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Palestinian youth and the ‘force of disobedience’

During the first nine months of 2015, Israel killed 26 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and injured, on average, 45 Palestinians every week. Over the last fortnight, the total Palestinian fatalities for the year have more than doubled, and the number of injuries has jumped off the charts.

At the time of writing, 33 Palestinians have been killed since October 1, the vast majority shot by Israeli occupation forces suppressing protests, in addition to those killed conducting attacks or alleged attacks against Israelis.

More than 2,000 Palestinians have been injured,including hundreds from live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets.

In January 2011, Tunisian activist Sadri Khiari wrote a short reflection on “the force of disobedience.” He began by noting how, over the years, he had read, endless academic studies of Tunisian politics, economics, ‘civil society’, and culture – but that there had been one thing missing: “the people.”

The people who disobey. The people who resist in the obscurity of everyday life. The people who, when forgotten too long, remind the world of their existence and break into history without prior notice.

According to Khiari, “there is no voluntary servitude”, merely “the impatient waiting that erodes the machinery of oppression. There is nothing but pressure day by day, minute by minute, to overthrow the oppressor.” So-called “compromises” are “almost always mixed with indiscipline, rebellion; molecular resistances that condense and explode into the view of all when the time comes.”

That time has come once again, but how it will evolve is unclear. Last week, I suggestedthat asking whether we are witnessing the birth of a new intifada is be distracted by names and definitions: more important is a clear picture of the facts on the ground. These tell us that “a new tide of Palestinian rebellion has been rising for the last few years.”

The current revolt is characterised by its spontaneity, the participation of youth, and the marginalisation – or outright rejection – of factional involvement. In the words of a Palestinian researcher specialising in mass movements, it is “a new generation of Palestinian rebellion”

Mahmoud Abbas and the PA security forces have, unsurprisingly, not budged from their opposition to a wider uprising. Abbas reportedly plans a ‘PR offensive’ next week on Israeli television. But the PA is not just an obstacle to a widening of the revolt – it is one of thereasons for its eruption.

Thus young Palestinians talk of the need to create organisational structures “apart from the political establishment”, and that for the uprising to sustain its momentum, “networks of communal solidarity and horizontal support” must expand “to become a social movement.”

Of course, history can be a teacher – but it can also mislead. The First and Second Intifadas were completely different in nature, and we may search them in vain for simple clues about how to identify a third – or how such an uprising would develop.

Rather than look to a history of intifadas, the present rebellion might be better understood through a different chronology: one that includes the 15 March youth protests of 2011, Nakba Day demonstrations the same year, hunger strike solidarity activism, and the ‘Stop Prawer’ campaign of 2013. Now, in 2015, Palestinian youth across their historic homeland have seized the initiative again.

This week, I remembered an article written by Palestinian political prisoner Ameer Makhoul who, reflecting from his Israeli jail cell on the Arab revolts in 2011, wrote how “in a dictatorship, everything goes well until the last 15 minutes.”

This is not intended to sound like fatalistic triumphalism, but rather speaks to the reality addressed by Khiari. “There is no oppression without resistance”, he wrote. “There is only time stretching more or less slowly before unexpected—or out of sight—the collective heroism of a people arises.”

Netanyahu, with his appeals for ‘calm’ and ‘stability’, seeks a return to a quiet occupation, with Palestinian resistance ‘out of sight’. For now, at least, Palestinian youth are intent on defying him.

First published by Middle East Monitor.

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