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Hass: The uprising loses solidarity

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  • Leonard Grossman
    Monday, July 30, 2001 Av 10, 5761 Israel Time: 04:19 (GMT+3) The uprising loses solidarity How did the arming of the Intifada arise, and why is there no free
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 29, 2001
      Monday, July 30, 2001 Av 10, 5761
      Israel Time: 04:19 (GMT+3)

      The uprising loses solidarity

      How did the arming of the Intifada arise, and why is there
      no free discussion among Palestinians about the revolt?

      By Amira Hass

      In July, 2000, Dr. Saleh Abdel Jawad wondered what was
      wrong with his previous forecasts. In February, 2000, he
      relates, he had already predicted that a blow-up was soon
      to come in Palestinian society. He just could not say
      exactly whether this was going to be a blow-up against
      Israel or a double outburst of rage - against Israel and
      against the Palestinian Authority (PA). But he did not
      anticipate that half a year would go by without "the
      pressure cooker exploding."

      During the year prior to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, many
      Palestinians talked about a possible and impending
      explosion. The predictions did not derive from secret
      information on preparations and contingency plans that
      the PA supposedly had made. On the contrary, those who
      issued these warnings believed, as in the case of the first
      Intifada, that it would be spontaneous and that it would
      be impossible to guess in advance the timing and the
      proximate cause.

      When it erupted, the entire public supported the Intifada.
      But the way it is being conducted and is developing has
      aroused a great many questions, and a great deal of

      Thus a gap has emerged between the broad support in
      principle of the need for an uprising and the
      dissatisfaction over the forms the uprising has taken.
      Saleh Abdel Jawad is among the academics who have
      been trying to help narrow the gap, with limited success.

      The predictions of Abdel Jawad and others of an eruption
      were, first of all, linked to the general frustration with the
      Oslo process. Most of the Palestinian public, said Abdel
      Jawad, a lecturer in political science at Bir-Zeit
      University, supported the process as a means to
      independence and the establishment of a state within the
      1967 borders.

      "In this respect, the Palestinian silent majority is in the
      peace camp." But the frustration came from what became
      clear during the implementation of the process, "when
      Israel, instead of gradually withdrawing and loosening its
      hold on the Palestinian people and the territories, just
      tightened its grasp."

      Parallel to the lack of trust in Israel's intentions, anger
      also accumulated against the PA, for two reasons. First of
      all, it had failed to cope adequately on the political and
      diplomatic fronts with what looked to the Palestinians like
      intentional Israeli procrastination with regard to carrying
      out the withdrawal.

      Second, there were all the shortcomings of the Palestinian
      internal government: the absence of the rule of law, the
      centrality and multiplicity of security organizations and
      the expanding wealth of the circles close to the
      government at a time when most of the population was
      suffering from prolonged economic distress. Therefore
      "the claims by Israeli intelligence that [PA Chairman
      Yasser] Arafat had planned the Intifada for months are
      both false and an expression of a misconception," says
      Abdel Jawad. On the contrary, in Palestinian society there
      is criticism of the PA for not knowing how to plan actions
      both during past years and during the Intifada, and for
      only responding to Israeli moves.

      Widespread firearms
      Indeed, at the time the outburst occurred the PA did not
      try to stop it, because within the PA, there was also anger
      at Israeli policy. However, in the PA they expected a
      short-lived outburst. In Abdel Jawad's estimation, Arafat
      hoped to improve the Palestinians' clout at the
      negotiating table through the pressure of the popular

      The potential of the popular rage also being directed at
      the PA had always existed. But Israel, in the escalation
      tactic it pursued, very quickly "succeeded" in suppressing
      it and in effect strengthened the PA's position in the eyes
      of the Palestinian public. "The many casualties among the
      demonstrators during the first 10 days of the Intifada
      provided legitimization and public understanding of the
      need for the use of arms in the hands of the pillars of the
      PA - the Fatah people and some of the people from the
      various security organizations. In addition, Israel very
      quickly chose for its targets buildings of the PA. On the
      day of the lynching in Ramallah, October 12, Israel
      bombarded PA buildings in the West Bank and the Gaza
      Strip. Striking at the PA itself restored the public faith in
      it that it had lost several years earlier."

      Nevertheless, he says, the public is still waiting for
      internal changes within the PA government. There are
      those, among them Abdel Jawad, who believe that
      internal reform is a pre-condition for a successful
      continuation of the struggle against the occupation.
      The speed with which the Intifada developed from a
      popular uprising into a series of shooting incidents,
      armed clashes and terror attacks did not surprise Abdel
      Jawad. "Both nations, the Israeli and the Palestinians,
      have a similar rhetoric: They both believe that the other
      side understands only the language of force. People felt
      that the first Intifada, which was for the most part
      unarmed, did not yield enough political fruit. The
      successful struggle by the Hezbollah against Israel in
      Lebanon augmented this feeling. A second reason is the
      massive and dangerous presence of weapons among the
      Palestinian public. A great deal of weaponry has been
      purchased on an individual basis in recent years. Even
      before the Intifada internal struggles swiftly degenerated
      into armed conflicts, because of the widespread presence
      of firearms.

      "A third reason for the militarization of the Intifada is the
      geographic shaping that happened under the Oslo
      agreements: The points of friction between soldiers and
      civilians have become fewer and have been concentrated
      at the exits from the cities and at the many roadblocks.
      This technical aspect of the situation has made the stone
      a more "symbolic" weapon and even less influential than
      it ever had been, and has cut off the direct contact
      between the majority of the public and the
      representatives of the occupation - the soldiers. This
      afforded the opening to weapons that can reach the

      Here, Abdel Jawad notes the reciprocal relations between
      the armed activists and the Israel Defense Forces. During
      the first weeks of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Palestinian
      shooting was "into the air," or "at the moon," shooting
      that cannot, or is not intended, to hit anyone: shooting
      that from the Palestinian perspective is not effective. The
      IDF, says Abdel Jawad, knew full well the significance of
      this ceremonial and declarative shooting of firearms, but
      chose to respond as if it were shooting between equal
      forces. "The exaggeration of the significance of this initial
      type of shooting created the illusion that there was a real
      armed conflict going on, and thus, despite the public
      anger at the shooting from residential neighborhoods, the
      shooters' halo as fighters grew brighter. That is, the
      people who were firing from residential neighborhoods
      helped the IDF escalate its actions, but in its responses
      the IDF strengthened the line of thought that the
      remaining solution was the augmentation of the use of
      firearms and causing the Israelis more losses."

      This kind of struggle of necessity neutralizes most of the
      population and becomes the province of small groups. In
      this context, and in the context of the closure and the
      blockage of roads and the encirclement that affects the
      entire population, says Abdel Jawad, it is possible to
      explain the widespread support among the Palestinians
      for suicide attacks inside Israel. However, Abdel Jawad,
      who in the past also wrote and made statements against
      terror attacks inside Israel, believes that this support
      does not have deep roots in Palestinian society and can
      change quickly.

      `They accuse us of not suffering'
      Nevertheless, if more rapid and more conscious changes
      are desired, there is a need for public discussion, which
      to Abdel Jawad's regret hardly exists in Palestinian
      society. Here and there articles have been published in
      the Palestinian press that are critical of the conduct of the
      Intifada - articles against the militarization, against the
      shooting from residential neighborhoods, a small number
      of articles that have deplored the brutality of the lynching
      and the murder of Jews who happen into Palestinian
      cities. Similar things have been heard at several public
      meetings. But they have not stimulated discussion and
      apparently they have not even reached their direct
      targets: senior PA officials, Fatah activists and the armed

      The absence of public debate on the way the Intifada is
      being conducted, and about the moral and practical
      aspects of it, frustrates Abdel Jawad. Yet he can
      enumerate a number of reasons for this: The Palestinians
      have known years of censorship of the media, conducted
      by military or authoritarian regimes - from the time of the
      British Mandate, the period of Jordanian rule and the
      Israeli occupation, to the PA regime. This and the
      pressures of a society that is clan-based at root have
      prevented the creation of a tradition of free debate.
      Anyone who has dared to speak out has suffered.
      Another reason is the lack of internal solidarity in this
      Intifada, in contrast to the first Intifada, perhaps because
      for seven years there had been the expectation that the
      Palestinian Authority would take the place of the local,
      spontaneous initiatives of the past. Perhaps because
      during the past seven years the economic and mental
      gaps have grown between the various segments of the
      population, and a new alienating element has been
      added: the extent of the closeness of each segment to the
      PA. Perhaps because the active resistance to the
      occupation now is not a mass and popular experience,
      though "Israel is punishing through its means of
      oppression the entire Palestinian population." In any
      case, Abdel Jawad says of himself and others like him
      that they now have no contact with the inhabitants of the
      refugee camps, for example, from which many of the
      armed activists come. "There haven't been real initiatives
      to bring about meetings between the people from the
      camps and academics to discuss questions that concern
      everyone, such as how to improve the struggle against
      the occupation."

      Abdel Jawad senses an attitude of suspicion and
      alienation toward the academics who are trying to
      stimulate debate: "They accuse us of not suffering like
      the others but allowing ourselves to criticize what is
      going on. But social criticism has value and significance
      in its own right, which isn't conditional on the individual
      experience of the critic. And furthermore, it is true that
      relatively, materially speaking, we have been less
      affected. But the method of the Israeli oppression cannot
      but cause suffering to everyone. We are also under siege,
      we are also subject to the shellings and the
      bombardments, we are also afraid for our children."

      He sees a connection between the absence of a culture of
      public debate and the fact that "on both sides, the Israeli
      and the Palestinian, there are no leaders who can say
      `no' outright to their public." Only Feisal Husseini, says
      Abdel Jawad with longing, was such a leader. He recalls
      two joint Israeli-Palestinian events - in 1988 and 1989 -
      at which it was agreed that neither an Israeli nor a
      Palestinian flag would be displayed. At both events there
      was a group of young Palestinians who raised the
      Palestinian flag, contrary to what had been agreed. It was
      Husseini who went up to them and sternly demanded that
      they take down the flag.

      During the Oslo period, regrets Abdel Jawad, the
      leadership did not say outright to the people that this was
      not a victory agreement but rather an agreement that
      sprang from weakness and defeats. It almost secretly
      kept its various commitments to Israel, but concealed the
      weaknesses of the agreement. This tradition of
      concealment also interferes with the culture of public
      criticism, the essence of which is discussion of
      weaknesses and defeats without this being depicted as a
      lack of patriotism. And the result: Among themselves
      many people are talking about faults and shortcominngs,
      but their voices have not yet become a prominent social
      presence that could lead to positive change.
      This is the second of a series of articles.

      Leonard Grossman
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