Israel Can’t Fight the Palestinians’ Despair With Force

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Police search a Palestinian outside the East Jerusalem neighborhood Jabel Mukaber, October 14, 2015.Credit: AFP

A disturbance broke out at the demonstration Tuesday in the square at  Sakhnin's city hall. For a minute it seemed like a little squabble in that Galilee city, but it turned out to be young people angrily protesting against the event’s organizers.

Municipal inspectors and ushers prevented the group from coming near the city’s main entrance road and confronting the police. At the same time, thousands quietly demonstrated in the square against the occupation and the government’s policies on the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This disturbance may not have made the headlines, but there’s no doubt it made a statement.

The Arab community’s leaders — which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the day before of leading the way to bloodshed and waving the banners of the Islamic State — seek to calm things down.

These leaders are willing to speak out harshly against Netanyahu and his government but not provoke a confrontation that will end in bloodshed. Only two weeks ago they marked the anniversary of the October 2000 riots in the same square, and everyone remembers the pictures of the 13 young people shot by the police.

No one wants to return to this scenario, largely because people realize that the Israeli Arabs’ struggle is an inherently different battle being carried with the democratic tools available to them. Given the timing and atmosphere in Israel, some people want to bring back the military administration of the Arab community and reduce to a minimum freedom of action and expression.

The leaders’ control in this case isn't perfect. The mayors and heads of the Arab political parties have no tools to control the younger generation in the battle against discrimination and racism, and against the oppression and occupation of their brothers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But in the West Bank and Jerusalem the situation is much more complicated. The Palestinian people are fighting for their freedom and self-determination, and are sick of the occupation. These are the messages coming from the Palestinian spokesmen.

Unlike the two intifadas, in the current uprising two key elements are lacking: one, a decision by the Palestinian leaders to support the struggle; and two, funding that could keep the uprising going.

In 1987, when the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza started, the PLO, especially the overseas leaders, and Fatah made a strategic decision and took command. They secured ample funding, including large donations from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia. In 2000, there was a strategic decision to launch a confrontation, and money was raised to finance the various Palestinian factions, at least in the uprising’s first stages.

It seems a lack of both a strategic decision and money is an advantage in this context; it prevents an escalation. But on the other hand it’s a disadvantage: The leaders don’t control what’s happening in the street.

The calls from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for calm and the attempts by the PA’s security forces to maintain order — as Fatah and Hamas do little — haven’t quieted the young people. Out of despair, they don’t listen to the orders and aren’t afraid to break the rules.

These young people, mostly in Jerusalem, where Israel has not allowed a foothold for any form of Palestinian political leadership, are no longer looking for a political solution or self-determination. They don’t need incitement and inflammatory speeches to take to the streets.

For them, the occupation and oppression are the main source of the incitement, and as long as Jerusalem isn’t calm, it will be impossible to expect total calm in the West Bank and prevent the uprising from spilling over into Israel.

It would therefore be a good thing if the Israeli government realized that you can’t fight the despair with force; this would only deepen the gloom. Instead, a formula is needed to promise hope for the next generation.

Comments