By Ghada Aqeel
For all its horrors, the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza at this time last summer and the callous disregard exhibited by much of the international community to both the attack and the misery endured by Gazans living in rubble for the next year, did serve notice, again, to Palestinians that they are on their own. Yes, international solidarity is enormously important, but when it comes to governments, Palestinians feel that they are very much on their own. This indifference and outright cruelty forces them to grapple with what they must do to secure their rights.
Today, a year on from the 2014 Israeli assault, Palestinians are more aware that their issue has never been allowed to be politically diagnosed and hence treated. On the contrary, ever since the selected strategy was to shove the root causes of the problem under a thick rug, Palestinians have been subjected to collective punishment, the illegal seizure of their land and imprisonment.
Palestinians are today much more aware that agreements pertaining to the ending of their plight and giving them back their rights have never been respected. Countless ceasefire agreements that have been signed with the occupying power have met the same fate, and their agreed-upon conditions have never been fulfilled. This has likewise been the case with many other agreements: prisoner deals have been reached but not respected, promises of reconstruction have been made but never implemented, donor money has been pledged but never delivered, the recommendations of international reports have been advanced but never acted upon.
Abandonment has been the norm all through the history of Palestine. The Gaza assault of 2014 was a different step in that long history and much more difficult for the Palestinians. It was also a great shock to them because in an age of instant digital communication, there was formal international indifference to the slaughtering of an average of 32 Palestinian civilians a day, at least ten of them being children. Ordinary people felt to the fullest the bitter taste of abandonment, including abandonment and complicity even by their own leadership.
Palestinians woke up from the shock of the attack only to experience another one arising from the consequences of the attack. The Gaza assault left Palestinians with a clear understanding that they are on their own battling for their freedom. This awareness has to a large extent led to a significant change in the Palestinian mindset and in the internal dynamics of the Palestinian front. Nowadays, there are several indications of a growing support for adopting different strategies to end the occupation among large sectors of Palestinian society, particularly the young. This shift in thinking, however, clashes with that of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA, which seems to be fully disconnected from the collective aspirations of its people, is still imprisoned in the illusory thinking created after the Oslo process. Their notion is that the only way to solve the Palestinian issue is to adopt a two-state solution arranged for by the international community through an endless cycle of fruitless negotiations.
Analysts of the Palestinian situation can easily notice that the split between Gaza and the West Bank has deepened since the Gaza attack. The level of mistrust and scepticism between the two biggest political factions, Hamas and Fatah, and between the authority in Gaza and the PA in Ramallah has risen. Strong negative attitudes among the ordinary people of Gaza are intensified by a profound sense of negligence on the part of their own leadership and the supposed national consensus government during and after the Israeli summer attack. Both bodies have done very little for the people, who have been left alone to battle the occupation, the siege, and the consequences of this barbaric attack.
Similarly the level of frustration and anger is mounting in the West Bank after the PA’s mishandling of many issues that fueled the anger of the public. In the past year alone, the PA has failed to respond adequately to the legendary hunger strike of Khader Adnan and the imprisonment of Khalida Jarrar (a prominent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council). It also made a last-minute withdrawal of the Palestinian request to suspend Israel from FIFA and failed to respond strongly to the death of Ziad Abu Ein – a former Palestinian minister – at the hands of an Israeli soldier.
On top of all this, the PA mounted a recent crack-down and arrest campaign targeting resistance supporters even as Israel expanded its illegal settlement activity in the West Bank and abused Palestinian men, women and children. These failures must also be seen in the context of a continued lack of progress not only toward the two-state solution envisioned by the PA but also toward making tangible improvements in the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians living in the West Bank.
People appear to have no confidence in the PA leadership headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. His sincerity, his seriousness and his commitment to ending the occupation are all in question, and there is very little confidence in his plan to end divisions among Palestinians. As a result, the status of the PA and support for it inside the occupied Palestinian territories has been undermined. In fact, many are calling for the removal of the whole PA apparatus in order to overcome the current political impasse.
The poor performance of the PA has distanced many Palestinians and pushed a large number of them to seek alternative representation. This trend was strongly present after the Gaza attack. A year after the assault, support for legitimate resistance as recognised under international law is slowly gaining ground as an attractive option to many Palestinians looking for an effective strategy to end the occupation. It is emerging as strong as ever from the rubble of Gazan homes, from the tears and dashed hopes of the youth of a community that was torn apart and abandoned in the summer attack, and from the legendary steadfastness of the resistance fighters and people of Gaza.
Conversation about Gaza among Palestinians is no longer about geography, poverty or the backward leadership in a coastal enclave but about clinging to inalienable rights. It is about dignity, creativity, resilience and the ability to build from scratch. Gaza is no longer a backward-thinking entity but an imaginative polity capable of pursuing its national dream and insisting on the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.
On the first anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Palestinians are more confident than ever that a solution won’t come through the diplomacy of Secretary of State John Kerry and the US. Those who believed falsely that a solution to the conflict would come only through such agencies have only themselves to blame for misreading the situation. Since the inception of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948 there have been 12 American presidents and 20 secretaries of state. Despite some differences between the consecutive American administrations, their positions over the past two decades have consistently mirrored the Israeli position concerning most of the core issues related to Palestine. Tragically, pursuing a solution through formal diplomatic and political channels has cost the Palestinians a tremendous amount.
While waiting for their promised solution, Palestinians have been losing their land, their cause, and their rights. Many Palestinians are therefore currently turning their energy and efforts to working with the global solidarity movements – the collective campaigns getting strong support on campuses, in unions and churches, and on the streets. They are investing more effort in raising international public awareness and in the ongoing global campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS). This Palestinian-led global movement for freedom and equal rights in Palestine is growing tall, and Palestinians are working hard to enlarge the mission.
A year after the Gaza attack, Palestinians are counting on their own efforts to end the occupation and to bring the dream of return a step closer. Despite the current bleak situation, political and otherwise, Palestinians are better positioned in their battle as the internal dynamics inside Palestine are shifting towards an alternative strategy that rejects the misery resulting from the Oslo approach. Legitimate resistance to occupation as enshrined by international law is emerging as the core strategy for securing freedom and a just peace. Gaza has again set the model and the example.
– Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta Political Science Department (Edmonton, Canada), an independent scholar, and active in the Faculty4Palestine – Alberta. Her new book “Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences” is forthcoming with the University of Alberta Press – Canada. (This article was first published in Middle East Eye.)