Last week Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and a three-year-old child, in protests across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces maimed and wounded 800 additional Palestinians. Yet despite the deaths of these Palestinians, and the others that preceded them this year, talk of a “third intifada” only began in the international media with the killing of four Israeli colonists.
Ignored, of course, are that popular protests against Israel’s occupation have been ongoing throughout Palestine for years. No, for Israelis and for the international media, an uprising only begins when blood is shed, particularly Jewish Israeli blood.
For their part, the Israelis attribute the latest protests to Mahmoud Abbas’s statement before the UN that he was no longer bound by the Oslo Agreements. Following this logic, there is an “off” switch and an “on” switch that Abbas and other Palestinian leaders flick at their whim.
Israeli actions, in this myopic view, are irrelevant: All that matters is that a monolithic population obediently listens to its almighty leader. Obviously, this is far from the case and Israel gives Abbas too much credit: Abbas’s popularity has sunk to such lows that even if he wanted to organise a demonstration, he would fail.
No, Palestinians are not motivated by what their (now unelected) leaders say but rather by what Israel does. And what Israel has done for seven decades should not be taken lightly. Four Palestinian generations have lived under some form of Israeli military rule with no end in sight to its current apartheid incarnation. Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes, confiscates Palestinian lands and builds Israeli-only colonies on Palestinian land while systematically, and blatantly, violating Palestinian human rights.
Nearly 40 per cent of the Palestinian male population has, at some point, been imprisoned by Israel. Our refugee camps — created because of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine — are routinely bombed or besieged. Add to this, Israel’s latest measures to allow access to Israeli Jews who seek the destruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque under the guise of “religious freedom” while Palestinians and Muslims are routinely barred from praying there. And, as all of this takes place, the international community idly sits by. An increasingly apoplectic Palestinian population, groaning under Israel’s military occupation and colonial onslaught, is supposed to accept unquestioningly that the security of Israel, their occupier and oppressor — possessing one the most powerful armed forces in the region — trumps the personal security and freedom of millions of Palestinians.
The reasons for the most recent protests are clear: Palestinians are fed up. Faced with a dysfunctional leadership that evidently lacks any strategy for liberating and uniting the nation, Palestinians are confronting their occupier, oppressor and coloniser directly. Palestinians do not have an army, tanks or any sophisticated weaponry for that matter, so when faced with the choice of living in humility or pressing for freedom — even when freedom comes at a heavy price — the choice is clear.
For its part, Israel is delighted at the prospect of another uprising or intifada; indeed it has pushed for it. Rather than end its military rule and finally allow Palestinians to live in freedom, Israel has accelerated measures to further ensure Palestinian subjugation. This is unsurprising given that more than 90 per cent of the Israeli members of the Knesset do not believe in full equality for Palestinians, and more than half of them do not believe that Palestinians are entitled to any rights whatsoever. And, why should they? The Israeli public has never had to pay a price for its military occupation. It has never been faced with sanctions or expulsions as apartheid South Africa faced. No, it is treated as a “normal” nation at worst, and at best it is afforded superior trade and other statuses by powerful countries such as the United States.
With the defeat of Netanyahu’s recent efforts to push the US into war with Iran, he will continue to press for violence to mask the ongoing, and under his rule, accelerated, colonisation of Palestine. He will use the intifada to further repress Palestinians. Of course a weak, guilt-ridden, international community will willingly shift its attention away from the crimes perpetrated by Israelis to scold the Palestinians for resisting and to lecture about the form that their resistance should take. We hear, and will continue to hear, endless recitals of the utility of non-violent resistance and endless excuses for Israel’s imposition of closures, blockades and, of course, colony expansion.
We Palestinians have been through this many times before and our collective experience has taught us one thing: No country and no international body will liberate Palestine. We will be forced to do it ourselves. And if the world truly believes in Palestinian freedom, this time around it will punish the oppressors for oppressing us; and not the oppressed for choosing freedom over subjugation.
‑Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. You can follow her at twitter.com/@dianabuttu