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Ahead of Nakba Day, Palestinians inspired by Arab Spring

Right from the beginning of the Arab Spring, Palestinians have felt excited about what has being going on in the region. There were celebrations in the street when Tunisia’s Ben Ali fell; and even more when Egypt’s Mubarak was toppled because people here see him as such a good friend to Israel.

At the same time, there is jealousy; even though our major problem is not the Palestinian Authority or even Hamas, it is the occupation. We say that we were the first to launch a popular resistance movement – with the first intifada, in 1987 – but our situation has not moved on much since then.

But the Arab Spring has nonetheless had an effect here. We have become more mobilised, for instance in our calls for unity between Fatah and Hamas. People set up protest tents in Bethlehem and Ramallah and despite the efforts by Hamas and the PA to stop us demonstrating, people still came out on the streets.

Our leaders are worried that the same could happen to them as elsewhere in the Arab world. Last week, an agreement was finally signed between them in Cairo. It is notable that President Abbas saluted the Palestinian demonstrators that pushed the two parties to come together.

And the other effect of the Arab Spring is that it has given a strong impetus to those calling for non-violent resistance in the territories. It has energised and inspired us to direct our resources at the occupation, and most Palestinians now agree that the violence used in the second intifada was not helpful to our cause.

There are tens of places in the West Bank where such peaceful protests are already taking place – like Bilin and Nebi Saleh –and we need to bring more people there and expand to more locations. If there are 100 protesters in each place and 200 Israeli soldiers called in to monitor them every time – then the occupation becomes unsustainable. The protests are against the wall, and against settlement-building, but are all fundamentally against the occupation.

There are two different movements that are calling for protests on May 15. The first is organised by the Palestinian diaspora and calls for a march outside Israel and the territories, making the refugees issue their focal point. The second is in the West Bank and Gaza.

The two movements are not connected and to my knowledge there is almost no coordination or communication between them. In the territories, the goal is to mobilise and call for a new “white” intifada, a non-violent one. Palestinians citizens of Israel will join in, I hope, and it will be peaceful. Although there have been some voices calling for violence, we need to avoid this.

Jewish-Israeli activists should be apart of this too. They already are in some ongoing protests and this strengthens us and means there are fewer casualties, because the Israeli army uses less deadly force when Jewish-Israeli activists are involved in protests.

But we need more to join us – not that many are yet involved. It has been proven that peaceful methods in resisting the occupation will energise more Jewish-Israeli activists to join.

Israeli activists marching in West Jerusalem toward Sheikh Jarrah, December 2009. (photo: Flickr/lisang)

Ironically, the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas might hurt the idea of a new and peaceful uprising. Now, their strategy is to focus on international diplomacy and to lobby for the recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations this September. They fear popular movements may take attention away from their own efforts.

However, it is important that both the grassroots movement and the political actors coordinate with each other. A mass peaceful movement in Palestine could be very helpful to the politicians in pursuing a diplomatic solution.

There is no central leadership for this movement, which is both a positive and a negative. And the rebirth of the Palestinian peace movement is in its infancy and therefore not very organised which makes it hard to tell what the result will be. There might be a million people out on the streets on May 15; there might be 5,000. But the call is out there.

This article/interview was first published by the Institute for Peace and War Reporting

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    1. max

      Aziz, thanks for your post.
      You write “They fear popular movements may take attention away from their own efforts” – can you explain?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Sylvia

      I have been following this since March 6. It’s a Jihad that will start out as a civilian peaceful mass demonstration but will morph into violent one (where the IDF will be at fault of course)when the peaceful demonstrators run for the borders on Sunday and the soldiers will be left no choice but fire.

      It is an Islamic Intifada conceived and planned by Islamists which will begin organizing in the mosques on Friday with organized long-planned support all over the world on Sunday. The schedules with meeting places and times of meeting were out already two months ago.
      The way it is being described
      الزحف لتحرير فلسطينا-لانتفاظه الاسلاميه الكبرى

      is inconsistent with the claims of peaceful demonstration.

      Abbas knew all about it and it was the condition sine qua non for Hamas to agree to unity.

      Reply to Comment
    3. SINJIM

      @Sylvia: 1) You’re a conspiracy nut. Like Orly Taitz nutty.
      2) Whoever wrote that Arabic text wasn’t an Arab. The clear errors in basic grammar and spelling makes that more than clear. In fact, the errors seem to reflect a knowledge of Hebrew grammar. Strange…

      Reply to Comment
    4. Abban Aziz

      Aziz Abu Sarah divides his time between D.C and Jerusalem. Obviously, in the event of a war, he will be writing angry letters at a peaceful distance in the United States – not the frontlines.

      These “protests” are designed to distract from the real self-made problems created by the Palestinian government and their supporters. But rather then looking to reform, they turn to protest, rock throwing, violence, blah blah blah.

      Two intifadas and 10,000 dead Arabs and you think another one is going to somehow win the affect of the UN?

      You guys are becoming a parasite on the international community. Millions starve in Africa and get jack squat because the Arab League hijacks the UN and uses it as a platform for their Palestinian lightening rod.

      It’s time for the darlings of the left to move on and become independent. Get jobs, get off international welfare.

      Only then the “occupation” will end. But so will the conflict with Israel, which it seems many activist’s lives are dependent on.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Abban,
      I think you making too many assumptions. I don’t sit in the U.S to write angry letters while people dying here. I was in Jerusalem in both the first and the second Intifadas and I plan to be here in May and June. My whole family live here. And as someone who lost a brother and few cousins to this conflict, I understand the price very well. I think you got it wrong on the International community and the U.N. If anything it is the U.N that has failed the Palestinian people. WE DONT WANT MONEY, WE WANT FREEDOM. Our fight is not about aid but about dignity.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Max,
      The P.A and Hamas like many other political groups think that grassroots not controlled by them can hurt their efforts. They have little faith in peoples actions and therefore it is not part of their strategy. I think it is a mistake. The P.A should actively support nonviolence actions. They also worried that some of these protests could turn violent or Israeli response could cause an escalation which could hurt the November prospect.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Abban Aziz

      “If anything it is the U.N that has failed the Palestinian people. WE DONT WANT MONEY, WE WANT FREEDOM. Our fight is not about aid but about dignity.”

      Freedom from what? The UN has certainly failed the Palestinian people – they continue to classify decedents of a war fought 60 years ago as “refugees” – while the Palestinian Authority is not expected to spend a single dollar on Palestinian civil services.

      Most of the money they get goes to their 120,000+ strong squad of over-paid thugs.

      They feed the foreigners with B.S about “freedom” and “independence but it is all a scam to get more aid.

      The Palestinian leadership is richer than the Queen of England. The Palestinians receive more aid than Somalia, Sudan, and Congo COMBINED.

      40% of Palestinian refugees are citizens of Jordan – so how can they still be refugees?


      “The P.A should actively support nonviolence actions. They also worried that some of these protests could turn violent or Israeli response could cause an escalation which could hurt the November prospect.”

      The PA continues to undermine agreements Israel signed in good faith. If the Palestinians want freedom then they should start demanding normalized relations with Israel, rather than pandering to their benefactors in Europe, Arab states, and obviously America that love to see them displaced and fighting Israel.

      What a great distraction. Imagine if the millions of refugees displaced by Muslim states receive the attention the Palestinians receive.

      BTW, great job at not responding to the content of my post. Really, way to go with the rhetoric.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sylvia

      I know this will come to you as a shock, but not all Arabs or all Muslims are Arabic grammarians.

      No one said anything about a March 15 movement. I said and meant March 6, the day of the launching of the Intifada al-Islamiyya al-Falastiniyya a-thalita and other matters.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sylvia

      Abban Aziz
      “Freedom from what?”
      Now one thing is to strongly disagree with methods which just worsen the conflict and are intended to destroy Israel, another is to live in denial. Do we really really need to be in Bil’in and Abu Saleh?! Why?

      Reply to Comment