Despite massive losses, the Palestinians have altered the course of history

Palestine Update 472

Despite massive losses, the Palestinians have altered the course of history

The “Palestinian Revolt of 2021” will go down in history as one of the most influential events to have shaped collective thinking irreversibly in and around Palestine. Only two other events can be compared with what has just transpired: the revolt of 1936 and the 1987 First Intifada.

The general strike and rebellion of 1936-39 were momentous events because they represented the first unmistakable expression of collective Palestinian political agency. Despite their isolation and humble resistance tools, the Palestinian people rose across Palestine to challenge the combination of British and Zionist colonialism.

 The Intifada of 1987 was also historic. It was the unprecedented sustainable collective action that unified the occupied West Bank and Gaza after the Israeli occupation of what remained of historic Palestine in 1967. That legendary popular revolt, though costly in blood and sacrifices, allowed Palestinians to regain the political initiative and, once more, to speak as one.

The Intifada was eventually thwarted by the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. For Israel, Oslo was a gift from the Palestinian leadership that allowed it to suppress the Intifada and use the then newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) to serve as a buffer between the Israeli military and the occupied, oppressed Palestinians.The history of Palestine has followed a dismal trajectory ever since; one of disunity, factionalism, political rivalry and, for the privileged few, massive wealth. Nearly four decades have been wasted on a self-defeating political discourse centred on US-Israeli priorities, mostly concerned with “Israeli security” and “Palestinian terrorism”.

Old but befitting terminology such as liberation, resistance and popular struggle were replaced with the more “pragmatic” language of the “peace process”, “negotiation table” and “shuttle diplomacy”. According to this misleading discourse, the Israeli occupation of Palestine was depicted as a “conflict” and “dispute”, as if basic human rights were subject to political interpretation. Predictably, the already powerful Israel became more emboldened, tripling the number of its illegal colonies in the West Bank along with the population of its illegal settlers. Palestine was segmented into tiny, isolated South African-style Bantustans, each carrying a code — Areas A, B and C — and the movement of Palestinians within their own homeland became conditioned on obtaining various coloured permits from the Israeli military authorities which controlled the bizarrely-named “Civil Administration”. Women giving birth at military checkpoints in the West Bank, cancer patients dying in Gaza while waiting for permission to cross the nominal border for hospital treatment and more became the everyday reality of Palestine and the Palestinians.

In time, the Israeli occupation of Palestine became a marginal issue on the international diplomatic agenda. Meanwhile, Israel cemented its relationship with numerous countries around the world, including many in the Southern hemisphere which had historically stood in alongside Palestine. Even the international solidarity movement for Palestinian rights became confused and fragmented, itself a direct expression of Palestinian confusion and fragmentation. In the absence of a unified Palestinian voice amid the prolonged political feud, many took the liberty of lecturing Palestinians on how to resist, what “solutions” to fight for and how to conduct themselves politically. It seemed that Israel had finally gained the upper hand and this time it was for good.


A Palestinian demonstrator
hurls a rock
towards Israeli forces
during clashes near
a Jewish settlement of Beit El
[ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

Desperate to see Palestinians rise again, many called for a third Intifada, including intellectuals and political leaders. It was as if the flow of history, in Palestine — or elsewhere — adheres to fixed academic notions or is compelled by the urging of some individual or organization. The rational answer was, and remains, that only the Palestinian people will determine the nature, scope and direction of their collective action. Popular revolts are not the outcome of wishful thinking but of circumstances, the tipping point of which can only be decided by the people themselves.

This month, May 2021, was that very tipping point. Palestinians rose in unison from Jerusalem to Gaza, across every inch of occupied Palestine, as well as Palestinian refugee communities throughout the Middle East and, in doing so, they also resolved an impossible political equation. The Palestinian “problem” was no longer the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem alone, but the Israeli racism and apartheid which have targeted the Palestinian communities inside Israel as well. It was also about the crisis of the Palestinian leadership and the deep-seated factionalism and political corruption.

 When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on 8 May to unleash hordes of police and Jewish extremists on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, who were protesting against the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, he was merely attempting to gain some political credibility among Israel’s most chauvinist right-wing constituencies. He also wanted to remain in power or, at least, to avoid prison following his upcoming trial on corruption and fraud charges.

 He did not anticipate, however, that he was unleashing one of the most historic events in Palestine, one that would ultimately resolve a seemingly impossible Palestinian quandary. True, Netanyahu’s assault on the largely civilian population of Gaza killed hundreds of people, including women and children, and wounded thousands. The violence he perpetrated in the West Bank and in Arab neighbourhoods in Israel killed scores more. However, on 20 May, it was the Palestinians who claimed victory when the unconditional ceasefire came into force; hundreds of thousands of people rushed onto the streets to declare their triumph as one unified, proud nation.

Winning and losing wars of national liberation cannot be measured by gruesome comparisons between the number of dead or the degree of destruction inflicted on each side. If this was the case, no colonized nation would ever have fought for and won its freedom.

The Palestinians won because, once more, they emerged from the rubble of Israeli bombs as a whole, a nation determined to win its freedom at any cost. This realisation was symbolised in the many scenes of Palestinian crowds celebrating while waving the banners of all of the factions, without prejudice and without exception.

Finally, it can be asserted unequivocally that the Palestinian resistance scored a major victory, arguably unprecedented in its proud history. This is the first time that Israel has been forced to accept that the rules of the game have changed, most likely forever. It is no longer the only party able to determine political outcomes in occupied Palestine, because the Palestinian people are finally a force to be reckoned with.
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Palestinians Delivered Two Heavy Blows to the Israeli Narrative
Excerpts from an article by Sami Hamdi 

Palestinians Delivered Two Heavy Blows to the Israeli Narrative
Israel and Hamas finally reached a ceasefire agreement for the Gaza Strip on May 20, a day after US President Joe Biden implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, amid mediation attempts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations. In the days prior to the ceasefire, diplomatic efforts had intensified to bring about a de-escalation to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, which have seen Gaza bombarded, the Holy Mosque of Al-Aqsa stormed with troops, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah subjected to violent attempts at forcible dispossession of their property and homes. Israel and Hamas finally reached a ceasefire agreement for the Gaza Strip on May 20, a day after US President Joe Biden implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, amid mediation attempts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations.

In the days prior to the ceasefire, diplomatic efforts had intensified to bring about a de-escalation to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, which have seen Gaza bombarded, the Holy Mosque of Al-Aqsa stormed with troops, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah subjected to violent attempts at forcible dispossession of their property and homes. Israel and Hamas finally reached a ceasefire agreement for the Gaza Strip on May 20, a day after US President Joe Biden implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, amid mediation attempts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations. In the days prior to the ceasefire, diplomatic efforts had intensified to bring about a de-escalation to the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, which have seen Gaza bombarded, the Holy Mosque of Al-Aqsa stormed with troops, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah subjected to violent attempts at forcible dispossession of their property and homes.

Changing the Narrative
The first resounding victory that the Palestinians have delivered on Netanyahu is the successful breaking of Israel’s monopoly over the narrative, discourse, and terminology with which the wider conflict is often broached. For the first time, the conflict is being discussed through terms that more accurately reflects the realities on the ground. The words “apartheid,” “occupation,” and “colonization” have become normalized in mainstream discussion.

“Apartheid” initially gained traction the month prior to the conflict in a Human Rights Watch report dated April 27, which followed a prior Paper by Israeli Rights Organization B’Tselem released on January 12. However, it took off after Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted “apartheids states aren’t democracies.” Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib also brought the terminology to the Congress floor in May, in what was an undeniably powerful and symbolic moment given the US’ long-standing tradition of providing unquestionable immunity to Israel’s actions in the past. John Oliver used the term in an episode (now removed from the Show’s HBO channel) of the “Last Week Tonight” while an increasing number of celebrities and public personalities – including Mark Ruffalo, Lena Headey, and Roger Waters – have also propagated the language of “apartheid” and “Israeli war crimes.” This phenomenon has been made possible by the unique circumstances in which Israel’s latest attacks have taken place under. This is the first time that an offensive has been fought in a time of decentralized media. The dominance of social media and the ease with which Palestinians have been able to access it means that they have been able to bypass the traditional monopolies on information, which mainstream media outlets have enjoyed in the past.

Moreover, this is the first time that there is a Palestinian generation who grew up with social media and who is especially attuned to its effectiveness and accustomed to is usage. Palestinians have been able to effectively send videos, live feeds, and images across multiple applications and networks to share with the world. These posts have had such a significant impact on global opinion that an agitated Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz urgently met with Facebook and TikTok executives on May 14 to demand that pro-Palestine content be taken down under the pretext of “incitement” and “hate speech.”

The surge in social media usage by Palestinians has also provided fuel for media outlets to better access information on the ground, further enabling Palestinians to discredit much of the Israeli narrative that has been propagated on mainstream networks. Videos of child victims rendered homeless by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza are now being broadcast by prominent media outlets Accordingly, Palestinian commentators who have drawn attention on social media have been invited on prominent platforms such as CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and others, to present their narrative against Israeli commentators and former diplomats. Sky News has provided live coverage of Jerusalem with its reporters regularly The surge in social media usage by Palestinians has also provided fuel for media outlets to better access information on the ground, further enabling Palestinians to discredit much of the Israeli narrative that has been propagated on mainstream networks. Videos of child victims rendered homeless by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza are now being broadcast by prominent media outlets.

A Blow to Israel’s Image
The second resounding victory that the Palestinians have delivered on Netanyahu is the decimation of Israel’s image as an “invincible” and “moral” army. The iron dome failed to prevent rockets from landing on Tel Aviv, while Israeli forces were unable to locate and destroy munition facilities and supply depots in Gaza that allowed rockets to continue to be fired. Israel also struggled to locate and take out Gazan commanders. In frustration, Israel sought to destroy the homes of these commanders as well as those of their families. In doing so, it wrought horrific damage on Gaza that turned public opinion against its operations and severely dented its image as an efficient, well-equipped army that upholds moral standards of integrity.

In a bid to rectify this, Israel sought to provide examples to the public of its forces informing the inhabitants of a building to leave an hour before an air strike. However, the lack of any such notice for Gazan families has had a greater impact on public opinion than the carefully curated Israeli PR messages. Ultimately, Israel failed to achieve any military goals of any significance. Despite claiming to have exceptional intelligence on the armed groups in Gaza, it failed to take out any weapons or supply depots of value that might dent Hamas’ capabilities. This suggests that Tel Aviv’s security apparatus is not as efficient and capable as is often touted.

However, with the impact of the recent escalation being felt within the 1948 borders in places such as the city of Lod, and with rockets falling on Tel Aviv itself, the war has been felt far too close for comfort for many Israelis. Much of the Hebrew discourse within Israel has laid the blame for the escalation on Netanyahu’s political aims and ambitions. Many Israelis have also begun to ask why Palestinians should not be afforded equal rights under the law. While such ideas may take time to secure sufficient traction at the diplomatic level, they are nevertheless being touted more frequently than ever before in Israeli society.

Lastly, Israel has seen an exceptionally unified approach to resistance amongst Palestinians. What began in early May as a confrontation between Palestinian worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli security apparatus, blew up into a conflict that saw Palestinians within the 1948 borders take to the streets; a nationwide strike of Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank; and a military mobilization from Gaza.
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