By Ramzy Baroud
Associating the ongoing Palestinian intifada (uprising) with the number of stabbings or alleged stabbings carried out by Palestinian youths was a mistake from the start. An intifada is a collective movement, not individual acts of violence, no matter how frequent.
The current intifada dates back to last October, when a large number of Palestinian youths began staging protests and clashing with Israeli occupation soldiers in various parts of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
One aspect of the intifada was an increase of Palestinian reciprocal attacks, often involving youths wielding knives. They targeted occupation soldiers, armed colonists and also Israeli civilians. Many reported incidents of such attacks were contested by Palestinian and certain Israeli groups as fabrications, which often led to the death and injury of Palestinian civilians. In contrast to commonly-held views, a recent assessment by Israel’s internal intelligence, the Shin Bet, indicates a palpable decrease in the number of stabbings in April, compared to earlier months.
To some, this reported decrease has led to the conclusion that the Intifada is dying. However, the real reason behind the decline in Palestinian retaliatory attacks is unclear. One theory argues that Palestinians in general are increasingly finding such attacks of no practical use. Another, as argued by Adnan Abu Amer in Al-Monitor, suggests that “security coordination between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel has been an important factor behind the possible decline. “On May 5, Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, said that the PNA security services have been thwarting attacks soon after receiving intelligence from Israel, praising the security coordination’s role in the efforts,” Abu Amer wrote.
This has been corroborated by Palestinian officials themselves. Head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, Majid Farah, said in an interview with DefenseNews last January, that his agents managed to thwart “200 potential terror attacks against Israel”, as phrased in Israel’s YNet News.
While Farah spoke of arresting over 100 Palestinians in cooperation with the Israeli army, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, told Israel Channel 2 last March that his security forces are cracking down on Palestinian school children. Apart from apprehending suspected Palestinian resisters, the security coordination includes searching school children’s bags for knives, according to the Palestinian leader. “Our security forces are entering schools and checking if students are carrying knives. In one school, we found 70 students with knives, and we told them that this was wrong. I told them I do not want you to kill someone and die; I want you to live and for others to live, too,” he said.
Yet, reducing a historic event as popular as the intifada to knives allegedly hidden in schoolbags is a major misrepresentation of what is taking place in the Occupied Territories. The issue is much larger than that, and is unlikely to be quelled by Abbas’s henchmen or Israeli occupation forces.
The nature of the current uprising in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem is testament to a pent-up anger of an entire generation that grew up behind walls and checkpoints. They are fighting two separate enemies — the occupation army and their own oppressive leadership.
Previous uprisings were massive in their mobilisation, clear in their message and decisive in their delivery. They were willed by the people and, within days, imprinted themselves on the collective consciousness of Palestinians everywhere. The current uprising is different, particularly because it is yet to have a clear sense of direction — a leadership, a political platform, demands, expectations and short and long-term strategies. At least that is how the 1987-93 intifada played out and, to a lesser extent, the 2000-2005 Al Aqsa intifada as well. But is it not possible that the outcomes of these previous Intifadas are what is making the current uprising different?
The first intifada metamorphosed into a worthless peace process which eventually led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. A year later, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation was reproduced into the emasculated form of the PNA. Since then, the latter has served largely as a conduit for the Israeli Occupation.
The second Intifada had less success than the first. It quickly turned into an armed rebellion, thus marginalising the popular component of revolt that is required to cement the collective identity of Palestinians, forcing them to overcome their divisions and unify behind a single flag and a distinct chant.
That intifada was crushed by a brutal Israeli army: Hundreds of activists were assassinated and thousands were killed in protests and clashes with Israeli soldiers. It was a watershed moment in the relationship between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and between the Palestinian factions themselves.
Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the PNA in 2005, shortly after the death of Yasser Arafat. Abbas’s greatest achievements include the cracking down on civil society organisations, ensuring total loyalty towards him — personally — and towards his branch within the Fatah faction. Under Abbas, there has been no revolutionary model for change, no ‘national project’. In fact, no clear definition of nationhood to begin with.
The Palestinian nation became whatever Abbas wanted it to be. It consisted, largely, of West Bank Palestinians, living mostly in Area A, loyal to Fatah and hungry for international handouts. The more the Abbas nation agreed to play along, the more money they were allowed to rake in.
Until October of last year, when the current uprising slowly began building momentum, the situation on the ground seemed to be at a standstill. In the West Bank, occupation was slowly normalised in accordance with the formula: Occupation and illegal colonies in exchange for money and silence.
Gaza, on the other hand, stood as a model for barbarity that was regularly meted out by Israel as a reminder to those in the West Bank that the price of revolt is besiegement, hunger, destruction and death.
It is against this backdrop of misery, humiliation, fear, oppression and corruption that Palestinians rose. They were mostly young people born after Oslo — those who became politically conscious after the 2006 Fatah-Hamas clash, and were raised in the conflicting worlds of their own leadership coexisting with the Occupation, on one hand, and clashing with other Palestinians on the other.
This is a generation that is the most educated, yet, most politically savvy and, thanks to the huge leaps in digital media technology, the most connected and informed of the world around it. The ambitions of these youth are huge, but their opportunities are so limited; their earth has shrunk to the size of a single-file queue before an Israeli military checkpoint, where they are corralled on their way to school, to work and back home. And, like the Israelis who shot at anyone who dared protest, Abbas imprisons those who attempt to do so.
The current intifada is an expression of that dichotomy, of a generation that is so eager to break free, to define itself, to liberate its land, yet which is resisted by an Old Guard unremittingly holding on so tightly to the few perks and dollars they receive in the form of allotments every month.
It matters little whether stabbing incidents are on the decline or not. An intifada is not sustained by such acts anyway. The latter is merely an expression of angst, pain and anger. What has become clear since October is that the new generation in Palestine is ready to effect a paradigm shift, and that the current situation of a quisling leadership and a belligerent occupation is simply unsustainable.
The outcome of this tension will not only define this entire generation, as it defined previous generations in 1987 and 2000, but will define the future of Palestine altogether.
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com