Category Archives: Mahmoud Abbas

Israel’s Premature Celebration: Gazans Have Crossed the Fear Barrier

60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on May 15, simply for protesting and demanding their Right of Return as guaranteed by international law.

50 more were killed since March 30, the start of the ‘Great March of Return’, which marks Land Day.

Nearly 10,000 have been wounded and maimed in between these two dates.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, White House officials announced, paying no heed to the ludicrousness of the statement when understood within the current context of an unequal struggle.

Peaceful protesters were not threatening the existence of Israel; rock throwing kids were not about to overwhelm hundreds of Israeli snipers, who shot, killed and wounded Gaza youngsters with no legal or moral boundary whatsoever.

8-months old, Laila al-Ghandour was one of the 60 who were killed on May 15. She suffocated to death from Israeli teargas. Many, like her, were wounded or killed some distance away from the border. Some were killed for simply being nearby, or for being Palestinian.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President, Donald Trump, ushered in a new era of international relations, when she and her companions unveiled the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

She was ‘all smiles’ while, at the exact same moment, hundreds of Gazans were being felled at the border. The already dilapidated hospitals have no room for most of the wounded. They bled in hallways awaiting medical attention.

Ivanka has never been to Gaza – and will unlikely ever visit or be welcomed there. Gazans do not register in her moral conscience, if she has any beyond her immediate interests, as people deserving of rights, freedom and dignity.

At the border, many Gaza kids have been coloring their bodies in blue paint, dressing up in homemade costumes to imitate characters from the Hollywood movie, ‘Avatar’. They hoped that, by hiding their brown skin, their plight and suffering could be more relatable to the world.

But when they were shot, their blood gave them away. They were still human, still from Gaza.

The international community has already condemned Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and declared his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void’, but will it go further than mere words?

Will the international community remain trapped between hollow statements and no action? Will they ever truly recognize the humanity of Laila al-Ghandour and all the other children, men and women who died and continue to perish under Gaza’s besieged skies? Will they ever care enough to do something?

The plight of the Palestinians is compounded with the burden of having a useless ‘leadership’.  The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been busy of late, demanding allegiance from the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank. Large signs and larger banners have been erected everywhere, where families, professional associations, unions and companies have announced, in large font: the “Renewal of Loyalty and Support to President Mahmoud Abbas.”

‘Renewal’? Abbas’ mandate expired in 2009. Besides, is this what Abbas and his Fatah party perceive to be the most urgent matter that needs to be addressed, while his people are being massacred?

Abbas fears that Hamas is using the blood of the Gaza victims to bolster its popularity. Ironically, it is a shared concern with Israeli leaders, the likes of Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The latter said that Hamas has won the PR war at the Gaza border by a ‘knockout.’

This propaganda is as false as it is utterly racist; yet, it has persisted for far too long. It proposes that Palestinians and Arabs lack human agency. They are incapable of mobilizing and organizing their collective efforts to demand their long-denied rights. They are only pawns, puppets in the hands of factions, to be sacrificed at the altar of public relations.

It did not dawn on Conricus to note that, perhaps, his army lost the ‘PR war’ because its brutes shot thousands of unarmed civilians who did nothing, aside from gathering at the border demanding an end to their perpetual siege; or that, just maybe, the PR war was lost because Israel’s top leaders announced proudly that Gazans are fair game, since, according to Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “there are no innocents in Gaza.’

Ivanka will go down in Israel’s history as a hero. But Palestinian Resistance is not fueled or subdued by Ivanka, but by the sacrifices of the Palestinians themselves, and by the blood of Laila al-Ghandour, who was denied even a celebration of her first birthday on God’s besieged earth.

The US government has decisively and blatantly moved to the wrong side of history. As their officials attended parties, galas and celebrations of the Embassy move, whether in Israel or in Washington and elsewhere, Palestinians dug 60 more graves and held 60 more funerals.

The world watched in horror, and even western media failed to hide the full ugly truth from its readers. The two acts – of lavish parties and heartbreaking burials – were beamed all over the world, and the already struggling American reputation sank deeper and deeper.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have thought he had won. Comforted by his right wing government and society on the one hand, Trump and his angry UN bully, Nikki Haley, on the other, he feels invulnerable.

But he should rethink his power-driven logic. When Gazan youth stood bare-chested at the border fence, falling one drove after the other, they crossed a fear barrier that no generation of Palestinians has ever crossed. And when people are unafraid, they can never be subdued or defeated.

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

Western Leaders Betrayed Palestinians 70 Years Ago; there is no sign that’s about to change

On Tuesday, Palestinians will commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, their mass expulsion and dispossession 70 years ago as the new state of Israel was built on the ruins of their homeland. As a result, most Palestinians were turned into refugees, denied by Israel the right to return to their homes.

Israel is braced nervously for many tens of thousands to turn out in the occupied territories this week to protest against decades of its refusal to make amends or end its oppressive rule.

The move on Monday of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a city under belligerent occupation, has only inflamed Palestinian grievances – and a sense that the West is still conspiring in their dispossession.

The expected focus of the protests is Gaza, where unarmed Palestinians have been massing every Friday since late March at the perimeter fence that encages two million of them.

For their troubles, they have faced a hail of live ammunition, rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas. Dozens have been killed and many hundreds more maimed, including children.

But for more than a month, Israel has been working to manage western perceptions of the protests in ways designed to discredit the outpouring of anger from Palestinians. In a message all too readily accepted by some western audiences, Israel has presented the protests as a “security threat”.

Israeli officials have even argued before the country’s high court that the protesters lack any rights – that army snipers are entitled to shoot them, even if facing no danger – because Israel is supposedly in a “state of war” with Gaza, defending itself.

Many Americans and Europeans, worried about an influx of “economic migrants” flooding into their own countries, readily sympathise with Israel’s concerns – and its actions.

Until now, the vast majority of Gaza’s protesters have been peaceful and made no attempt to break through the fence.

But Israel claims that Hamas will exploit this week’s protests in Gaza to encourage Palestinians to storm the fence. The implication is that the protesters will be crossing a “border” and “entering” Israel illegally.

The truth is rather different. There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives. In Gaza, even the air and sea are Israel’s domain.

Meanwhile, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former lands – now in Israel – is recognised in international law.

Nonetheless, Israel has been crafting a dishonest counter-narrative ever since the Nakba, myths that historians scouring the archives have slowly exploded.

One claim – that Arab leaders told the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to flee in 1948 – was, in fact, invented by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. He hoped it would deflect US pressure on Israel to honour its obligations to allow the refugees back.

Even had the refugees chosen to leave during the heat of battle, rather than wait to be expelled, it would not have justified denying them a right to return when the fighting finished. It was that refusal that transformed flight into ethnic cleansing.

In another myth unsupported by the records, Ben Gurion is said to have appealed to the refugees to come back.

In truth, Israel defined Palestinians who tried to return to their lands as “infiltrators”. That entitled Israeli security officials to shoot them on sight – in what was effectively execution as a deterrence policy.

Nothing much has changed seven decades on. A majority of Gaza’s population today are descended from refugees driven into the enclave in 1948. They have been penned up like cattle ever since. That is why the Palestinians’ current protests take place under the banner of the March of Return.

For decades, Israel has not only denied Palestinians the prospect of a minimal state. It has carved Palestinian territories into a series of ghettos – and in the case of Gaza, blockaded it for 12 years, choking it into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite this, Israel wants the world to view Gaza as an embryonic Palestinian state, supposedly liberated from occupation in 2005 when it pulled out several thousand Jewish settlers.

Again, this narrative has been crafted only to deceive. Hamas has never been allowed to rule Gaza, any more than Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.

But echoing the events of the Nakba, Israel has cast the protesters as “infiltrators”, a narrative that has left most observers strangely indifferent to the fate of Palestinian youth demonstrating for their freedom.

Once again, these executions, supposedly carried out by the Israeli army in self-defence, are intended to dissuade Palestinians from demanding their rights.

Israel is not defending its borders but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege.

In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.

For many years, world heads of state have castigated Palestinians for using violence and lambasted Hamas for firing rockets out of Gaza.

But now that young Palestinians prefer to take up mass civil disobedience, their plight is barely attracting attention, let alone sympathy. Instead, they are criticised for “breaching the border” and threatening Israel’s security.

The only legitimate struggle for Palestinians, it seems, is keeping quiet, allowing their lands to be plundered and their children to be starved.

Western leaders and the public betrayed the Palestinians in 1948. There is no sign, 70 years on, that the West is about to change its ways.

• First published in the National Abu Dhabi

Eclipsing Factionalism: The Missing Story from the Gaza Protests

The Gaza border protests must be understood in the context of the Israeli Occupation, the siege and the long-delayed ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees. However, they should also be appreciated in a parallel context: Palestine’s own factionalism and infighting.

Factionalism in Palestinian society is a deep-rooted ailment that has, for decades, thwarted any unified effort at ending the Israeli military Occupation and Apartheid.

The Fatah and Hamas political rivalry has been catastrophic, for it takes place at a time that the Israel colonial project and land theft in the West Bank are occurring at an accelerated rate.

In Gaza, the siege continues to be as suffocating and deadly. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with regional neglect and a prolonged feud between factions have all served to drive Gazans to the brink of starvation and political despair.

The mass protests in Gaza, which began on March 30 and are expected to end on May 15 are the people’s response to this despondent reality. It is not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The protests are also about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

Inexcusable actions become tolerable with the passing of time. So has been the case with Israel’s Occupation that, year after year, swallows up more Palestinian land. Today, the Occupation is, more or less, the status quo.

The Palestinian leadership suffers the same imprisonment as its people, and geographic and ideological differences have compromised the integrity of Fatah as much as Hamas, deeming them irrelevant at home and on the world stage.

But never before has this internal division been weaponized so effectively so as to delegitimize an entire people’s claim for basic human rights. ‘The Palestinians are divided, so they must stay imprisoned.’

The strong bond between US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is being accompanied by a political discourse that has no sympathy for Palestinians whatsoever. According to this narrative, even families protesting peacefully at the Gaza the border is termed as a ‘state of war’, as the Israeli army declared in a recent statement.

Commenting on the Israeli killing of scores and wounding of hundreds in Gaza, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, repeated a familiar mantra while on a visit to the region: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Thus, Palestinians are now trapped – West Bankers are under Occupation, surrounded by walls, checkpoints and Jewish settlements, while Gazans are under a hermetic siege that has lasted a decade. Yet, despite this painful reality, Fatah and Hamas seem to have their focus and priorities elsewhere.

Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah dominated Palestinian politics, marginalized its rivals and cracked down on any opposition. While it operated under the Israeli military Occupation in the West Bank, it still thrived financially as billions of dollars of aid money poured in.

More, the PA has used its financial leverage to maintain its control over Palestinians, thus compounding the oppressive Israeli Occupation and various forms of military control.

Since then, money has corrupted the Palestinian cause. ‘Donors’ money’, billions of dollars received by the PA in Ramallah has turned a revolution and a national liberation project into a massive financial racket with many benefactors and beneficiaries. Most Palestinians, however, remain poor. Unemployment today is skyrocketing.

Throughout his conflict with Hamas, Abbas never hesitated to collectively punish Palestinians to score political points. Starting last year, he took a series of punitive financial measures against Gaza, including the suspicious PA payments to Israel for electricity supplies to Gaza, while cutting off salaries to tens of thousands of Gaza’s employees who had continued to receive their paycheck from the West Bank authority.

This tragic political theater has been taking place for over ten years without the parties finding common ground to move beyond their scuffles.

Various attempts at reconciliations were thwarted, if not by the parties themselves, then by external factors. The last of such agreements was signed in Cairo last October. Although initially promising, the agreement soon faltered.

Last March, an apparent assassination attempt to kill PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, had both parties accuse one another of responsibility. Hamas contends that the culprits are PA agents, bent on destroying the unity deal, while Abbas readily accused Hamas of trying to kill the head of his government.

Hamas is desperate for a lifeline to end the siege on Gaza and killing Hamdallah would have been political suicide. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure stands in ruins, thanks to successive Israeli wars that killed thousands. The tight siege is making it impossible for Gaza to be rebuilt, or for the ailing infrastructure to be repaired.

Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians protested at the Gaza border, both Fatah and Hamas offered their own narratives, trying to use the protests to underscore, or hype, their own popularity amongst Palestinians.

Frustrated by the attention the protests have provided Hamas, Fatah attempted to hold counter rallies in support of Abbas throughout the West Bank. The outcome was predictably embarrassing as only small crowds of Fatah loyalists gathered.

Later, Abbas chaired a meeting of the defunct Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah to tout his supposed achievements in the Palestinian national struggle.

The PNC is considered the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Like the PLO, it has been relegated for many years in favor of the Fatah-dominated PA. The PA leader handpicked new members to join the PNC, only to ensure the future of all political institutions conforms to his will.

In the backdrop of such dismaying reality, thousands more continue to flock to the Gaza border.

Palestinians, disenchanted with factional division, are laboring to create a new political space, independent from the whims of factions; because, for them, the real fight is that against Israeli Occupation, for Palestinian freedom and nothing else.

Why Israel Feels Threatened by Popular Resistance in Palestine

Why did Israel kill many unarmed Gaza protesters and wound over 2,000 on Friday, March 30 and on the following days, when they clearly posed no threat to Israeli soldiers?

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers, many of them snipers, were deployed to the deadly buffer zone that the Israeli army has created between besieged Gaza and Israel, as tens of thousands of Palestinian families held mass rallies at the border.

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” tweeted the Israeli army on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

The tweet, which was captured by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, was soon deleted. The Israeli army must have realized that killing children and bragging about it on social media is too cruel, even for them.

Palestinian popular mobilization deeply concerns Israel, partly because it is a PR nightmare. By killing and wounding this number of Palestinians, Israel had hoped that the masses would retreat, the protests would subside and, eventually, end. This was not the case, of course.

But there is more to Israeli fear. The power of the Palestinian people, when united beyond factional allegiances, is immense. It disrupts Israel’s political and military tactics entirely, and places Tel Aviv wholly on the defensive.

Israel killed those Palestinians precisely to avoid this nightmarish scenario. Since the cold-blooded murder of innocent people did not go unnoticed, it is important that we dig deeper into the social and political context that led tens of thousands of Palestinians to camp and rally at the border.

Gaza is being suffocated. Israel’s decade-long blockade, combined with Arab neglect and a prolonged feud between Palestinian factions, have all served to drive Palestinians to the brink of starvation and political despair. Something has to give.

Last week’s act of mass mobilization was not just about underscoring the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees (as enshrined in international law), nor about commemorating Land Day, an event that has united all Palestinians since the bloody protests of 1976. The protest was about reclaiming the agenda, transcending political infighting and giving voice back to the people.

There are many historical similarities between this act of mobilization and the context that preceded the First Intifada (or ‘uprising’) of 1987. At the time, Arab governments in the region had relegated the Palestinian cause to the status of ‘someone else’s problem’. By the end of 1982, having already been exiled to Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) along with thousands of Palestinian fighters, were pushed even further away to Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. This geographic isolation left the traditional leadership of Palestine irrelevant to what was happening on the ground.

In that moment of utter hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987, people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets, in a largely non-violent mobilization that lasted over six years, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.

Today, the Palestinian leadership is in a similar state of increasing irrelevance. Isolated, again, by geography (Fatah holding the West Bank, Hamas Gaza), but also by ideological division.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is rapidly losing its credibility among Palestinians, thanks to long-standing accusations of corruption, with calls for the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign (his mandate having technically expired in 2009). Last December, US President Donald Trump compounded the isolation of the PA, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance of international law and UN consensus. Many see this act as the precursor designed to further marginalize the PA.

Hamas – originally a grassroots movement born out of the refugee camps in Gaza during the First Intifada – is now similarly weakened by political isolation.

Recently, there seemed to be a ray of hope. After several failed initiatives towards reconciliation with Fatah, a deal was signed between both rival parties in Cairo last October.

Alas, like previous attempts, it began to falter almost immediately. The first hurdle came on March 13, when the convoy of PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. Hamdallah was en-route to Gaza through an Israeli border crossing. The PA quickly blamed Hamas for the attack which the latter vehemently denied. Palestinian politics went back to square one.

But then, last week happened. As thousands of Palestinians walked peacefully into the deadly ‘buffer zone’ along the Gaza border into the sights of Israeli snipers, their intention was clear: to be seen by the world as ordinary citizens, to show themselves as ordinary human beings, people who, until now, have been made invisible behind the politicians.

Gazans pitched tents, socialized and waved Palestinian flags – not the banners of the various factions. Families gathered, children played, even circus clowns entertained. It was a rare moment of unity.

The Israeli army’s response, using the latest technology in exploding bullets, was predictable. By shooting dead 15 unarmed protesters and wounding 773 people on the first day alone, the aim was to discipline the Palestinians.

Condemnations of this massacre flooded in from respected figures around the world, like Pope Francis and Human Rights Watch.  This glimmer of attention may have provided Palestinians with an opportunity to elevate the injustice of the siege up the global political agenda, but is, sadly, of little consolation to the families of the dead.

Aware of the international spotlight, Fatah immediately took credit for this spontaneous act of popular resistance. Deputy Chairman, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, said that the protesters mobilized to support the PA “in the face of pressure and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” undoubtedly referring to Trump’s strategy of isolation towards the Fatah-dominated PA.

But this is not the reality. This is about the people finding expression outside the confines of factional interests; a new strategy. This time, the world must listen.

The Last “Peace Process” Warrior: Abbas Hanging by a Thread

The ‘deal of the century’ is a farce. We suspected that, of course, but, upon his return from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, revealed in more detail why the long-anticipated plan of the administration of US President Donald Trump has no basis in reality.

Netanyahu told his cabinet that there are “no concrete details” to report on the US peace plan. One has to suspect that the ‘plan’ was, all along, the US disavowal of the so-called peace process and the dropping of the ‘honest peace broker’ act.

In fact, that much has been achieved, especially with the US decision last December to accept Israel’s illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem and agreement to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, Israel has initiated a clear strategy to annexing the West Bank. Its top officials are contending that the ‘two-state solution’ is not even deserving of a conversation.

“We are done with that,” said Israel’s Education Minister, in recent remarks to students in New York. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas was, thus, left with the inviable position. It is lashing out left and right, convulsing like a wounded animal.

It is hard to imagine that, at the moment, Abbas is orbiting within a grand strategy of any kind. Random statements, attacks on his Palestinian rivals, the Israelis and the Americans – mostly for betraying him – is all that seems to keep his name in the news.

“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to the Palestinian leader, in response to Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem.

That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardently right wing and pro-Israel US Ambassador to Israel, as “son of a bitch.”

Friedman is an avid supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements, but name calling is not a promising sign of a constructive Palestinian strategy.

Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time and much land, while leaving Abbas with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy.

Abbas is not necessarily angry because the US has betrayed its role in the ‘peace process.’ He is angry because he has, for years, perceived himself as a member in the American camp of ‘moderates’ in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters not. The US government is notorious for betraying its allies.

The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas to play. They renounced him, just like that, and carried on to imagine a ‘solution’ in Palestine that only serves the interests of Israel.

A recent meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis. No Palestinian was involved in the conference.

Since Abbas has hung all his hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. The Europeans neither have the will, desire nor political clout to replace the US. They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible, for any European government to replace the US as the new ‘honest peace broker.’

Abbas’ popularity – and that of his Authority – among Palestinians is negligible. In fact, 70 percent of Palestinians want him to step down immediately. That was according to a poll conducted last December. Yet, at 83 and suffering from ill health, Abbas is still holding on tightly to his chair.

It may appear that, during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to other Palestinian factions. However, the opposite is true. Abbas is accusing his main rival, Hamas, of an assassination attempt targeting PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

After a promising agreement, signed in Cairo between Fatah – Abbas’ party – and Hamas, all hopes have been dashed once more. In a joint conference with visiting Bulgarian President, Rumen Radey, in Ramallah, Abbas proclaimed “The Gaza Strip has been hijacked by Hamas.”

“They must immediately hand over everything, first and foremost security, to the Palestinian national consensus government,” he said.

What ‘national consensus government’ is Abbas referring to, anyway? There have been no general elections since Hamas won the parliamentary majority in 2006. Abbas himself rules on an expired mandate. As of January 9, 2009, Abbas lost his democratic legitimacy.

Oddly, it is the conflict between him and Hamas that is allowing both sides to impose themselves on the Palestinian public – which is left disenchanted, practically leaderless and facing the brunt of Occupation and apartheid on its own.

Instead of mending fences with the Palestinian people, Abbas continues with his political one-man show, encouraged by his enablers in the PA, who are equally responsible for the havoc wreaked by the US and Israeli governments.

Still, the Palestinian leadership (whether in the PA or the PLO) continues with its desperate attempts to resuscitate the ‘peace process’, lonely warriors in a political illusion that has been abandoned even by its own masters.

For Abbas and the PA, participating in the US-led project was the last bridge they wished not to burn. Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy signaled that the last bridge was, indeed, up in flames, but Abbas is yet to be convinced of this obvious reality.

From American and Israeli viewpoints, the ‘peace process’ could be considered a success. It allowed the US to define the political agenda in the Middle East and for Israel to shape the physical reality of the Occupied Territories in any way it found suitable.

The Palestinian leadership has emerged as the biggest loser. It first sat at the ‘negotiation table’ to talk of borders, refugees, water, territories and Jerusalem, only to be left with nothing at the end.

It has lost both credibility and legitimacy. The space in which it was permitted to negotiate withered year after year.

Now, the Palestinian people must reflect on this current harsh reality, but also hope for a new beginning predicated on unity, the re-articulating of national priorities, and a new strategy.

Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?

On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Hamdallah was visiting Gaza, through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a perpetual Israeli siege since 2006.

The Prime Minister’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah – led by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank – and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh, in Gaza.

Although reconciliation efforts have, for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups led to a breakthrough in Cairo last October. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) institutions.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program.

And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.

But who is Rami Hamdallah?

Hamdallah, 60, was chosen by Abbas to serve in the current post in June 2013, despite the fact that he was not a member of Fatah. He took over from Salaam Fayyad who served for six years, focusing mostly on state-building in a region that is still militarily occupied by a foreign power.

Hamdallah, though not a particularity controversial figure, has been a follower of Abbas and committed to his agenda. He is a political moderate by Palestinian standards, and it was through his strong ties with powerful Fatah figures like Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Tawfik Tirawi – who served under late PA leader, Yasser Arafat, and Abbas respectively – that allowed him to claim the post and keep it for nearly five years.

Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”

Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans, and all Palestinians, that respite is on the way.

Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit.

Abbas’ party, too, moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas, 83, has opened up intense rivalry among those who want to succeed the aging leader.

Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who was shunned by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power.

The United States and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the current status quo as long as possible.

Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies, per se, but for what he represents, as the moderate leader capable of achieving a long term understanding with Hamas.

Killing Hamdallah also means ending or, at least, obstructing the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.

Hamas’ main enemy in Gaza are the Salafi Jihadist groups who are unhappy with Hamas’ politics and what they see as a too moderate style of Islamic governance.

Of course, there are those in Fatah, including Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations, but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion.

It would make no sense for Hamas to kill Hamdallah. The group has worked tirelessly to engage the PA, as life in Gaza has become truly unlivable.  Their leadership and reputation has suffered as a result of the failed efforts to end the siege.

Moreover, as Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”

Hamas, in turn, accused the Israel intelligence of the assassination attempt. The group’s spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, claimed that “same hands” that gunned down Mazen Fakha in March 2017 and Tawfiq Abu Naim in October are behind the attempt on Hamdallah’s life. He was referring to Israel, of course.

The timing of the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy was quite interesting as well, as it came barely a few hours after a meeting at the White House regarding Gaza. The meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis.

“The Palestinian Authority, furious over the Trump administration’s actions in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, and cutting aid for Palestinian refugees, refused to attend,” reported the New York Times.

One, however, should not undermine the seriousness of the remaining disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.

Perhaps the main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

But these disagreements are hardly strong enough reason to kill Hamdallah, the last hope for an end to the rift and easing the blockade on Gaza.

Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’”

While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.

Israeli Parliament Endorses Final Version of “Jewish Nation-State Bill”

After seven years of delays, the Israeli governing parties have agreed the final terms of controversial new legislation that would define Israel exclusively as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

The bill is now expected to be fast-tracked through the Israeli parliament and on to the statute books in the coming weeks.

Approval by the parliament’s justice committee this week of the Basic Law, which carries much greater weight than normal legislation, marks a dangerous turning-point for Palestinians, according to analysts.

Amir Ohana, the committee’s chair, called it the “law of all laws”, while a government minister termed it “Zionism’s flagship bill”.

It effectively blocks any chance for Israel’s large Palestinian minority – one in five of the population – to reform Israel in the future into a normal, Western-style democracy.

In the words of one of the handful of Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament, Aida Touma-Suleiman, the bill “institutionalises an apartheid regime in the most blatant way”.

But equally significantly, and largely unnoticed, the Basic Law paves the way for Israel’s right-wing government to consolidate and expand the annexation of Palestinian lands under occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – and stymie any legal moves intended to prevent such efforts.

Arabic demoted

The weight of expectations on the new bill is part of the reason it has undergone such a lengthy
process of redrafting since a first version was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The proposed Basic Law has attracted scrutiny chiefly for the unconcealed nature of its anti-democratic provisions.

The final version approved this week demotes the status of Arabic – the mother tongue of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens – so that it is no longer an official language alongside Hebrew.

It also promotes Jewish communities that strictly enforce rules to exclude Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens. It reiterates Israel’s mission to “ingather the exiles”, restricting immigration to Jews only, and prioritises the rights of Jews abroad over those of the country’s Palestinian minority.

Most significant of all, it dispenses with any “democratic” component in Israel’s self-definition. Israel’s “Jewishness” is made paramount.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who maintains close ties to Netanyahu, observed of the bill: “It will bring order, clarify what is taken for granted and put Israel back on the right path. A country that is different from all others in one way – that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Court challenges

As Levin suggests, while there is little ostensibly new in the bill, it “clarifies” and shores up Israel’s current anomalous political makeup.

The Arabic language is already invisible in most public spaces in Israel. Some 93 percent of Israel’s land is already reserved exclusively for the Jewish people around the world, not Israel’s citizens. The Law of Return already allows only Jews to immigrate.

And many critics, including Israeli scholars, argue it is impossible for Israel to be both “Jewish and democratic” – any more than it could be “white and democratic” or “Christian and democratic”. They describe Israel as a non-democratic type of state known as an “ethnocracy”.

So why go to such trouble to legislate the current bill when it changes so little?

There are several urgent impulses behind the Basic Law.

In part, it is the right’s response to a series of embarrassing legal and political challenges that have needed to be faced down since Israel passed a Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity in 1992.

After the law defined Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, legal rights groups initiated challenges in the courts for Israel to respect equality.

That gradually exposed the unresolvable contradictions between the state’s “Jewish and democratic” claims, according to Ahmad Saadi, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva.

Jewish-only communities

The first major crisis arrived at the Israeli supreme court in 2000, when a Palestinian citizen, Adel Kaadan, sued to be allowed to live in one of Israel’s 700 exclusively Jewish communities. Each community had set up a so-called “admissions committee” specifically to block access for Palestinian citizens.

Lawyers argued that, in excluding 20 percent of its population from almost all land in Israel, the state was enforcing residential apartheid.

The judges agonised over the case for years. In 2011, Netanyahu’s government finally took the court off this hook by giving the committees a statutory basis.

But the reverberations are still being felt. Last month, the far-right justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, cited the Kaadan case as a reason for the nation-state Basic Law, saying: “It’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish.

“There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights,” she added.

Demand for reform

Political challenges have compounded the legal ones. In 2006, Palestinian leaders in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, demanding that Israel reform from being a Jewish state into a civic democracy. They urged that Israel become a “consensual democracy”, where all citizens had equal rights.

In a highly unusual move, the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police agency, responded in public. They called the document “subversive” and warned they would “thwart” any activity, even if legal, to promote its aims.

Since then, the figurehead of the democratisation campaign, Azmi Bishara, has been forced into exile, accused of treason.

Israel has also passed a series of measures to weaken the standing of Palestinian politicians in parliament, including an Expulsion Law that allows Jewish legislators to oust Palestinian colleagues.

Saadi, the professor, told Al Jazeera: “The Israeli right understands the international political climate and believes it is far more conducive to violations of human rights and overt racism than it was a decade ago.

“It senses the direction the wind is now blowing.”

Judges’ hands to be tied

Additionally, Shaked, the justice minster, has linked the Jewish Nation-State Bill to revisions she is making to another constitutional-type Basic Law, one dealing with legislation.

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, pointed out this would allow the governing coalition to reverse any ruling by the Israeli supreme court against a piece of legislation, even if it violated human rights. The court’s powers of judicial review would be voided.

“This legislation will tie the judges’ hands,” Farah told Al Jazeera. “They won’t be able to intervene in government decisions.”

In a Facebook post, Shaked said she was undoing the “constitutional revolution” instituted by the 1992 Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity – or in her words, “realigning the train track that was twisted a quarter-century ago”.

She added: “In the past 20 years court rulings have sharpened the universal values more than the state’s Jewish character.”

Tailwind from Trump

Which alludes to a likely second ambition for the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law. The restraining hand of the supreme court will be lifted just as the Israeli right enjoys the tailwind of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Farah noted Israel has still not decided on its territorial limits.

“Israel refuses to define its borders and then states through this Basic Law that only the Jewish people have a ‘unique right to self-determination’ in the region,” he said.

That could open the door to Israel consolidating its hold on occupied East Jerusalem and accelerating a policy of creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Trump is preparing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting in Israel’s favour one of the traditional final-status issues that were supposed to be settled in peace talks with the Palestinians.

At the same time, Israel is drafting legislation that would strip tens of thousands of Palestinians of their residency rights in East Jerusalem, while annexing parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem to skew the city’s demography towards a solid Jewish majority.

In the words of Nir Hasson, a veteran Israeli reporter on Jerusalem: “The Israeli political system has already understood that Jerusalem is an anomaly that has to be solved.” It intends, therefore, to provide a solution that refuses to “recognise the place of the Palestinians in the city”.

Proving Hasson’s point, the parliament passed last week a law empowering the government to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Precondition for talks

These violations of human rights and international law would be hard for the supreme court to stomach.

But if the Israeli government carries on its current path, the courts will soon have no say on such matters, observed Farah.

The new Jewish Nation-State Basic Law may offer other advantages, Saadi pointed out.

Netanyahu has been trying to impose a precondition on peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian leader first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In recent years, Washington has sounded as if it accepts this idea.

By stripping Israel of even a pretension towards democratic principles, Netanyahu would place Abbas in an impossible position.

The new Basic Law includes all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in the region. No Palestinian leader could contemplate recognising a “Jewish state” defined this way.

“Neither Israel nor the US wants negotiations. They are interested only in the Palestinians submitting,” said Saadi.

Netanyahu and his allies on the right may hope to take advantage of Washington and European capitals’ blind acceptance of Israel on its own terms as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Will they notice that through this latest piece of legislation Israel has quietly dropped the claim that a Jewish state even aspires to be “democratic”?

• First published in Al Jazeera

Ahed’s Generation: Why the Youth in Palestine Must Break Free from Dual Oppression

As global voices continue to demand the freedom of 17-year-old teenage Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, Israeli authorities have arrested nine additional members of her family.

Those who were detained on February 26 include Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi.

Israeli troops had shot Mohammed in the head last December, shattering his skull. The teenager, who is awaiting reconstruction surgery, is unlikely to receive proper medical care in Israeli prisons.

Ahed’s crime was that she slapped an Israeli soldier in a video that, since then, went viral, shortly after her cousin was shot. He was then placed in a medically-induced coma.

The Israeli soldier who shot Mohammed did not receive even a reprimand for shooting-to-kill an unarmed boy.

The Israeli military provided an outrageous explanation of why the Tamimi family members, all hailing from the small village of Nabi Saleh, were detained in a pre-dawn army raid.

“The detainees are suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, popular terror and violent disturbances against civilians and security forces,” the Israeli military spokesperson said.

By ‘popular terror’, the statement was referring to the recurring protests led by the 500 residents of Nabi Saleh against the illegal settlements and Apartheid Wall. These protests have been a staple in the everyday life of the village for nearly 12 years.

Anywhere between 600,000 and 750,000 illegal Jewish settlers live in settlements placed strategically throughout the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are a glaring violation of international law.

Aside from the massive Israeli army build-up in the Occupied Territories, the armed settlers have been a major source of violence against Palestinians.

Ahed and Mohammed Tamimi, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children and teenagers, were born into this violent reality, and feel trapped.

Their collective imprisonment is not only as a result of the perpetual military occupation of their land by Israel, but also by the fact that their leadership has operated for many years in a self-centered fashion, orbiting far away from Nabi Saleh and its tiny, struggling but brave population.

Nabi Saleh is relatively a short distance away, northwest of Ramallah, the political base of the Palestinian Authority (PA); but in some way, both places are a world apart.

The PA was formed in 1994, as one of the outcomes of the Oslo Accords, which was initially reached and signed in secret by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.

Most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories matured politically or were even born after the advent of the PA. They have no other frame of reference but Israel and the Ramallah-based authority.

The latter has grown comfortable by its wealth and status and, with time, evolved into a culture of its own. It is no longer a democratic institution, and definitely does not represent all Palestinians.

Thus, Palestinian reality is now shaped by three forces: the domineering Israeli occupation, the subservient and self-centered PA and the indignant and leaderless Palestinian youth, which is held captive in dual bondage.

This is why Ahed’s slapping of the Israeli soldier resonated throughout Palestine, and among Palestinians across the world. It was a symbol of defiance that, despite the twofold oppression, Palestine’s youth still have the power to articulate an identity, one that is, perhaps, captive but nonetheless resilient.

Although Mohammed’s skull is crushed, he continued to speak out as soon as left the hospital. The spirit of the Palestinian people is clearly not broken, and Palestine’s youth are the only way out of the double-walled cage.

Alas, the mission of this generation of young Palestinians is even harder than previous generations, especially Palestinian youth that led and sustained a 7-year-long uprising, the Intifada of 1987 – also known as the Intifada of the Stones.

That generation resurrected the Palestinian cause as they daringly organized their communities, mobilizing all efforts to challenge the Israeli occupation. Thousands were killed and wounded at the time, but an empowered Palestinian nation arose in response.

The Palestinian leadership used the Intifada to reinvent itself. It exploited the attention young Palestinians had garnered to negotiate Oslo, which ultimately gave some Palestinians special status and denied the rest any rights or freedoms.

The PA, led by aging President Mahmoud Abbas, understands well that if the youth are to be given the chance to mobilize, another Intifada would dismantle his entire leadership, possibly in a matter of days.

This is why, no matter how serious the disagreements between Abbas and the Israeli government become, they will always stay united against any possibility of a popular Palestinian revolt, led by the youth.

Numerous Palestinians have been arrested, imprisoned or tortured by Palestinian police in the years that followed the formation of the PA. The latter did so in the name of ‘national interest’ while, in reality, it was done in the name of Israeli security.

Indeed, Oslo has allowed both Israel and the PA to maintain ‘security coordination‘ in the West Bank. This has mostly been used to keep the illegal settlements safe and to prevent Palestinian youth from confronting the Israeli army.

Such a practice has meant that the PA became a first line of defense against rebelling Palestinians.

While Palestinian officials continue to pay lip service to Ahed Tamimi and thousands of young Palestinians who continue to endure imprisonment and ill treatment by Israel, in truth, Ahed epitomizes the antithesis of everything that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah stands for.

She is strong, morally-driven and defiant; the PA is subservient, morally bankrupt and quisling.

Palestinian youth already understand this, and it is mostly up to them to free themselves from the confines of military occupation and corruption.

In his seminal book, The Wretched of the Earth, anti-colonial author and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon wrote, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

Ahed and Mohammed Tamimi’s generation have already discovered their mission, and it will be them who will continue to fight for its fulfillment – their freedom and the freedom of their homeland.

More Than a Fight over Couscous

As soon as Virgin Atlantic Airlines introduced a couscous-style salad “inspired by the flavours of Palestine”, a controversy ensued. Israel’s supporters ignited a social media storm and sent many complaints to the company, obliging the airline to remove the reference to Palestine.

In the Zionist narrative, Palestine does not exist – nor is it allowed to exist – even if merely as a cultural conception.

The sad irony is that, while Israel appropriated Palestinian-Arabic couscous (the Palestinian dish, in particular, is known as ‘maftoul‘), branding and marketing it in western countries as ‘Israeli couscous’, its supporters go to every extent possible to erase any reference that may validate Palestinian Arab culture, whether Muslim or Christian.

This is an old habit, an endemic practice that dates back to the destruction of nearly 600 Palestinian villages and localities in 1947-48. Palestinians refer to these earth-shattering events as the ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe. Tellingly, Israel outlaws the use of the term or the commemoration of the tragic event in any way.

From claiming Palestinian Arab culinary culture as their own, to ‘Judaized’ Arabic street names to rewriting history, Israel and its supporters are relentless.

Israel fears a Palestinian narrative because the Israeli government understands, and rightly so, that it is the collective Palestinian narrative that has compelled resistance, in all of its forms, for over 70 years.

All attempts have failed, until recently.

The 1993 Oslo Accord is a critical juncture that shattered the cohesiveness of Palestinian discourse and weakened and divided the Palestinian people. However, it is not too late to remedy this through decisive and concentrated efforts that overcome the challenge of a Palestinian political viewpoint beholden to self-seeking political aspirations and competing factions.

In the absence of a Palestinian leadership populated by the Palestinian people themselves, intellectuals must safeguard and present the Palestinian story to the world with authenticity and balance. The clarity and integrity of the Palestinian story has been damaged and divided by Palestinian Authority (PA) tactics which remove Palestinian refugees’ right of return from their political platform.

Essentially, the story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of Resistance, starting with the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian villages. If Palestinians had not resisted, their story would have concluded right there and then and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian Resistance, armed or otherwise, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance, such as a sense of collective empowerment and hope amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes violent resistance as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself”.

And for seven decades, Palestinians have embarked on this journey of the recreation of the “self”. They have resisted, and their resistance in all forms has moulded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that have been erected amongst them.

Relentless resistance, a notion now embodied in the very fabric of Palestinian society, denied the oppressor the opportunity to emasculate Palestinians, or to reduce them to helpless victims and hapless refugees. The collective memory of the Palestinian people must focus on what it means to be Palestinian, defining the Palestinian people, what they stand for as a nation, and why they have resisted for years.

A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is necessary, now more than ever before. The elitist interpretation of Palestine has failed, and is as worthless as the Oslo Accords. It is no more than a tired exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

The peace process is dead, but the Palestinian people are still resisting; unsurprisingly, the people are mightier than a group of self-centred individuals. Grassroots resistance is not constrained by the frivolous politicking of PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, or any other actors.

Abbas and his men have not only muzzled the political will of the Palestinian people and falsely claimed to represent all Palestinians, they have also robbed Palestinians of their narrative, one that actually unites the ‘fellahin’ (peasants) and the refugees, the occupied and the ‘shattat’ (diaspora), into one distinct nation.

It is only when the Palestinian intellectual is able to repossess that collective narrative that the confines placed on the Palestinian voice can be finally broken. Only then can Palestinians truly confront the Israeli Hasbara and US-Western corporate media propaganda and, at long last, speak unhindered.

But there are obstacles, leading amongst them is the ruthless attempt by Zionist historians and institutions to replace the Palestinian historical narrative with their own. The story of the Palestinian cuisine on an airline menu may appear trivial in the greater scheme of things but it is significant, nonetheless.

In the Zionist Israeli narrative, Palestinians, if relevant at all, are depicted as drifting nomads, without a culture or tradition of their own, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a duplicate narrative to the one that defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the resisting natives, always.

From the Zionist point of view, Palestinian existence is an inconvenience that was meant to be only temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their places,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the Palestinian people the role of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic people without caring about the ethical and political implications of such false representations has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective, to be wiped out by those more powerful.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and Palestinian resistance is the unremitting example of the strength and resilience of the Palestinian people. Palestinian culture is rooted, like the olive trees and mountains of Galilee.

Yes, the fight has been an arduous one. Between the rock of Israeli occupation and Hasbara and the hard place of Palestinian leadership acquiescence and failure, Palestine, Palestinians and their story have been trapped and misconstrued.

It is time for us to step up. We, as Palestinian writers, historians and journalists, assume the responsibility of reinterpreting Palestinian history and internalizing and communicating Palestinian voices, so that the rest of the world can, for once, appreciate the story as told by wounded, but tenacious, victors.