Intifada? The importance of historical memory

Intifada? The importance of historical memory
Comment: The debate about whether recent developments in Palestine constitute a third intifada miss the point. Labelling is irrelevant, but historical memory is important, argues Ramona Wadi.
5 min read
15 Oct, 2015
The use of the 'intifada' discourse could end up counter-productive, but history is important [AFP]

Israeli military violence combined with settler violence in the West Bank has sparked a variety of narratives among analysts and the media, wrapped up in the usual sensational rhetoric.

Initial revulsion about Israel's extrajudicial killing of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have paved the way for a more coherent analysis on the subject. Commentators are now discussing whether recent Palestinian resistance constitute a third intifada.

     Israeli military violence combined with settler violence in the West Bank has sparked a variety of narratives among analysts and the media, wrapped up in the usual sensational rhetoric

Speculation that another major uprising against the Israeli occupation has been brewing ever since Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign on Gaza - known as Operation Protective Edge - in July and August 2014, leading to the death of more than 2,500 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians.

Unfortunately, the focus upon such hypothesis has contributed toward fragmenting Palestinian historical narratives. The anti-colonial struggle that Palestinians are part of has diverged into several different, yet coherent, strands of resistance.

The first comes in the form of Gaza's resistance to the occupation, and the second through Palestinian political prisoners' hunger strikes against their Israeli jailers. In more recent weeks we have seen it in Palestinian retaliation against Israeli settler terror attacks against the local Palestinian population, and incursions into the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem.

Intifada assertions

With the prospect of a new Palestinian intifada brewing, Israeli ministers have been forced into the debate.

Israel's political leaders have used any hypothetical uprising to cement their control over the Palestinian Authority, usually through an incessant insistence that Ramallah should respond to its "security concerns". Last August, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog met with Mahmoud Abbas to press on him that he must inhibit the growth of a third intifada, followed by the usual threats of violence.

No longer confined to violent incursions at al-Aqsa mosque, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has escalated repression by allowing Israeli snipers to fire at Palestinian stone throwers. Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon has used security concerns as a pretext to incite violence against Palestinians.

Through social media, the world has witnessed the callous, bloodthirsty settlers murder Palestinians for no other reason but to fulfil a colonial project for all Palestinian land. Discourse about the intifada has now been catapulted to prominence by Palestinian leaders.

Palestinian MP Hassan Yousef stated that the current intifada is a direct result of Israeli occupation and the desecration of Muslim and Christian sites. Security coordination between the PA and Israel has also been cited as another contributing factor to the violence.

Yousef stated that such collaboration is more treacherous than direct confrontation with the Israelis. Hamas, on the other hand, have began to refer to Palestinian resistance in the West Bank as the "Jerusalem Intifada".

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that, after twenty years of futile negotiations "this current uprising must be continued till the day of liberation", during Friday prayers last week. Haniyeh's discourse attempted tie the current Israeli violence to the previous colonial aggressions on Gaza through a limited historical narrative.

However, Hamas is also clearly shackled by forms of dissociation which need to be overcome by the resistance movement. The constant substitution of "colonialism" for the internationally-approved euphemism of "occupation" is hindering a proper articulation of Palestinian history.

Enforced oblivion

Discussions regarding the intifada are flawed and irrelevant, relegating decades of Palestinian resistance to nothing other than sensational labelling. The beneficiary of such debates is Israel. Apart from fabricating narratives, Israel is also dependent upon dissociation and misrepresentation of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle.

The Oslo Accords may well serve the narrative that it was the epitome of diplomatic failure. Security coordination between the PA and Israel has exacerbated repression of Palestinian resistance through collaboration.

The colonial aggressions on Gaza are, perhaps, the closest manifestation of Israeli state terror which has been systematic and premeditated. However, singling out such events within the context of Israel's military occupation is not only erroneous but also dangerous as it eliminates the colonial context in the equation to the detriment of Palestinian resistance.

Rather than contributing to analysis that lacks structural depth - and which confirms a "hypothetical" intifada - the current Palestinian resistance should be discussed within the entire history of the resistance against Israeli-colonial oppression and expansionism.

Historical precedents

The current, perfected methods of Israeli violence should be perceived as a direct extension of the Nakba - the "disaster" that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948. That is in addition to the infamous Plan Dalet, which set out how Jewish militias should ethnically cleanse Palestinian land.

This ensues with international recognition of Israel's illegal existence. The international community, through the UN, has elevated Israel's level of protection and impunity, exhibiting an unrivalled complicity in maintaining the Zionist colonial project.

This is in spite of several UN statements that colonialism has been rendered obsolete. In this case, the continued discourse of a third intifada against Israel's "occupation" of Palestine will ultimately benefit none other than the settler-colonial state and its international accomplices.

Yet, as on other occasions, labelling the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle seems preferable to articulating the process through both history and memory.

It is perhaps time to question whether Palestinians necessitate such terminology to describe their resistance. Is it is preferable to embark upon an unintentional distortion or insist upon building the current narrative within the historical context which is often ignored?

It is, perhaps, too ambitious to even consider that the PA will acknowledge the historical connection to the resistance, given its perpetual acquiescence to safeguard its existence.

Palestinian resistance factions, however, should assume responsibility rather than rely upon grandiose statements that reflect nothing but reticence to address the reality of settler-colonialism in Palestine.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.