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The changing relationship between Palestinians on either side of the wall

Despite physical separation and internal divisions, Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are once again talking about the future of their struggle, and the role that Palestinian citizens of Israel can play.

Palestinians try to climb over the separation wall at the Qalandyia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to attend the last Friday prayers in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque during Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo by Flash90)

Palestinians try to climb over the separation wall at the Qalandyia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to attend the last Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque during Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Friday, July 1, 2016. (Photo by Flash90)

Out of sight from most of the Israeli public, yet under the close watch of the government, an internal debate has been raging within Palestinian society about the devastating effects of the physical separation and internal divisions plaguing Palestinians.

Two recent protests, one in Haifa in solidarity with Gaza and another in Ramallah against the Palestinian Authority’s role in the siege — in which Palestinian citizens of Israel also participated — helped reinvigorated the conversation about the relationship between Palestinians on both sides of the separation wall and the role of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the struggle against the occupation.

Dr. Huneida Ghanem, who runs Madar — The Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies, has been studying this issue for years. In her research, Ghanem, who divides her time between Israel and Ramallah, has found that despite the divisions, most Palestinians agree on several main points: the division between them was forced on them, that it weakens them, and that it allows Israel to more easily control them.

Israeli riot police arrest a protester in downtown Haifa during a demonstration against the mass killings in Gaza, May 19, 2018. (Nadine Nashef)

Israeli riot police arrest a protester in downtown Haifa during a demonstration against the mass killings in Gaza, May 19, 2018. (Nadine Nashef)

The divisions do not begin and end with the wall and the occupation. For years, Fatah and Hamas have been unable to reconcile, despite the pleas of their people. Palestinians inside Israel face divisions of their own, including along religious lines, political disputes, and geographic differences that beget cultural gaps.

All these factors have, over the years, created distinct political, social and economic situations for each community, which has led to different needs and problems that require different approaches and policies. As a result, according to Ghanem, each group has developed its own political program to deal with the occupation.

In the occupied territories, the struggle focuses on establishing a state through both violent and nonviolent means, including popular struggle and the BDS movement. Those in the West Bank focus on settlements and apartheid; in Gaza the focus is on the hardships created by the siege, as well as the violence and destruction wrought by wars with Israel every few years and the rebuilding between the violence.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are fighting for equal citizenship through political parties and extra-parliamentary organizations, focusing mostly on discrimination and racist laws. And outside of Palestine, millions of refugees are struggling for the right to return to their land.

Palestinians march toward the Israeli fence during the Great Return March in central Gaza, May 14, 2018. (Muhammad Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinians march toward the Israeli fence during the Great Return March in central Gaza, May 14, 2018. (Muhammad Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

According to Ghanem, the two intifadas were transformative for Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. During the First Intifada, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the occupied territories protested against the occupation, Palestinians inside Israel held nonviolent demonstrations in solidarity, while demanding equality for all Israeli citizens. The Second Intifada, however, was a turning point: entire Palestinian communities were affected regardless of their geographical location, and Palestinians suddenly felt then that Jaffa’s fate was linked to that of Jerusalem and Jenin.

Arabs or Palestinians?

Despite the physical disconnect and the various divisions, more and more Arabs in Israel are defining themselves as Palestinian. The more Israel insists on using the term “Israeli Arabs” and tries to force an identity upon them, the more pride they show in their national identity. Identity, after all, is part of the struggle.

Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in a Land Day march in the Negev. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)

Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in a Land Day march in the Negev. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)

A year and a half ago, I published a series of video reports on Social TV looking at the history of national identity among Arab citizens of Israel, and specifically how Land Day in 1976 and the events of October 2000 were crucial in pushing them to adopt a Palestinian identity.

One of my interviewees, Dr. Marwan Darweish, a lecturer in Peace Studies at Coventry University in the U.K., explained the phenomenon:

The internal Palestinian divisions, the siege, the settlements, the wall — all of them have created a different situation and divisions among the various groups of Palestinian teenagers. I think this is one of the goals of Israeli policy: that people will call themselves Palestinian, but that there will be internal divisions and differences and to a certain degree conflict between them. Creating different images of one another. How Palestinians from Gaza view Palestinians in Jerusalem or inside Israel. This image, and the creation of different identities in a sense serves the state, the occupation, and Israeli control over the Palestinians.

Activist Qamer Taha said at the time: “There are several studies that show that over the last several years between 30 and 40 percent of teenagers have called themselves ‘Palestinians’ without truly understanding the complexity of the situation.” Taha suggested that the younger generation might be adopting Palestinian identity as a response to the ethnic divisions inside Palestinian society in Israel. Instead of Muslims or Christians, there are simply Palestinians.

Chicken and the egg

Despite the sense of and pride in their Palestinian identity, however, fewer and fewer Palestinian citizens have staged protests in recent years, and in some ways, have become far less politically involved.

“There are several reasons why fewer Palestinians are going out into the streets. One of the main ones is a lack of a clear political vision and strategy,” said Muhammad Younis, an activist who lives in Haifa. (No relation to the author.) Younis is one of the founders of a new movement building support for a single, democratic state in Israel-Palestine on the basis of equality between Arabs and Jews.



“Add to that what is happening in Syria and you’ll feel the collective despair and frustration,” Younis continued. “There is also frustration with our leadership — the Joint List and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. The latter has completely lost the trust of the public.”

“Recent polls show that Palestinian citizens of Israel are focused on the [inter-communal] violence raging in our streets, and rightly so. We are focusing on our immediate problems, so how can we bring out thousands to protest for Gaza? This poses a strategic dilemma: take care of the violence or continue to oppose the occupation, since [the latter] allows and benefits from the violence? It’s a chicken and egg situation. Which came first, violence or the occupation?”

Younis said he believes that Palestinian citizens of Israel are distancing themselves from Palestinians in the West Bank, catalyzed by both the events happening Arab world, as well as the cumulative effect of Israeli hasbara. “Palestinians are looking at the Arab Spring and they say, ‘maybe things are actually good in Israel.’ Some of them are beginning to adopt the deceitful Zionist arguments against the Joint List, that it does nothing to tackle the problems of Arab society inside Israel. This, of course, is happening because of the unbearable violence. A large part of our public is beginning to make a distinction between the occupation and our societal issues, without understanding how the occupation benefits from the latter.”

Palestinians in Ramallah demonstrate against the Palestinian Authority's sanctions on Gaza, June 13, 2018. (ارفعوا العقوبات)

Palestinians in Ramallah demonstrate against the Palestinian Authority’s sanctions on Gaza, June 13, 2018. (ارفعوا العقوبات)

A year and a half ago, I sat in Dr. Ghanem’s office in Ramallah, right as the PA began putting sanctions against the residents of Gaza by stopping to pay for their electricity. “People are terrified,” Ghanem said, explaining why almost nobody was taking to the streets. “It’s not that they like [the PA policies], or that they aren’t hurting. They are hurting and frustrated, yet they do not protest because they see what is happening in Syria. In a way, the lack of opposition to Abbas is akin to accepting the lesser evil.”

Perhaps things are changing anyway. In the past few months there have been high-profile demonstrations in Haifa (despite the relatively low turnout) and Ramallah (despite the fear of protesting the PA). Is it possible that the demonstrators in Ramallah were inspired by those in Haifa and the recent anti-government protests in Jordan? Is the fact that activists from Haifa joined the demonstrations in Ramallah a harbinger of cooperation on both sides of the wall? Could it be that in Ramallah the fears of the Arab Spring are beginning to fade? Time will tell.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Marina

      “Mass killing in Gaza”? By Hamas of course.
      Palestinian citizen of Israel. What’s that?
      Are the writers are Israeli?
      Are the writers are jewish?
      Where did I landed on this page?

      Reply to Comment
    2. fred

      Well, the fact that up until 1964 the term “Palestinian” was used for JEWS that lived in the region shows enough of the propaganda reason for “identity” – there are also several quotes of arab leaders, that acknowledge a.) that there never was “a palestinian people” but that the invention, or rather the snatching of the word from the jews was instrumental to the struggle of kicking the jews out of the place. And b.) that 75% of the AREA, that was once called Palestine is Arab today, i.e. the kingdom of Jordan.
      The author surely omits these facts for the same reason he omits, that every time the Arabs of the region are asked, they state, that they want a state INSTEAD of Israel, not next to it. Also the author chooses not to explain that the hardship in Gaza is SOLELY do to the Hamas, who is using every penny of the billions and billions of money (more than all of Europe got after WW2) to buy weapons instead of building a functioning state. He is also not capable of math: At the founding of Israel, some 750.000 Arabs fled the country, most or them by order of the mufti, (and some 850.000 Jews werde forcefully expelled from all the arab countries around israel) but today, 70 Years later, there are MILLIONS of Refugees? How is that even possible?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        I agree with the other 2 talkbackers.
        The so-called “fakestinyans” are just greedy JORDANIANS trying to claw back the lands they lost in their aggressive 6 day war. My resolution is to REPATRIATE these dogs home. Their relatives in Amman are waiting for them.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          So you’re saying that the West Bank belonged to Jordan and the people who now call themselves Palestinians used to be Jordanians, and then there was a war which Israel won, so Israel gets to keep the land and kick the inhabitants out.

          According to the Geneva Conventions, that’s called a ‘war crime’, and Israel doesn’t get to permanently keep the land. Even if you believe Jordan started the war, the laws of war
          forbid that sort of thing.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            No, kicking your enemy is part of international law.
            The Russians kicked out 12 million Germans out of East Prussia AFTER the German Army surrendered unconditionally in 1945.
            In Algeria, the local arabs kicked out 1 Million ethnic French people in the 1960s.
            In Cyprus in 1974, Greeks and Turks ethnically cleansed each other in a brutal war.

            Whats OK for other nations, will be OK for me too.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            2Lewis From Afula: “Whats OK for other nations, will be OK for me too.”

            I’m actually beginning to agree with you.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            “Whats OK for other nations, will be OK for me too.”

            The Zionist movement didn’t need WWII to contemplate removing non-Jews from the designated future “Jewish” state. This I think you know.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lüko Willms

            When such crimes are OK with you, you will have to suffer the consequences.

            Fact is, that a minority colonial settler regime aint stable and can’t survive.

            South Africa and “Algerie française” show the extremes of possible outcomes (and no, the Algerians did not chase out the French colonizers, but the brutality of the French colonial war was such, that they preferred to get out of harms way).

            It is up to the oppressor to chose the way to dismantle the minority regime, but dismantled will it be.

            And don’t think that you need just to apply more violence, when you find out that violence did not help. History is inexorable.

            Think about the many decades the Vietnamese fought for their independence, and how much they were prepared to suffer for their freedom!

            Reply to Comment
        • Lüko Willms

          These so-called “fakestinyans” are the people the European colonizers claimed to be descendents of, but did want anything to do with them. The “lost son” coming home, but trying to push his family out of the house.

          The 1884/85 Berlin “Congo Conference”, the subsequent “scramble for Africa”, the ease of the genocide of the North American natives, created the illusion that the Europeans could colonize every piece of land beyond the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Ural.

          So they had the dangerous illusion that colonizing over this ages old civilisation, this land worked for thousands of years by an unbroken chain of hundreds of generations of sedentary peasants, this people which had built fortified cities of stone milleniums ago, could as easily be colonized as the stone age Australian Aborigines or the North American natives.

          What a self deception!

          Reply to Comment
      • Lüko Willms

        For centuries, Palestine was just the designation by European Christians for the area in the South of Syria where their religion is supposed to originate from. Then it became the term for those Jews who declared Antisemitism for eternal and who wanted to keep the Jews in a closed off, ghetto-like society, and became a sub current of European colonialism. “Palestine” was their term for the area which they wanted to colonize, but with the inhabitants of that area, from which they supposedly descended, they did not want to have anything to do.

        Next, when the Arab East was conquered by European colonial powers, they — as part of the balkanization of Arabia — marked off a territory as the British colony of “Palestine”, and hence all people pertaining to that territory are Palestinians.

        The majority are Arab Palestinians, but there is also a sizeable minority of Hebrew Palestinians, Moroccan and Yemenite and Iraqi Palestinians (of Jewish faith), Russian Palestinians, Black African Palestinians, what have you…

        Reply to Comment
      • Lüko Willms

        In the mean time I came to the conclusion that Fred writing that in writing »up until 1964 the term “Palestinian” was used for JEWS that lived in the region« he made a typing error and acutually meant 1946, and not 1964. The latter made that sentence looking quite foolish.

        But by stating that, he confirms a European point of view, i.e. not looking at the people who were to be colonized, but as a colonialist whose concept of “Jew” is the exclusively European Jew, part and parcel of European colonialism, and who sees as “Palestinians” those who actually went to South Syria in order to conquer that land as an integral part of European “white” colonialism.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      @Lewis From Afula: “The aggressive 6 day war.”

      Here’s a careful essay from the New Yorker on the “new historians” and what thay have to say about the 67 war and other topics:


      Segev is far from the first historian to argue that the 1967 war resembled less the David-and-Goliath narrative popularized by romantic propagandists than a multi-sided tragic march to folly. Even Michael Oren, a historian well to the political right of Segev, does not fail, in his own valuable book, “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” to account for the mistakes, miscommunications, random events, and lethal vanities on both sides.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        These accounts about the multi-sided march to folly are true. But as well, Israel’s own generals and civilian leadership including Begin admitted they knew Nasser did not want war, was not prepared for war, was not going to invade, and that Israel started the war with territory-grabbing aims (what Lewis calls being greedy) aforethought. We’ve been over this. Lewis depends on forgetfulness and is anyway prone to crude perseveration.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The multi-sided march to folly represents the meaningless tosh written by Ben and Bruce abve. Twisting the cherry-picked, taken out of context, quotes of Israeli observers made years & decades AFTER the war does not constitute a credible form of historical analysis.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: “Twisting the cherry-picked, taken out of context, quotes of Israeli observers made years & decades AFTER the war does not constitute a credible form of historical analysis.”

            Ok, recommend a good historical analysis of the 67 war for us.

            Reply to Comment