What Palestinians can teach us about popular resistance

Ramzy Baroud,
Al Jazeera, 11 Apr 2018

people of Gaza rose up not because of Palestinian political factions, but
despite them.
We must
learn from young Palestinians who stand bare-chested before snipers and
murderers with only their chants for freedom and their faith in certain
victory, writes Baroud [Reuters]

ongoing popular mobilisation on the Gaza border is a reminder of previous
historical events where the Palestinian people rose in unison to challenge
oppression and demand freedom. 

popular resistance
is neither a new phenomenon nor is it an alien
one. General mass strikes and civil disobedience, challenging British
imperialism and Zionist settlements in Palestine, started nearly a century ago,
culminating in the six-month-long general strike of 1936. 
then, popular resistance has been a staple in Palestinian history, and it was a
prominent feature of the First
, the popular uprising of 1987.
It goes
without saying that Palestinians need no lectures on how to resist the Israeli
occupation, combat racism and defeat apartheid. They, and only they, are
capable of developing the proper strategy and the tools that will eventually
lead them to freedom.
Today the
need for that strategy is more urgent than any other time, and there is a
reason for that.
Gaza is being suffocated. Israel’s
, combined with Arab neglect and a prolonged feud between
Palestinian factions, have all served to drive Palestinians to the brink of
and political despair. Something had to give.
Friday, March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians massed
at Gaza’s eastern border to begin a series of
protests and vigils
that are expected to last until May 15. 
On that
date, 70 years ago, Israel
declared its independence, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
into exile.
For most Palestinians, Israel’s declaration of independence, which
resulted in the destruction of their homeland, was an unforgivable crime.
For Israelis, May 15 is a celebration; for the Palestinian people, it is our
“Nakba”, our catastrophe.
But the
ongoing act of mass mobilisation is not just about underscoring the Right of
for Palestinian refugees (as enshrined in international
law), nor is it just about commemorating Land Day,
an event that has united all Palestinians since the bloody
protests of 1976
. The protest is about reclaiming the agenda,
transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.
There are
many historical similarities between this act of mobilisation and the context
that preceded the first Intifada of 1987.
then, Arab governments in the wider region had largely relegated the
Palestinian cause to the status of “someone else’s problem”. By the
end of 1982, having already been exiled to Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation
Organisation (PLO)
along with thousands of Palestinian fighters, were pushed even further away, to
Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. This geographic isolation
left the traditional leadership of Palestine irrelevant to what was happening
on the ground, back home.
little pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation of East
, Gaza and the West Bank,
the Israeli military occupation slowly became the status quo. Palestinians had
become little more than inmates in a series of sprawling, urban prisons –
checked at every major street corner, subjected to house raids on a predictably
irregular basis, and watched day and night from land, air and, in the case of
Gaza, sea.
But, in
that moment of apparent hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987,
people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets in a largely
non-violent mobilisation that lasted over six years. But the Palestinian
leadership failed to harness its people’s massive energy. Worse, it exploited
it, leading to the signing of the Oslo Accords in
the Palestinian leadership is in a similar state of increasing irrelevance.
Isolated again by geography (Fatah holding the West Bank and Hamas holding
Gaza), but also by ideological division.
It is
true, of course, that political and ideological divisions are par for the
course of any anti-colonial struggle. From India to Algeria to South Africa,
internal division was the norm, not the exception, in mass movements fighting
for liberation. 
But never
before has this internal division been weaponised so effectively by the cause’s
opponents, and used as an argument against the original cause, to delegitimise
an entire people’s claim for basic human rights: “The Palestinians are
divided, so they must stay imprisoned”.
Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is rapidly losing its
among Palestinians, thanks to long-standing accusations
of corruption, with many calling
for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign (his mandate having technically expired
in 2009).
December, the new US President Donald Trump compounded
the isolation of the PA, recognising
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance
of international law and UN consensus. Many see this as only the first in a
series of steps designed to further marginalise the PA. 
The Authority
is not the only Palestinian faction that is becoming increasingly more
– originally a grassroots movement born out of the refugee camps in Gaza
during the first Intifada – is now similarly weakened by political
For over
a decade, since its bloody takeover of Gaza in 2007, the Hamas leadership has
made countless political manoeuvres to break the siege on
Gaza but repeatedly failed. Eventually, it began to acknowledge that
it could not serve that cause in political isolation and started taking
initiatives towards reconciliation with Fatah.
Most recently, the two parties signed a
reconciliation deal
 in Cairo in October last year. 
previous attempts, this attempt at reconciliation began to falter almost
immediately. The main hurdle came on March 13, when the convoy of PA Prime
Minister Rami Hamdallah was the target
of an apparent assassination attempt. Hamdallah was on his way to Gaza through
an Israeli border crossing. The PA quickly blamed Hamas
for the attack. The latter vehemently denied it. Palestinian politics went back
to square one. 
But then,
March 30 happened. As thousands of Palestinians walked into the deadly
“buffer zone” along the Gaza border, that is to say, walked
peacefully and knowingly into the sights of Israeli snipers, their intention
was clear: to be seen by the world as ordinary citizens, who until now have
been unseen behind the politicians.
pitched tents, conversed, sang together and waved Palestinian flags – not the
banners of the various factions. Families gathered, children played, even
circus clowns turned up and entertained. It was a rare moment of
Israeli army’s response was, shall we say, “in character”. By
shooting dead 17 unarmed protesters and wounding thousands of people in a
single day, using the latest technology in exploding bullets, they thought they
could teach the Palestinians a lesson. It was prison guard handbook 101: beat
them, beat them again. Kill them. Kill them again. Even journalists
who merely attempted to convey that heroic but tragic moment to the world were
shot, wounded and killed.
of this massacre flooded in from respected figures around the world like Pope Francis
and organisations like Human Rights
This glimmer of attention may have provided Palestinians with
an opportunity to elevate the injustice
of the siege up the global political agenda, but it will be little consolation
to the families of the dead.
Aware of
the international spotlight, Fatah jumped at the opportunity to take credit for
this spontaneous act of popular resistance. Deputy chairman, Mahmoud al-Aloul, said
that the protesters mobilised to support the PA “in the face of pressure
and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” referring no doubt to
Trump’s strategy of isolation towards the Fatah-dominated PA. Hamas has
similarly tried to take credit.  
nothing could be further from the truth. This time, it is the Palestinian
people, the brave boys and girls of Gaza who are fashioning their own strategy,
independent from the factions, in fact, in spite of factionalism. And this
time, we must listen, quit lecturing, and perhaps learn from these young men
and women as they stand bare-chested before snipers and murderers with only
their chants for freedom and their faith in certain victory.