You probably know this famous quote: “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”. It is so famous, logical and elegant that it is attributed to many different oracles. It is almost as difficult to analyze political developments just as they happen in front of our eyes.
Still it is worth the effort to try, as better understanding of the situation can help us take a more constructive and effective role. And, as is inevitably the case, when we make mistakes in our analysis, and reality soon disproves us, those mistakes can also be used to critically examine our assumptions and analytic methods.
So, what can we already learn from the events of October 2015 in Palestine?
On the methodology
Most of the discussion that I’ve seen over the last month, and I mean those articles that tried to analyze the events, not just promote the cause of the Palestinian liberation struggle (or of the Israeli oppressors), concentrated around the question whether this is “a third Intifada” or just “a Heba”. Mainly they were attempting to assess the strength and durability of the current confrontation.
This one-dimensional thinking seems to me to miss much of what can and should be analyzed. The development of the confrontation between the occupying state and the Palestinian society are influenced by internal economic and social changes within each side as much as by the course of the confrontation itself.
Beyond this, events in Palestine are integrally connected to the system of control and social development in the Middle East and its place in the world. This system is now undergoing the most profound crisis in its modern history. And this crisis in the Middle East is happening against the background of major changes in the relationship of powers between the old imperialist powers and the emerging third world, while technological and cultural changes enable new ways of organization and resistance as well as new methods of oppression.
It is not (or not only) about the blame game… Understanding the dynamics that led to the current climax is an important part in its analysis.
It is my view that it started with systematic Israeli provocations.
One small detail that testifies to this is that “events” in Al-Aqsa started around the 14th of September, the Jewish New Year holiday, which have no meaning for the Palestinians. Actually it became a tradition for the Israeli extremists to use Jewish holidays to initiate provocations in the holy places, hoping that the Army will be provoked by the Palestinian angry response and will retaliate with more oppression and massacres. In the last “cycle” it was only after more than two weeks of systematic provocations that there was wide Palestinian response, by the beginning of October.
To understand the logic of the Israeli provocations, we can also go back to the previous round, in the summer of 2014. The Israeli army exploited the kidnapping of 3 Israeli youth on June 12, 2014, to initiate a wide campaign of terror against the West Bank population. In order to do it they hid the fact that the three were killed on the same night that they were kidnapped, and claimed to be searching for them to save their lives. In the following campaign they killed scores of Palestinians in the West Bank, arrested many hundreds, including many of those that were released in the Shalit prisoners’ exchange. Finally Israel launched full scale massacres’ campaign against Gaza, killing thousands.
Building on Insanity
One difference between summer 2014 and autumn 2015 is that the current Zionist campaign was mostly led by “private initiatives”. There is a lot that should be investigated about the internal dynamics of the Zionist state and society:
- The settlers and religious extremists strengthen their hold over all the institutions of the Israeli society: political parties, the army, the police, the courts, the media and much more.
- Israeli politics is mostly about an unrestrained “populist” competition who is more openly and blatantly racist and oppressive.
- One of the most significant phenomenons of this cultivated insanity is the systematic growth of the “Temple Mount Lobby” and the extent to which it is taking hold within the heart of the establishment.
We should not really have to dive into the depth of the Zionist spirit in order to analyze and understand the functionality of these “messianic” trends. The Zionists rely on their total military superiority against the mostly unarmed Palestinians and calculate that in any confrontation the Palestinians pay a much higher price in martyrs, physical injuries, thousands of prisoners and destruction of the infrastructure of civilian lives.
In their quest to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, what the Zionists are looking for is any opportunity to use their military power against the local population without paying too high price in the region or internationally. Now they calculate that the people of the region are too busy with internal struggles, and the regimes of the region are all mobilized to oppress the masses in their own countries in the most criminal ways. In this atmosphere almost any crime against the Palestinians can pass without severe repercussions.
Mass protests face intense oppression
The first Palestinians response, at the beginning of October, was mass demonstrations that started in Al-Quds and spread across the West Bank, Gaza and the 1948 occupied territories. In Al-Quds there was mass participation in the demonstrations day after day, like in the first intifada. In Gaza the first mass demonstrations near the Israeli border fence were met with deadly fire against unarmed civilians. I will relate later with more detail to the struggle within the ’48 areas, but it is important to note here that it combined a general strike and mass demonstrations as well as many initiatives by young activists all over the country.
With the resurgence of mass demonstrations, all the institutions of the occupation acted simultaneously to suppress the mass struggle by “changing the rules” to be ever more oppressive:
- The Knesset passed extraordinarily fast the new law that sets long minimum prison sentences for the offence of throwing stones, even if there was no damage caused. In case somebody might get confused, the severe sentencing is only for “nationalistic” or “terrorist” stone-throwers, so Jews can go on throwing stones at will.
- The police give priority to oppressing Palestinian protest over any other issue. Mass arrests are used for any offence from Facebook status through peaceful demonstration to confrontations.
- The police and prosecution make mass trial against the youth that took part in the protests and do whatever they can to keep the accused in custody for the time of the trial.
- The courts regard Palestinian protest as a kind of “terrorist activity” that deserves detention until trial, unlike any other offence.
- Collective punishment was applied against all Arab residents of Al-Quds with roadblocks, closures and police harassment.
- Administrative detention is now used not only against the political leadership but also against activists, even some teenagers.
- The most severe measure is the usage of live ammunition by the police and the army against demonstrators. It is now systematically used in the Arab neighborhoods of Al-Quds.
Those draconian measures reduced very much the mass protests but increased the pressure and the anger within the Palestinian population.
Individual acts of violent resistance
As the price of political protest became higher, so there is stronger motivation for revenge and for physically attacking the occupation forces or the Jewish population, which is conceived as responsible for the occupation. This led to the wave of knife attacks and some armed or vehicle attacks, mostly by desperate youth that acted on their own.
It should be remembered that the “pacification” to which the occupation aspires doesn’t mean peace and security “for everybody” but the continuation of the expropriation and humiliation of the Palestinians without any response on their side. While mass protests are brutally oppressed and any kind of organized resistance is relatively an easy target to the security services – the individual acts of violent resistance are harder to prevent. They are conceived as success as they cause some harm to the occupiers – also the highest price is usually paid by the initiators.
Lynch as an official policy
Faced by the new challenge of individual attacks which they couldn’t prevent, the Israeli authorities encourage the public, the police and the military to lynch and kill every Palestinian that is suspected of attacking or intending to attack Israeli security forces or civilians.
I already wrote in more detail about the Lynch as an official Israeli policy. One clear example is an interview with “mainstream politician” Yair Lapid (in Hebrew) in Walla, on October 11, where he said that “The instructions should be clear: Everybody that takes out a knife or a screwdriver should be shot to kill”. In the racist Israeli-talk it was clear that, in this case, when he speaks of “everybody” he means Arabs.
More than 75 Palestinians were already killed in this last wave, the vast majority in incidents where no Jews (soldiers or civilians) were attacked or injured. In all the cases the official report is about “Mehabel” – a special Hebrew term, supposedly worse that regular “terrorist”, which is used for Palestinian resistance fighters.
The only cases that were recognized by the Israelis as “mistakes” were the Eritrean guy that was mob-lynched in Bir As-Sabe’e (Beersheba) and a religious Jewish guard that was killed by soldiers in Jerusalem. The mistake, as was clearly stated all over the Israeli press, was that they were mistakenly identified as Arab.
Comparing to the two Intifadas
Comparing the recent events with the latest two Palestinian Intifadas is very useful. One apparent difference is that in both of the Intifadas the whole Palestinian society was mobilized for the confrontation. Another, related, difference is that Intifadas were basically political struggle waged under the assumption (which later proved to be an illusion) that a political settlement is imminent.
Here I would like to express the view that the readiness of people to make the effort and bear the suffering that insurrection against an oppressive regime requires is basically motivated by hope. In the first intifada it was the belief that “the Palestinian state is at a stone’s throw”. It brought the Oslo agreement but no real freedom and no relax in oppression, ethnic cleansing and settlement building. The second Intifada was fueled by the belief that if the stones didn’t drive the occupiers out then rifles might do it. It worked for some degree in Gaza, but Gaza was put under siege and is regularly bombed. The occupation’s hold over the West Bank is now deeper than ever.
The current wave of struggle is different as it is not motivate by the hope of political solution but by disillusion with “the political process”. Still, trying to read the mood in the Palestinian street, I don’t think it is only “despair”. I think the Israeli hysteric response to the latest struggle is conceived as a sign of weakness. The major changes that take place in the region also inspire the belief that powers can fall and the people can change the course of history.
This renewed intense struggle against the occupation, not centered on any political program or the hope for political settlement, is thus not seen as an intense “round” in the historic conflict but more like a “new normal” where both the occupation and the resistance are taking a more violent form.
The internal dynamics of the Palestinian society
Concerning the internal development of the Palestinian society, the first Intifada can be seen as a revolutionary movement. The youth that mobilized in the liberation movement for armed struggle just after the occupation, and later begun to build new civil society in the seventies and eighties, toppled the dominance of the local conservative leadership and led to reorganization of society under the united leadership of the Intifada.
The second Intifada was more like regular war. The Palestinian movements and organizations already established themselves as at the commanding posts of society under the occupation. The newly founded Palestine Authority (PA) was torn between its obligation under the Oslo agreement to defend the occupation and the disappointment as it realized that Israel has no intention to let it develop into a fully independent state. The forces of the Palestinian society, including much of the established leadership, were mobilized to try to push the occupiers out.
In the current wave of struggle the internal dynamics of the Palestinian society are very different. The establishment of the PA resettled after the second intifada back to its function as supplier of local services and a security buffer under the occupation. The youth that are leading the struggle are doing it at their independent initiative, sidelining the PA establishment but not yet challenging it.
Learning from history, we may expect that the next waves of struggle will require and bring more dramatic internal changes within the Palestinian society itself.
The struggle in ‘48
Writing in Haifa, it is natural that I will relate in some detail to the experience of the struggle inside the ’48 occupied territory.
Demonstration started on Monday, October 5, in several locations. One of them was a protest vigil in the German Colony in Haifa, which was initiated by Herak Haifa but organized under the united banner of “The Patriotic and Democratic Forces in Haifa”. It developed into a small spontaneous marching demonstration.
Al-Herak Shababi called for a country-wide mobilization to a demonstration in Nazareth, on Thursday, October 8. This call was met with new level of oppression: Some of the organizers were arrested on the day before in preventive detention (3 women activists were arrested with their fathers!). They were held in prison for 4 days. Buses carrying demonstrators were prevented from reaching Nazareth. The demonstration itself was attacked by the police and more than 20 of the participants were arrested. Some of the demonstrators that were prevented from reaching Nazareth went on to demonstrate in Um Al-Fahm and Tamra. In Tamra the police arrested 3 of the bus drivers, kept them in custody for the night and took hold of the buses for several days.
On the next Tuesday, October 13, there was a general strike of the Palestinian population and a mass demonstration in Sakhnin. The feeling was that, after long time, the people are really united in struggle.
But what seems most significant for me was that this time it was not only the political parties or even the new and more dynamic structures of the Herakat that organized and led the struggle. Many demonstrations were organized, between October 5 and 14, by local groups of activists. Many of them developed into clashes with the police. Hundreds of activists were detained and many are now still in prison and facing trial.
This level of mobilization is not totally new. It happened in the day of the land in 1976 and after the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. It was seen on a much higher level in the beginning of the second intifada, in October 2000, when a general strike and mass demonstrations brought all areas with Arab population to a standstill for 10 days. It was seen again during the latest onslaught on Gaza in summer 2014. But, relatively to most of the above mentioned events, this time there was no mass massacre to respond to, so it can be interpreted as a step forward in the organization of the activists and their ability to initiate protest.
The question I want to pose here is whether (or how) the new layer of activists that lead the struggle in the streets can become a more effective social and political force. The way to make this transformation may include:
- Form a better connected network.
- Be involved on a daily basis in the struggle against discrimination and Apartheid in a way that will be felt by and gain the trust of the general masses.
- On the organizational level, a new type of mass organization, based on modern communication, can unite Palestinian activists and struggles beyond fences and borders.
- On the political level, the struggle requires a political agenda that will expose and replace the current bankrupt one.
Opposition in the Israeli society
I must admit that I didn’t spend a lot of time following events in the Israeli society during this October. Still I have the feeling that in the face of the new challenges and the intensified crisis the level of political opposition was disappointing.
Faced with the challenge of the second intifada and the failure of the Oslo agreement, organizations like “Ta’ayush” and “Anarchists against the wall” changed the paradigm of the left in the Israeli society form a “pro-peace” lobby within the Israeli side of the conflict to “joining the Palestinian struggle against the occupation”.
In the latest events, those demonstrations that took place were mostly back at the old paradigm of equating the “two sides”. But, unlike the old days when the Israeli “peace camp” was strongly devoted to the illusion of the “two state solution”, now we hear them calling for peace without any concept or concrete program what this peace may be and where it will come from.
The most encouraging things that I read in the Israeli papers were the growing disillusion with Zionism as a whole, as a result of the deepening crisis. The talk about the paradigm of the “One State” is more ubiquitous than ever, even as the clear voice that calls for One Democratic State with full rights to all as a just and positive solution is hardly heard.
Some Israeli retreats
It is worth mentioning that the current wave of struggle forced Israel to some tactical retreats about provocative steps other than the extreme measures that were directly intended to suppress the protest.
The most obvious example is Israel’s proclamations of its obligation “to keep the status quo” in Al-Aqsa. Another example was the temporary suspension of the work on the anti-Arab “nationality law” in the Knesset.
Another issue that exemplifies both Israel’s hysteric and shameless response as well as its retreat before mass pressure was the much trumpeted decision to hold the bodies of Palestinian martyrs. It caused a wave of mass protest in Al-Khalil that led to the returning of some bodies and much wider public funerals.
The regional and international context
Netanyahu has just lost his most important political struggle on the world stage, to drag his imperialist sponsors into war against Iran. Israel used to be an important advanced position for imperialism to guard its interests in the Middle East. But Israel, as it is hated by the Arab masses because of its racist policies, is not an acceptable partner in any of the local and global coalitions that are now fighting for control of the boiling Arab East.
As Israel is losing its “strategic value”, the tension in Palestine is a constant drag not only on Israel’s image but also on the reputation of the Western powers that back it. The “Temple Mount Lobby” that is nourished by the current government is threatening to become a regional time bomb which nobody could ignore.
Like all reactionary forces in the region, Netanyahu tries to ride the so-called “Islamic State” horse in order to resist any change and paint any movement that struggles against the current oppressive order as “terrorists” and a danger to the world’s peace.
Freedom and democratization in the Middle East, the establishment of pluralistic society and new social and economic development plans that will care for the people are still the best foundation to expose and eventually uproot Israeli Apartheid.
Haifa, October 7, 2015