Tuesday 13 January 2009

The Third Intifada… Is it time to fight back with stones?

Dima Hamdam.

On the first Friday of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, I was watching rushes coming in from Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, waiting for something to happen…

Hamas had called for a “day of anger” to protest Israel’s atrocities, and we were expecting clashes to break out between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers after Friday prayers.

Sure enough, there were clashes, and demonstrators have taken to the streets in several Palestinian cities, as well as Arab cities in the 1948-occupied territories. I thought it would gradually culminate into a mass-uprising… the third Intifada… but so far, it hasn’t.

Watching footage of young Palestinians covering their faces with Kuffiyah’s and hurling stones at the soldiers reminded me of 1987. Back then, I was a teenager living in Kuwait, and I was shocked to see Palestinian kids, younger than me, as they took to the streets, not afraid of massive Israeli tanks or soldiers carrying machine guns. This was a popular reaction to 20-years of Israeli occupation, but one incident is still widely believed to have been the “last straw” that led to the mass eruption; the killing of four Palestinian civilians by an Israeli jeep at a checkpoint in the Gaza Strip. (http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9155.shtml)

“Four deaths! Well the death toll in Operation Cast Lead today stands at 800 and the meter’s still rolling,” I said to a friend over the telephone today. “… where is the Third Intifada?”

He said it was probably up to Khaled Meshaal to make a phone call “when the time is right” and mobilise people. But since when did the Palestinians wait for “orders” to start an uprising? They didn’t wait for it in 1987, and in fact they took all the politicians, the PLO and all the factions, by surprise. Even in the Second Intifada, the initial revolt was a mass decision, not a response to orders from Arafat or anyone. Some might want to debate the legacy of the Second Intifada, but we cannot deny that the uprising of 1987 wasn’t just a message to the occupation, but to the already-fragmented leadership that the people were united, regardless of their
political affiliations.

No doubt the situation now is very different. Palestinians in the West Bank now have to deal with both the occupation and the Palestinian National Authority. There is also a greater risk that warring factions would want to make political gains out of popular actions. Ordinary civilians might be reluctant to march or chant under political banners. Palestinian cities are now cut off from each other which probably makes it difficult to organise a mass movement. But is silence really an affordable option now?

One might ask what gains can be made from another Intifada. Will it ultimately liberate Palestine? Well maybe not, but how is it acceptable that only one party, Hamas, is doing all the fighting, and only in the Gaza Strip? What’s going on in the West Bank? More land confiscation, more settlements, and a slow and “quiet” ethnic-cleansing process is going on in East Jerusalem while the world is looking away.

I do not know when the situation will be “ripe” for a third Intifada, and whether it is still is a viable option to begin with. I must admit: I’m a Diaspora Palestinian who’s never experienced the humiliation and oppression of the occupation. No one in my immediate family is at risk. Only Palestinians living in the occupied territories could say whether there should be a Third Intifada, but I think this is an urgent question that we must discuss, and I would love to hear from people within the West Bank… let’s debate this.

I look back at pictures of youth hurling stones in the 1980s, surely some of them are now married with children, would they send their children out now? Then I look back at what Palestinians have had to endure since 1987 and I realise the price they had to pay for their resistance; young boys who’ve limbs were broken by soldiers, fighters and civilians killed in Jenin in 2002, the horrors of Operation Defensive Shield, and of course the carnage taking place in Gaza. If I was a mother living in the West Bank would I send my children out to throw stones at soldiers, knowing that I could end up a bereaved mother like hundreds of others in Gaza?…

I’ll probably never know the answer to that. However, as the carnage continues in the Gaza Strip I cannot help but look at the West bank with extreme worry… if a Third Intifada isn’t an option, are there any alternatives?

But this much I know; everything Israel has done on the ground – the isolation of Gaza, cutting off the territories, playing up the Palestinian parties against each other – ultimately aims to destroy the cohesion of Palestinian society to an extent where it no longer speaks with one voice, and is no longer a viable nation that can create its own state. Our politicians have fallen into the trap, but we, as a people, must not.

Dima Hamdan is a London-based journalist and filmmaker.

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