The family, the primary agent of socialization in Palestinian Arab society, is at the center of the emotional struggle being waged by Palestinian sons and daughters against three father figures: their personal father, in their nuclear family; the governmental father of the Palestinian national family, and the Israeli stepfather. Palestinian sons, who have become “the sons of no one,” are embarrassed by their personal father, who emasculates them in order to compensate for his own wounded manhood, having been emasculated himself by the governmental Palestinian father; they scorn the governmental Palestinian father, which oppressed them in order to compensate for its wounded manhood and its humiliation by the Israeli stepfather, and are angry at it for seeing to the welfare of its own family and associates rather than its national family. They want revenge against the Israeli stepfather who occupies them and deprives them of a life of liberty and dignity.
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In order to complete the maturation process, they must free themselves from living within an emotional community that is subordinate to an oppressive patriarchal cultural regime that inculcates fear, obedience, submission, passivity and humiliation. In its stead, they must create an emotional community based on cultural pluralism, ideological freedom, social justice, self-fulfillment and social solidarity that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, class or gender.
The submission and obedience to the tyranny of the nuclear father and to the tyranny of the national ruler, as well as the fear of punishment, gradually become superficial and fleeting, and the more the next generation is excluded and marginalized, the more willing it becomes to rebel against its fathers. Exposure to the global village through social media enables young people to change and to adopt new patterns of emotional and cognitive behavior. They would like to enjoy the kind of emotional spontaneity found in Western culture and to unshackle themselves from traditional customs and strictures. They would like to give public expression to their thoughts and feelings, to let fly the words that were stuck, the screams that were stifled and the opinions that remained in their imaginations.
Palestinians, especially Gazans who live under Hamas rule, have good reasons to revolt and need no role models for this, but it’s always helpful when there are other uprisings by oppressed populations, near or far. For some of them, the mass uprising in Algeria in recent weeks revived forgotten memories of the ideology of Frantz Fanon and his book “The Wretched of the Earth,” which was a source of inspiration to the early Algerian as well as Palestinian freedom fighters. The protests in the Gaza Strip and occasionally in the West Bank are points of rage that accumulate along the time line and recall what occurred in the years that preceded the Arab Spring.
Here too, in Gaza, the feelings of paralyzing fear, sadness and despair are gradually giving way to feelings of shame and anger over the ongoing experience of governmental injustice, humiliation, cruelty and oppression. Similar to what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, the organizers of the demonstrations in the Gaza Strip announced that they did not seek to overthrow the Hamas government using violence, and that all they want is liberty, justice and a life of dignity rather than oppression, corruption and exclusion. Like their brethren in neighboring Arab countries, they want to be able to live as human beings and as full citizens, not as slaves. They want to live like the children of the ruler, and they call on all of the political factions — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — to stop stealing from the public coffers.
Like the people who rose up in Egypt and in Tunisia, the Gazans are also gradually relinquishing the false consciousness according to which their rulers will willingly make changes to the patterns of power. The use of live fire by Hamas police officers in the Gaza Strip, as in its use in Egypt and in Tunisia, marks the moment when the citizens begin to realize that the ruling authority doesn’t see them as human beings or as family, but as objects that can be killed or exploited as cannon fodder at the border fence with Israel. This is a decisive moment emotionally, in which the weapon of resistance loses its sacredness in the eyes of the masses. In this moment, anger is replaced by hatred, which breaks the barrier of fear and increases the willingness to risk one’s life and seek revenge.
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When the government loses the main weapons with which it controls the population — fear and shame — the norms of obedience are upended. The government that intimidated and hurt the masses is made to fear them. The government that caused the masses to feel shame is called upon to accept responsibility and to feel shame for its actions. The protesters are distributing pictures of Hamas officials involved in the violence and warning: “We are a tribal society and this is a small neighborhood, everyone knows everyone.” Hamas established units to harass Israeli forces near the fence at night. Now the protesters are calling for the establishment of units to harass Hamas at night and saying they won’t be used as Hamas’ fuel in a war against Israel.
Also like the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, in Gaza the protesters make a distinction between the police and the army. They unhesitatingly describe the police, an extension of the Hamas Interior Ministry, as “an armed mafia that is betraying its people,” as “fattened pigs and dogs,” “bloodsuckers” and “new Tatars” living in palaces and imposing a regime of fear on their people. At the same time, they represent members of the military wing of Hamas, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as people to be supported and protected and rewarded for their participation in all the rounds of combat with Israel, including the Marches of Return that began in March 2018.
The protesters are no longer willing to submissively accept the following equation: “A hungry policeman fires on a hungry civilian to protect a well-fed commander whose children live in comfort and can travel anywhere they please.” Nor are they willing to accept any longer Hamas’ practice of portraying the youth as revolutionaries when they serve its political agenda, and of portraying them as traitors and collaborators with foreign agendas when these same youth demand a life of dignity.
Thus it appears that the economic situation is not the only thing driving the Gazans’ uprising, but also, and primarily, a sense of humiliation and the recognition that wealth and opportunity and a monopoly on political decision-making are in the hands of a small and corrupt group. This is a revolution of the hungry who will no longer be satisfied with crumbs, who are no longer willing to make do with knocking politely on the ruler’s door. Now the question is whether the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades will take the side of the masses, as the armies in Tunisia and Egypt did, and show the Hamas political wing the door, or whether they will choose to stand by the present corrupt and hesitant Hamas leadership as it continues to usher Gaza toward a fierce and bloody civil war.
Ronit Marzan is a researcher in Palestinian society and politics at the University of Haifa’s School of Political Science.