Phyllis Bennis writes: The “Arab spring” may have started in early 2011 when a young Tunisian fruit seller, in a desperate response to disempowerment and despair, immolated himself in the streets of a small town. But its origins link directly to the first Palestinian intifada, the non-violent, society-wide mobilization that transformed Palestine’s national struggle beginning in the late 1980s. Palestinian activists chose “uprising” as the logical English equivalent, but Arabic speakers were clear that intifada didn’t really mean that. It meant something closer to “shake up” or “shaking out”–exactly what Occupy Wall Street has done to the US body politic, and what the Arab spring has set loose in a region long trapped in the morass of US-backed military dictatorships, absolute monarchies, and repressive nationalists.
So when US analysts or European journalists or World Bank bureaucrats ruminate about “when will there be a Palestinian spring?”, it’s generally because they have no historical context, no idea that Palestine’s first intifada spring in many ways set the stage for this Arab spring more than two decades later. For Palestine and Palestinians, the shaking up of the region has provided one of the most comprehensive–and positive–changes in a generation: the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of the era of US-dependent Arab regimes whose commitments to Palestinian liberation were limited to a few dollars and the rhetoric useful for distracting their own populations from state repression, lack of rights and inadequacies of their own lives.
Civil society has risen to become the most important component of the Palestinian national movement–and not only because of the 20 years of failure of the US-controlled “peace process”. It’s also because the most creative and strategic ideas for achieving Palestinian human rights have come from civil society, not from the leadership recognized (or not) by the world’s governments. Beginning with the 2005 call for a global mobilization for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), Palestine’s civil society organizations have been at the centerpiece of the growing international movement to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel until it ends its violations of international law: ending the occupation of the 1967 territories, ending the legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees.