The events of the past week in the West Bank and inside Israel are a warning signal for not only Israel’s government, but also the political leadership in both the Palestinian Authority and in Israel’s Arab community.
The Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel live in two separate cantons. The government’s treatment of them is different, and economic and social differences between them are not insignificant. Yet in the past week it looked like the Green Line had disappeared for a moment, and it became clear that it’s not difficult for Palestinians on both sides to find a common denominator and take to the streets in the face of bullying and oppression. Residents of East Jerusalem or Nablus found themselves in the same position as those of Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm or even the mixed-population cities of Haifa and Lod.
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In both the West Bank and Israel, it was frustrated young people who overcame their fear and took to the streets and united in protest over events at Al-Aqsa Mosque and in Sheikh Jarrah.The images of destruction in the Gaza Strip, of women and children buried underneath rubble only added fuel to the fire. There is little planning behind it, no clear leadership. There is no one to stand before these young people and order them to go home. In the West Bank, videos were shared on social media showing members of the Palestinian police and security services clashing with protesters. In Israel, meanwhile, Arab lawmakers and mayors were in scant evidence.
In the end, it was the young demonstrators who set the tone. The local leadership in Israel’s Arab communities voiced support for the popular protest, while denouncing all violence or property damage. In the West Bank, Fatah and the other Palestinian factions called for the popular protest to continue. The cross-border Palestinian cooperation is set to continue Tuesday with a general strike called by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel’s Arab communities on one hand and a “day of rage” and protest marches in the West Bank on the other hand.
Despite and anger and frustration, the conventional wisdom is that the cease-fire that is taking shape will dampen the protests. Things began settling down in Israel’s Arab community with the end of the Ramadan holiday late last week. The Palestinian Authority will have to give support to the popular protest as long as the bombardments in Gaza continue, but it will also want to stop before it threatens to reach a point of no return.
And yet, it’s obvious that Israel can no longer depend on the apathy that characterized the Palestinian public over the past decade, and that regardless of geographic location, the national bond is still alive. The TikTok generation, seen as self-absorbed, has proven that it is not willing to take the humiliation and led a protest the likes of which hasn’t been seen in two decades, and which has the potential to be explosive and perilous.
The Israeli government, which has become used to treating the Palestinians as a divided and spineless people, will have to change its approach – or else what happened over the past week will look like just a preview. It’s possible: it only has to see them as human beings. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip needs to seek an end to the division and adopt a strategy and relies on the power of the people and not a ministry in Ramallah or a bunker in Gaza.
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The message to the international community, especially the United States, is that after 73 years, the time has come to try and end the conflict instead of managing it. And it has been made clear to the Arab community’s political leadership that Arab citizens of Israel have not abandoned their national identity. They want to be a part of society, standing unbowed, are seeking real equality and are no longer satisfied with mere crumbs.