalem. The villagers were displaced from the Negev desert in southern Israel and established Khan Al-Ahmar in the 1950s. It is now home to 32 families, totalling 173 persons, including 92 children and teenagers. It also has a school, which was built in 2009 and serves more than 150 children.

In addition to this peaceful struggle in the West Bank, local pressures have already pushed various activist groups from social and political backgrounds to start organising the “Gaza great return marches” on 30 March 2018, with Asad Abu Sharak as the spokesperson of the great march. The people run a peaceful protest every Friday before the separation fence between the Gaza Strip and the Israel.

Gaza return marches 2018

Citizens’ active participation at the marches has been visible, despite the control of Hamas. Citizens’ massive participation was curbed by an extreme and unjustified violence used by the Israeli forces against the protestors, at least 214 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Local engagement in peaceful marches and protests give them a platform to raise their own political and social demands for changes in their society in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The activists planned and organised the events, which were later controlled by Hamas after the groups of young people found out the marches were an opportunity to express themselves peacefully by engaging in a number of activities, like sport, songs, chanting anthems, planting, camping, reporting and folklore dancing.

A young human rights activist, Mohammed Srour, said:

“There have been a number of those young people who trained on advocacy and community peaceful actions by many civil society organisations during the last years who participated in the marches.”

The occupation does not change the position of young people regarding the occupation as long as the Palestine question is not solved.

Social organisations and movements have already attempted to contribute to active citizens’ participation in the decision-making process, while the Palestinian political system has been paralysed under occupation and division. They have attempted to use the power and impact of their network of young people and organizations in order to make a change in terms of politics and development. Palestinian social organisations, however, have been very responsive and active contributors to relief, development and human rights during the different cycles of violence.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a lecturer at Dublin City University and a Fellow at Institute for International Conflict ResolutionHe 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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