By Patrick O. Strickland – Ramallah
‘Why has the Arab Spring not reached Palestine?’ Such has become a common question among analysts, pundits, and polemicists. Over the last two years, innumerable articles have regularly seeped into corporate media outlets, attempting to explain Palestinian political stagnancy, on the one hand, or the supposedly inevitable Third Intifada, on the other.
Last month, a New York Times editorial ran under the title “The Third Intifada is inevitable,” where Nathan Thrall furthers the notion that Palestinian violence is unavoidable, stating that “a number [of Palestinians] would welcome the prospect of an escalation, especially among supporters of Hamas, who argue that violence has been the most effective tactic in forcing Israel and the international community to act.”
By adopting this line of thought, Thrall squarely places the entirety of the blame on Palestinians (whether by design or not), insinuating that Israel’s recent uptick in expulsions, settler violence, land theft, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, are tangential details. The Third Intifada, after all, is “inevitable.”
Arguments to this effect are founded on uninformed, indeed vacuous, assumptions that take for granted the unique specificities of the daily hardships of the Palestinian life under the systematic violence of the Israeli military occupation. Unfortunately, these positions characterize the dominant strain of thought published in corporate media, and lead to the belief that Palestinians are inherently violent and immune from the Arab Spring.
Yet, only in the details can the Arab Spring’s relation to the Palestine Question be understood.
The barriers that Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans faced are not the same that Palestinians face in their struggle to end Israel’s military occupation. The former countries lived under the lengthy rule of what were effectively one-party states, as the majority of the Middle East still does.
The source of Palestinian oppression, iron-fisted and suffocating though it is, shares few parallels with the struggles of the masses toiling under the longstanding coerced tutelage of despotic Arab regimes.
Neither is the military occupation of the West Bank and the continued siege of Gaza a perfect parallel with colonial enterprises of the past, though many of the broader contours are present. The British and French (with the exception of French Algeria), in their vast networks of colonies and mandates, never desired the formal annexation of the territories over which they ruled.
Israel, through the use of non-indigenous settlers, intends to permanently swallow the Palestinian territories, with the implicit intent of expelling the residents through a process of ethnic cleansing that is euphemistically described as “population exchange.”
Israel’s refusal to define its own borders stems from this ideological aim to colonize—whether the motivations are translated into religious covenants or the terminology of state security—the embattled remains of Palestinian land.
As demonstrated by Thrall’s NY Times editorial, Palestinians face another, perhaps more potent, challenge which the Arab revolutions of the last two years have not: corporate media.
The bulk of the corporate media seized the opportunity to profit from the Arab Spring. Revolutions and rebellions were repackaged in catchy, marketable themes related to liberal democracy, Facebook, Twitter, and Iphones.
Now Western viewers are appalled to see Islamists assuming the highest ranks of the new governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Had some analytical integrity been employed during the process of reporting on the Arab uprisings, it would have been clear all along that this was a likely outcome. For decades, American administrations have propped up nominally secular crackpot dictators across the Middle East. In order to justify their private ownership over the citizenry, these autocracies often permitted, encouraged, and exploited militant Islamist movements. By the time the tyrants fell, the Islamists were the only organized parties ready to take the reigns of governance.
Despite sparse exceptions, little to none of this information has been included in Western reports of the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, a genuinely grassroots, nonviolent movement for self-determination has been developing in Palestinian society. Palestinian and international activists have adopted tactics such as peaceful marches, sit-ins, and hunger strikes.
Last November, six Palestinian “freedom riders” were arrested for boarding Israeli-only buses in the occupied West Bank. Inspired by the approach of the 1960s American freedom riders who opposed segregation of interstate buses in the American south, these Palestinian activists demanded freedom of movement by refusing to exit Jerusalem bound buses, despite the commands of Israeli soldiers.
In June, Palestinian and international activists marched peacefully in solidarity with the residents of Susiya, who were delivered demolition orders by the Israeli military. Destroyed five times in the past, the 56 illegally erected homes in Susiya are tents constructed from rain tarps and cinder blocks. The march was met with water cannons, sound bombs, and tear gas.
Many have protested Israel’s use of administrative detention, an acrimonious practice in which prisoners are held for extended periods of time without access to basic legal resources, let alone a trial. Over 300 Palestinian prisoners are presently being held in administrative detention.
Khader Adnan, accused by Israel of being a member of Islamic Jihad, launched a 66-day hunger strike that captured the attention of several international human rights organizations. Held under the same accusations, Hana Shalabi, a 29-year old woman from Burqin, went over 40 days without a bite. Both Adnan and Shalabi were on the brink of death when their lawyers secured their respective release.
Emboldened by their actions, nearly 2,000 Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike to demand more humane conditions, including access to educational materials, family visits, and an end to excessive solitary confinement.
By no means do these examples exhaust nonviolent Palestinian efforts, which each day are gaining wider social currency and being expanded creatively and strategically.
“I remember the days when some political leaders of the largest Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Al-Fatah, laughed at our nonviolent struggle, which they saw as soft and ineffective,” wrote Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian democracy activist.
“The power of nonviolence is that it gives Palestinians of all ages and walks of life the tools to challenge those subjugating us. And thousands of peace activists from across the world have joined our movement. In demonstrations in East Jerusalem, Silwan and Hebron we are also joined by a new and younger Israeli peace movement that categorically rejects Israeli occupation,” Barghouti wrote.
Yet, weekly demonstrations, peaceful marches, sit-ins, freedom rides, and empty stomachs have failed the Arab Spring litmus test of the corporate media. Alternative means of disseminating Palestinian nonviolent struggles must be sought out in order to voice legitimate Palestinian grievances.
A blossoming Palestinian nonviolence movement suggests that the Third Intifada is not inevitable. But if violence reemerges, it will sprout from the very soil in which spring’s flowers, ignored and misunderstood, were not allowed to grow.
– Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance writer living and traveling on both sides of the Green Line in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He is a weekly Israel-Palestine correspondent for Bikya Masr and writes regular dispatches on his blog, www.patrickostrickland.com. He is a graduate student of Middle Eastern Studies. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.