What is seen in Israel as an escalation and a wave of attacks by individuals is seen in Palestinian society as the exception that proves the rule.
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The rule is that although foreign Israeli rule and its extreme rightward shift provide all the objective reasons for a popular uprising, most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not (yet) ready for this, as the Palestinian sociologist Jamil Hilal wrote in May on the Al-Shabaka think tank's website. They don’t want to join actions that will turn into a third intifada.
From the Palestinians’ point of view, the notable thing is not that attacks by individuals have increased in the past week, but that there are not more desperate acts by individuals. After all, the dead-end feeling is pervasive.
Monday night, as reports of the knife attack near the settlement of Alon Shvut were confirmed, a ceremony was under way at the Ramallah cultural center awarding a prize named after Yasser Arafat. It was part of a week of events commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death.
In the spacious center, in a bourgeois neighborhood not far from buildings housing UN and Palestinian security organizations, the prize went to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, and, as the institution’s representative, the Palestinian health minister in the reconciliation government.
The award can be seen as appreciation for the medical teams that cared for thousands of wounded people during last summer’s war, most, if not all of which were linked to the Hamas government. The award can also be seen as a way for the Palestinian Authority to take some of the glory and celebrate the Gaza Palestinians’ steadfastness under Israeli attack, without expressing a clear position against Hamas’ role in the outbreak of the fighting.
Either way, the ceremony and the awards are part of the lifestyle of the leaders and other elites who cultivate the illusion of sovereignty and have chosen the political-diplomatic route. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah spoke at the ceremony about a peaceful popular uprising. The PA isn’t really developing tactics of popular revolt, but it certainly fears a military escalation.
Whether because of the socioeconomic strata around the PA that owe their rapid prosperity or relative comfort to the status quo, or because of the realization that there are no leaders to head the uprising, while the focus should be on diplomacy and boycott/sanctions, the result is the same. Too many social forces have reasons to fear a direct clash of the people against Israel’s right-wing government. The heavy price they would have to pay doesn’t seem worthwhile at the moment.
Did the individuals who perpetrated the recent attacks hope to encourage others to emulate them? It’s hard to know. A question asked by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an is interesting: Do hit-and-run attacks express popular rage against the occupation’s racism or are they happening because the organizations are silent?
By Monday night, 3,771 (83.8 percent) of respondents said yes to the first suggestion and 627 (13.9 percent) said yes to the second. That is, most people didn’t find an internal Palestinian dimension to the attacks, which are the manifestation of general rage. So the attackers represent everyone; there’s no need for them to be emulated.
Israel believes strict suppression and the punishment of attackers’ families will deter others. But the two intifadas have shown that the harsher Israel oppressed people other than the perpetrators, the more people were encouraged to join the confrontation with the army.
The line here — between the subjective reasons not to face off against the Israeli occupation and the objective reasons everyone has to do so — is very fine.