Palestinian Nationalism, Alive Despite Israeli Instruments of Control

By Hasan Afif El Hasan

From day one after the 1967 war, Israel’s actions in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem suggest the occupation was not temporary and underscore Israel’s desire to erase the concept of the Palestinian nation by undermining the connection between the people and their land or history. In an effort to incorporate as much as possible of the occupied lands, Israel governed the occupied lands by making distinction between the land and its Palestinian inhabitants and referred to the Palestinians only as ‘Arabs’. The Israelis wanted to weaken the Palestinians’ claim to their country and suggest they belong to other Arab countries. A politically powerful segment of Israelis, perhaps a majority, perceive the occupied lands as biblical territory and the indigenous Palestinians as ‘hostile aliens’ or as “part of nature’s hardship to be conquered and removed.”

The concept of cleansing and transferring the Palestinians has been deeply rooted in the colonial Zionists political and military planning. It was practiced on a large scale in 1948 when top-ranking officers of the future leaders of Israel prepared and executed ethnic cleansing of half Palestine’s native population, and  the cleansing is being practiced today especially in Jerusalem. Israeli plans to expropriate land were developed, and other tools and practices were created to manage the lives of the people without integrating them into its Israel’s citizenry. Israel used its own legal system to annex East Jerusalem immediately after the 1967 war; and in the West Bank, it carried out piecemeal confiscation by issuing orders from military commanders and employing Ottoman and British Mandatory laws and regulations from the Jordanian legal system. 

Shaping the daily life of the people under occupation is one of Israel’s means of control to manage the population. Besides sealing the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to crush internal resistance, Israel imposes curfews, arrests, deporting people, restricting movement, home demolishing, and shutting down businesses and schools. The controlling system has manifested itself in legal regulations, permits and bureaucratic rules dictating forms of correct conduct everywhere. Thousands of orders have been issued by the Israeli military that deal with anything and everything as controlling apparatuses.

Within few weeks after Israel’s swift success in capturing the West Bank and Gaza, the West Bank Palestinians began using strikes and demonstrations, and in Gaza, the opposition to the occupation assumed violent character. Israel responded with military orders categorizing all forms of resistance as insurgency, including peaceful protests, political meetings, waving flags, displaying national symbols even singing or listening to national songs. 

Israel removed all activist leaders who showed opposition to the occupation, used administrative detentions and deported thousands suspected of supporting acts of resistance. Among the deportees were Abdel-Hamid a-Sayegh, the chief Islamic judge (Kadi) of the West Bank, and Nadim Al-Zaro, the mayor of Ramallah. In March 1982, the mayors of nine West Bank cities and Gaza were dismissed and military officers replaced them. The mayors’ dismissal, detention and deportation of community leaders failed to contain the Palestinian drive for emancipation and national opposition had to go underground. The Israeli journalists and authors Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari described the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis in their book ‘Intifada’ as “the relationship between a horse and its rider.” 

Israel tried power-sharing agreement with Jordan, the military government, the village leagues and the civil administration to control the Palestinians, but it recognized that the methods it had employed to normalize the occupation and suppress Palestinian nationalism were not working. If anything, Palestinian nationalism resurged. Then Israel came up with the ingenious idea of outsourcing the responsibility for the population while continuing the occupation and colonization. Self-rule for the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under a Palestinian authority (PA) without renouncing Israel’s sovereign over the two regions was the answer. The PA was a product of the occupation to control the population and reduce its economic and political cost on Israel. Noam Chomsky pointed out that the PA was not intended as an instrument of decolonization but rather a framework that changed the means of Israel’s control in order to perpetuate the occupation. According to Chomsky, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin noted in an interview that the PA would be able to control the population “without all the difficulties arising from Supreme Court appeals, human rights organizations like B’Tselem, and all kinds of leftist fathers and mothers.”

Since the establishment of the PA, especially after the second intifada, Israel has been operating primarily to downgrade the value of the Palestinians to people whose lives can be taken with impunity, enforce laws that legalize the incarceration and torture of political prisoners, permitted deportations, house demolitions, and curfews. The executive and judicial branches of government coordinated to rationalize the Israeli inhumane policies.

After the establishment of the PA, the Palestinians are having even less autonomy in the economic field than in security. Constrains and restrictions enforced by the Israeli military hindered the development of an independent Palestinian economy and transformed it into a captive market for Israeli producers. The leaders of the PA promised economic growth based on the assumption that productive economy would slowly be established, there would be large investment in infrastructure and industry and that the Palestinians would enjoy freedom of movement for themselves and their goods. They promised that Gaza Strip would be transformed into “the Middle East’s Singapore” and the Palestinians would enjoy the fruits of their agreements with the Israelis. Ironically, these agreements have been reasons the wishful promises did not materialize.

The 1994 “Paris Protocol on Economic Relations” that was signed by the PA leaders replicated Israel’s colonial economic management of the occupied lands that had existed since 1967. It guaranteed that Israel would preserve its control of the occupied land economy and prevented the Palestinians from choosing their own trade policies according to their own interests. It has prevented the creation of an internal economic base with its own productive capacity and increased the Palestinians’ dependency on laborers who commute to Israel despite Israel’s use of the entry-permits and internal closures as an effective form of control weapon. Israel uses its power to the flow of laborers to collectively punish the public against any form of resistance. It was used to pressure the PA to clamp down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and other groups that resist the occupation. Professor Sara Roy wrote in her book ‘Gaza Strip’ that Israel was able to reorient large percentage of the Palestinian labor force away from domestic agriculture and industry and integrate it in Israel’s labor. The productive capacity of the Palestinians is diminished because Israel has restricted the development of a viable infrastructure capable of stimulating development in the West Bank. And in Gaza Strip Israel has destroyed the infrastructure and the people means for survival.

The “Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities [to the PA]” of 1994 outlined the reorganization of PA power in many spheres including jurisdiction, secondary legislation, the judicial and security. The agreement states that the PA does not have jurisdiction over Jerusalem, the settlements and the military locations. It gave Israel a veto power over any regulation or legislation enacted by the PA that Israel considers exceeding the PA powers or inconsistent with other agreements. Israel must approve all employees authorized by the PA to inspect and monitor compliance with the laws and regulations. The PA agreed not to have authority over settlers or any non-Palestinian residing or travelling within the occupied territory.

In order to repress all forms of Palestinian nationalism, the Israeli occupation authority took over the educational system immediately after the 1967 war. Officers in charge of education became responsible for licensing private and public schools, hiring and firing teachers, the curricula and text books. They wanted the text books to adopt the Zionist historical narrative on Palestine and systematically erase any reference to Palestinian nationalism and identity. The word ‘Palestinians’ was replaced with ‘Arabs’ and the word ‘Nakbah’ was not allowed in any textbook. ‘Nakbah’ was the displacement of the vast majority of the indigenous Palestinians in 1948. “More than 1,700 titles were banned over the years including history, geography, political, literature and poetry books.” The occupation authority issued instructions for teachers not to teach their students extracurricular material for fear that they might adopt a historical narrative depicting national Palestinian past. When the Israeli civil administration surrendered the management of the school system including the higher education institutions and vocation schools to the PA, it was on condition to refrain from incitement against Israel. 

Efforts by the Israelis to repress Palestinian nationalism failed because the Palestinian youth learn who they are and where they came from in their daily life as non-persons in the refugee camps, or in disconnected enclaves under the shadows of the Jewish only settlements, dehumanized and humiliated by the occupation soldiers at the blockaded roads, or in Jerusalem under the threat of home-demolition and deportation, or living in Israel as second class citizens or in besieged and impoverished Gaza. 

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to

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