“Why,” I have often been asked, “haven’t the Palestinians established a peace movement like the Israeli Peace Now?”
The question itself is problematic, being based on many erroneous assumptions, such as the notion that there is symmetry between the two sides and that Peace Now has been a politically effective movement. Most important, though, is the false supposition that Palestinians have indeed failed to create a pro-peace popular movement.
In September 1967 – three months after the decisive war in which the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied – Palestinian leaders decided to launch a campaign against the introduction of new Israeli textbooks in Palestinian schools. They did not initiate terrorist attacks, as the prevailing narratives about Palestinian opposition would have one believe, but rather the Palestinian dissidents adopted Mahatma Gandhi-style methods and declared a general school strike: teachers did not show up for work, children took to the streets to protest against the occupation and many shopkeepers closed shop.
Israel’s response to that first strike was immediate and severe: it issued military orders categorising all forms of resistance as insurgency – including protests and political meetings, raising flags or other national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with political connotations, and even singing or listening to nationalist songs. [continued…]
There is an internal document that has not been leaked, or perhaps has not even been written, but all the forces are acting according to its inspiration: the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, police, and civil and military judges. They have found the true enemy who refuses to whither away: The popular struggle against the occupation.
Over the past few months, the efforts to suppress the struggle have increased. The target: Palestinians and Jewish Israelis unwilling to give up their right to resist reign of demographic separation and Jewish supremacy. The means: Dispersing demonstrations with live ammunition, late-night army raids and mass arrests. Since the beginning of the year, 29 Palestinians have been wounded by IDF snipers while demonstrating against the separation fence. The snipers fired expanding bullets, despite an explicit 2001 order from the Military Adjutant General not to use such ammunition to break up demonstrations. After soldiers killed A’kel Srour in June, the shooting stopped, but then resumed in November.
Since June, dozens of demonstrators have been arrested in a series of nighttime military raids. Most are from Na’alin and Bil’in, whose land has been stolen by the fence, and some are from the Nablus area, which is stricken by settlers’ abuse. Military judges have handed down short prison terms for incitement, throwing stones and endangering security. One union activist from Nablus was sent to administrative detention – imprisonment without a trial – while another activist is still being interrogated.
For a few weeks now, the police have refused to approve demonstrations against the settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, an abomination approved by the courts. On each of the last two Fridays, police arrested more than 20 protesters for 24 hours. Ten were held for half an hour in a cell filled with vomit and diarrhea in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem.
Israel also recently arrested two main activists from the Palestinian organization Stop the Wall, which is involved in research and international activity which calls for the boycott of Israel and companies profiting from the occupation. Mohammad Othman was arrested three months ago. After two months of interrogation did not yield any information, he was sent to administrative detention. The organization’s coordinator, Jamal Juma’a, a 47-year-old resident of Jerusalem, was arrested on December 15. His detention was extended two days ago for another four days, and not the 14 requested by the prosecutor.
The purpose of the coordinated oppression: To wear down the activists and deter others from joining the popular struggle, which has proven its efficacy in other countries at other times. What is dangerous about a popular struggle is that it is impossible to label it as terror and then use that as an excuse to strengthen the regime of privileges, as Israel has done for the past 20 years.
The popular struggle, even if it is limited, shows that the Palestinian public is learning from its past mistakes and from the use of arms, and is offering alternatives that even senior officials in the Palestinian Authority have been forced to support – at least on the level of public statements.
Yuval Diskin and Amos Yadlin, the respective heads of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence, already have exposed their fears. During an intelligence briefing to the cabinet they said: “The Palestinians want to continue and build a state from the bottom up … and force an agreement on Israel from above … The quiet security [situation] in the West Bank and the fact that the [Palestinian] Authority is acting against terror in an efficient manner has caused the international community to turn to Israel and demand progress.”
The brutal repression of the first intifada, and the suppression of the first unarmed demonstrations of the second intifada with live fire, have proved to Palestinians that the Israelis do not listen. The repression left a vacuum that was filled by those who sanctified the use of arms.
Is that what the security establishment and its political superiors are trying to achieve today, too, in order to relieve us of the burden of a popular uprising?