Palestinians must capitalise on this momentum or they'll be back to square one

Palestinians must capitalise on this momentum or they'll be back to square one
Opinion: Recent Israeli aggression has resulted in a wave of national bonding that has united a fragmented Palestinian people, writes Emad Moussa.
6 min read
24 May, 2021
Palestinians protest at Damascus Gate during 'Jerusalem Day' on May 10, 2021 in Jerusalem. [Getty]

"So the children of Nazareth can play with the children of Gaza in Jerusalem."

This is the phrase written on a banner carried by the protesters in Nazareth on the historic day of general strike last Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, these might be only words, wishful thinking, or at best, a posture of defiance. But this time, the context is different.

Set against the backdrop of the raging war in Gaza, West Bank attacks, and of course, the recent events in Jerusalem, the Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee called for this strike in protest of the aggression and incitement against Israel's Palestinian communities by fanatical Jewish groups and security forces.

What happens in Jerusalem never stays in Jerusalem. Because of its political, historical, and religious significance, the Old City has always had the capacity to ignite emotions and fuel politics well beyond containment, sending an unmatched shockwave of angry and violent reactions.

Within a week of  the events in Sheikh Jarrah that saw Israel attempt to force Palestinian families out of their homes, the separated and usually isolated Palestinian communities inside the Green Line, the West Bank, and Gaza morphed into one unit set against one enemy, the Israeli state's oppression.

"What happens in Jerusalem never stays in Jerusalem"

At least symbolically and spiritually, the boundaries of the Nakba - the Green Line that fragmented Palestinian families and communities - seemed to disappear. It's the clearest and most defined  declaration of unified consciousness in decades.

Palestinians in Jerusalem and other West Bank cities found themselves in sync with those in Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Lydda, all suffering the different faces of Israel's occupation and settler colonialism.

It has always been a matter of policy for Israel to fragment Palestinians under different regimes of repression. The fragmentation hasn't only been territorial, but also legal, socio-economic, and political. The aim is to disrupt the emergence of a congruous Palestinian nationalism.

Palestinians inside Israel were isolated from their pan-Arab surroundings and subjected to aggressive attempts of 'Israelisation;' to integrate them into society, while disintegrating their distinct identity.

In the West Bank, Palestinians are physically severed by the segregation wall and checkpoints deep inside the Green Line. Following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Gazans have been completely cut off from both the West Bank and Palestinians in Israel.

To some, the current all-Palestine bonding is arguably reminiscent of the Great 1936 Revolt, not only in the spirit but even in terms of the all-encompassing oppression and the Palestinian leadership's failure.

In April 1936 Palestinians from all walks of life rose against the British Mandate demanding withdrawal from Palestine and protesting illegal Jewish immigration into their country. The revolt soon escalated to a six-month strike and later, armed resistance. Like today, the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish settlers) labelled the revolt "terrorist actions".

The British first absorbed some of the tension through political "favours" and, later, by implementing extreme measures of suppression, such as extrajudicial executions, administrative detention, and home demolitions. These are the same measures the Israeli state employs today.

As in 1936, Palestinians today feel they have reached the end of their tether. Not only because of Israel's multi-layered repression but also, for West Bankers and Gazans especially, due to the Palestinian leadership's failure to be truly representative of their nationalist aspirations.

"The PA was neither able to physically stop Israel nor gather sufficient international momentum to hold Israel accountable"

As Israel relentlessly pounded Gaza, resumed its violation in Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah, and unleashed its settlers on Palestinians inside Israel, the PA was neither able to physically stop Israel, nor gather sufficient international momentum to hold Israel accountable.

The PA didn't show much interest in the Palestinians in Israel, either. Legally, they are not PA citizens, but many hoped the PA would at least ride the "wave of national bonding" and be more in touch with its people on the ground. Instead, the PA reportedly deployed its security forces trying to stop protests against Israel in some West Bank cities and towns.  

This can only be seen as the sinful fruit of Oslo and years of unwarranted security liaison with Israel. Abbas and his associates today eerily resemble the Nashashibi elite in 1936. Back then, two elite clans dominated the Palestine political landscape, the Husseini clan, which at least publicly opposed the British, and the Nashashibi clan who cooperated with the British in return for political and economic benefits.

When the revolt intensified, the Nashishibi leadership pulled out of the Arab High Committee - which comprised various Palestinian political actors that led the revolt - and sided with the British under the pretext of "national interests". 

The divisions delivered a massive blow to the revolt and, arguably, contributed to its failure. Israeli historian Benny Morris suggests in Righteous Victims that the revolt's failure undermined the Palestinian ability to defend their country, ultimately setting them on a quick trajectory toward the loss of Palestine to Zionism. 

With the current momentum, it might still be too early to speak of a major paradigm shift, but there are signs that the 1936 trajectory is being reversed, as if history is reclaiming itself. The latest events proved that Palestinians have now gone well beyond promoting their narrative to actually shaping it.

With the genie finally out of the bottle, remarks Ramzy Baroud, a large body of intellectual, historical, and legal discourses is quickly building an irrefutable case against Israel's apartheid. No longer can the Jewish state manipulate the narrative or polish its image, regardless of how well-connected or how aggressive its propaganda campaigns are.  

But history isn't a force independent of human intervention, much less persistence.

Unless Palestinians keep up the momentum and capitalise on what has been achieved so far, there's a real risk of going back to square one. Same as in 1936 and, repeatedly, during all the other revolts and intifadas in the past seven decades, the international intervention at the moment is intended to reclaim calm and redeem the status quo without necessarily tackling the roots of the issue - the Zionist colonial rule.

As such, diplomatic "patching up" only delays the inevitable, a much larger explosion.

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.