Palestine is Still the Issue | Reflections on the current state of popular resistance in Palestine

Having just returned from a weeks-long stay in Palestine, Ceasefire columnist Asa Winstanley reflects on the changing dynamics of Palestinian civil resistance.

New in Ceasefire, Palestine is Still the Issue - Posted on Saturday, May 26, 2012 14:18 - 1 Comment

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Palestinians gather outside UN building in Ramallah to protest inaction over hunger strikers, May 5 2012 (photo: Asa Winstanley)

I recently returned from a stay in Palestine, living in the West Bank. I wrote dispatches for the Electronic Intifada on topics including the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) recent campaign against journalists and free speech, and a major demonstration in support of the right of return held by the Palestinians in 1948-occupied areas. But I primarily wrote about the Palestinians prisoners movement and the historic hunger mass strike which began on 17 April (Prisoners’ Day) and carried on for almost a month.

At its peak, it involved over 2000 of the 4600 prisoners in Israeli jails. It concluded with an agreement which won two of of its three demands: family visits and the end of solidarity confinement. The third demand was an end to administrative detention (internment without trial, charge, or even knowing what you are suspected of), and on this point a certain compromise was reached with Israel promising not extend the terms of those currently held as administrative detainees.

I also attended various Palestinian demonstrations, getting a feel for the current state of affairs on the ground right now. Demonstrations in local villages affected by Israel’s apartheid wall and settlements continue. The popular resistance of people in places such as Bil’in, Na’lin and Nabi Saleh are ongoing, attracting a decent amount of support from international and Israeli supporters.

The prisoners’ struggle also meant regular demonstrations outside of Israel’s Ofer prison, near Beitunia, a town on the southern outskirts of Ramallah. These events are usually small, but spirited. Young Palestinians use little more than rocks and burning tires to respond to Israeli attacks on peaceful protest. The Zionist soldiers regularly attack with tear gas, plastic-coated metal bullets and other measures such as the “Skunk Truck” — which sprays a foul-smelling chemical which can linger for months.

The overall state of such resistance is mixed. While sustained popular resistance of local communities — often over several years — is an achievement itself, the demonstrators are lacking an overall strategy. Local communities respond to particular expressions of Israeli occupation, resisting them as best they can. But there is little or no effort to unite such struggles into a unified Palestinian strategy.

In large part, the fault must be laid at the door of the collaborationist Palestinian Authority (PA). The Dayton regime of “security cooperation” with the Israeli enemy does its best to co-opt, block or dissipate popular protest. For example, during the aborted “Global March to Jerusalem” in March, PA police in Bethlehem reportedly blocked protesters from reaching an Israeli checkpoint (On that day I was at the demo to the Qalandia checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem — there was no PA presence because they are not permitted to operate in that area according to Israeli “security” diktat).

Add to the mix the neoliberal agenda of unelected Prime Minister, Salim Fayyad, the former World Bank and International Monetary Fund man. This has had a noticeable effect on the situation on the ground compared to two years ago (the last time I was in Palestine).

First of all, there has been a construction boom — although it has slowed recently. Its effect was noticeable to me, but instead of building infastucture useful to the general population, it is mostly manifested in Ramallah in the form of expensive hotels, restaurants and (I’m not joking) a KFC.

While inside this Ramallah bubble the number of new restaurants opened was hard to miss, the comparative lack of patrons was obvious. There is a facade of prosperity while more and more people are struggling to make ends meet and to find work. Prices are through the roof as inflation hits hard. Some essential commodities are totally unaffordable.

The price of petrol in the West Bank, for example, at the time of my visit was almost the same as the UK’s notoriously high petrol prices (currently over £1.40 per litre). This unsustainable situation has led to street protests against Fayyad’s economic policies.

Even where money has been put into infrastructure projects, these are designed to help entrench Israel’s system of apartheid. A USAID-funded road between Ramallah and Bethlehem is a good example. The most direct route is the go via Jerusalem, which should take little more than 20 minutes. But of course, Palestinians from the West Bank are blocked from that road by Israel’s system of apartheid roads so must take the far longer Wadi Nahr route which takes about an hour.

With such projects increaingly built with American (“from the American people” a sign proclaims, without irony) and EU money Israel does not even have to pay to sustain its own occupation.

The negative effect of Fayyadism on Palestinian resistance to Israel has been twofold. First of all, growing consumerism has provided a potent weapon of mass distraction, as people chase after status symbols and the latest consumer gadget. But this is again based on an illusion of prosperity. The vast amounts of cash injected into the West Bank are coming mostly from Western donors who cause severe inflation before cutting and running and leaving Palestinians to pick up the pieces.

Such donors can and do cut off the funds for political considerations (as we saw happen when Hamas won elections in 2006). This consumerism is built on a new culture of loans, now being aggressively marketed by banks. And this leads to the second major negative effect of Fayyadism — people are often too busy worrying about paying off loans and bills to be able to be involved in demonstrations and popular resistance.

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs, as a new generation of young Palestinian activists maintains the pressure on the Palestinian leadership not to sell out Palestinian rights, or give everything away to Israel in negotiations. The popular and creative campaign of solidarity with the prisoners’ movement on streets all over Palestine was testament to that.

Although now partly dissipated after the agreement to end the hunger strike was reached in May, according to the latest information from Palestinian prisoners’ right group Addameer, there are signs that Israel has already reneged on the deal. So the movement is likely to be rekindled soon, especially as several long-term hunger strikers have resumed their campaign of refusing food.

Watch this space.

See also:
Comment | Richard Falk: Palestine’s hunger strikers have created a Gandhian moment
Comment | Ilan Pappé: the boycott will work, an Israeli perspective
Comment | Hind Awwad “Six Years of BDS: Success!”

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” has been published by Pluto Press. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears monthly. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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Lataest Ceasefire column: on popular resistance in Palestine | Asa Winstanley
May 26, 2012 17:51

[…] already reneged on the deal. So the movement is likely to be rekindled soon, especially as several long-term hunger strikers have resumed their campaign of refusing […]

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