In his seminal book, The Wretched of the Earth, anti-colonial author and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon, wrote, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
The current generation of Palestinians are embarking on the task of discovering and fulfilling their mission. But the job ahead will not be easy.
The arrest and prolonged detention of Palestinian teen, Ahed Tamimi, starting December 19 highlights the nature of the challenge facing Palestine’s budding generation. They are faced with a brutal Israeli military regime and a self-serving Palestinian leadership.
On March 21, Ahed’s lawyer reached a plea-bargain agreement, the terms of which state that she is expected to serve 8 months in Israeli military prison before being set free. She has served nearly 4 months of her sentence already. Youth are often encouraged by their lawyers to sign such agreements simply because the conviction rate of young Palestinians in Israeli military courts is extremely high.
Ahed was detained, alongside her mother, for slapping an Israeli soldier, an act that was filmed and went viral on social media. Nine other members of her family were detained in February, including Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin, Mohammad who was shot in the head by Israeli police, at close range. Ahed’s famous slap was largely out of anger for Mohammad being shot only a day earlier. His skull was shattered and he was later detained while awaiting reconstruction surgery.
The Israeli soldier who shot Mohammad was not even reprimanded for his actions. The Israeli military provided an outrageous explanation for detaining the Tamimi family members, all hailing from the small village of Nabi Saleh, in a predawn 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.
‘Popular terror’ referred to the recurring protests led by the 500 residents of Nabi Saleh against the illegal colonies 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 colonists live in colonies placed strategically throughout the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem — a glaring violation of international law. Aside from the massive Israeli army build-up in the Occupied Territories, these armed colonists have been a major source of violence against Palestinians.
Ahed and Mohammad Tamimi, along with thousands of Palestinian children and teenagers, were born into this violent reality, and feel trapped, violated and frustrated.
Their collective imprisonment is not only as a result of the perpetual military occupation of their land by Israel, but also of their ineffective leadership which has pursue self-interests for many years, orbiting far away from Nabi Saleh and its small but resilient populace.
The village is a short distance, northwest of Ramallah — the political base of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) — but in some ways, both places are a world apart.
The PNA was formed in 1994, as one of the outcomes of the Oslo Accords, which was initially reached and signed in secret by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel. Most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories matured politically or were even born after the advent of the PNA. They have no other frame of reference but Israel and the Ramallah-based authority.
The latter has grown comfortable as a result of its wealth and status and, with time, evolved into a culture of its own.
The Palestinian reality is now shaped by three forces: the domineering Israeli occupation, the subservient and self-centred PNA, and the indignant and leaderless Palestinian youth.
This is why Ahed’s slapping of the Israeli soldier resonated throughout Palestine, and among Palestinians and non-Palestinians across the world. It was a symbol of defiance that, despite the two-fold oppression, Palestine’s youth still have the power to articulate an identity, one that despite being captive is nonetheless irrepressible.
Alas, the mission of this generation of young Palestinians is much more arduous than previous generations, especially Palestinian youth who 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 organised their communities, mobilising 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 PNA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, an ailing 83-year-old, understands well enough that if the youth are to be given the chance to mobilise, another intifada would dismantle his entire leadership, likely 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 and tortured by Palestinian police in the years that followed the formation of the PNA, in the name of ‘national interest’. In reality, it was done in the name of Israeli security.
Indeed, Oslo has allowed both Israel and the PNA to maintain ‘security coordination’ in the West Bank. This has mostly aimed at keeping the illegal colonies safe and preventing Palestinian youth from confronting the Israeli army.
Such a practice has meant that the PNA became a first line of defence against rebelling Palestinians.
While Palestinian officials paid lip-service to Ahed Tamimi and thousands of young Palestinians who continue to endure imprisonment and ill-treatment by Israel, in truth, youth like Ahed epitomise the antithesis of everything that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah stands for.
She is strong, morally-driven and defiant; a contrast to subservient, self-serving and morally bankrupt PNA.
Palestinian youth already understand this, and it is mostly up to them to free themselves from the confines of military occupation and corruption.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018).