By Ramzy Baroud
'Popular resistance' is a progressively unifying force among Palestinian civil society groups, political factions and society at large. While the discussion regarding its political viability is somewhat new, Palestinian history of popular resistance is as old as the British, then Zionist colonial projects in Palestine which started nearly a century ago. It was neither introduced by western pacifists nor imposed by political necessity.
However, it’s the political dimension of the popular resistance strategy that should compel a serious pause. Officials affiliated with the US-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, including its President Mahmoud Abbas himself, seem particularly enthralled by the idea. On Sep 27, Abbas called for a peaceful popular resistance from his UN General Assembly podium, which expectedly helps prop up his party’s image as a ‘moderate’ force amid the violent tendencies of its rivals, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad notwithstanding.
The PA’s use of ‘popular resistance’ is self-serving and is selectively infused to juxtapose its peaceful path to political resolution with Hamas and other Gaza factions’ homemade rockets. It is partly aimed at an international media – thus the word ‘peaceful’. But also the use of the word ‘resistance’ is supposed to represent a suitable compromise to appease frustrated Palestinian masses that are caught between the Israeli military occupation and the PA’s corruption and ineptitude.
Of course the PA’s interpretation and use of that strategy is superfluous, since the constant ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel alone is enough to expose the notion that the PA is a leader of resistance of any kind, for it is aimed at controlling Palestinians under occupation. The PA cannot possibly embrace a popular strategy that will ultimately deny it political access and economic privilege. It is a dichotomy that can only be resolved with the well-planned dismantling of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah altogether.
When Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Shallah addressed thousands of supporters in Gaza in celebration of the 31st anniversary of the movement’s founding, he addressed this very issue. He called for a new national strategy, underscoring the failure of the so-called peace process. “The Palestinian project of establishing a state on the 1967 borders through negotiations has obviously failed,” he said.
He also lashed out at ‘peaceful non-violent resistance’, providing very useful sound bites quoted generously by the media. Interestingly, however, Shallah’s views on non-violent popular resistance were combined with his views on negotiations, thus interpreting the strategy of popular resistance as part and parcel of the PA’s futile hunt for ‘Israeli concessions’. “Nineteen years of failed negotiations have created a crisis which cannot be resolved by insisting on more negotiations, or through non-violent resistance,” he said, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency (October 04).
While Palestinians have every right to defend themselves against Israeli state violence, military occupations and an endless legacy of aggressions, neither the Islamic Jihad nor any other faction has been particularly successful in utilizing armed-struggle to balance out the lethal force of the Israel’s army. As it is backed with an endless cache of US’s latest killing technology, and supplemented with a massive nuclear arsenal. That said, Shallah was not rejecting popular resistance in its genuine form, one that has constituted the very core of Palestinian resistance for generations, with or without the consent and approval of the PA or Islamic Jihad.
Ever-articulate Palestinian Activist Dr. Mostafa Barghouti was clear on Al Jazeera (October 18) when he defended Palestinians’ rights to resist in all means available, but asserted that popular non-violent resistance can be a more successful strategy at achieving political rights.
Indeed, popular resistance is a unifying approach to resistance, as history has repeatedly proven. And since unity has eluded Palestinian factions for years, popular resistance is likely to mend fences and unite the brethren around a common cause. Aside from its international appeal which will further challenge Israeli hasbara, particularly the notion that it’s under an ‘existential threat’, it will certainly expand the global solidarity movement to reach a critical mass that could translate into serious political pressure.
Despite its obvious virtues, the issue is more delicate than it may seem. Some Palestinian factions are sensitive to the notion of ‘popular resistance’, not because they reject it in principle, but because it is often chiefly presented as a strategy that is consistent with western sensibilities. Nothing is more exasperating for a victim than being lectured on how to fight back by the very forces that allowed that victimization in the first place. It is insulting beyond words. When US President Barack Obama told Palestinians from a podium in Cairo in 2009 that they should not resort to violent means, many fumed. His unwelcomed insight arrived mere months after thousands of Palestinians in Gaza were killed and wounded by the Israeli army, using mostly US-supplied weapons. Just days after the Israeli war, US military experts arrived in droves in the Sinai devising ways to destroy the tunnels that connected Gaza to Egypt with the aim of providing badly needed supplies.
Hypocrisy aside, popular resistance was in fact a response articulated long ago, even before Israel was officially founded on the ruins of Palestine in 1948. The story of popular resistance in Palestine is a century old. However, it was at its height in 1936, when Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, rebelled against the Zionist colonial drive and the British role in espousing it and laboring to ensure its success. In April 1936, all five Palestinian political parties joined in under the umbrella of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC). That unity was pressing and was a reflection of the general attitude among ordinary Palestinians. A general strike was declared, ushering the start of Palestine’s legendary civil disobedience campaign – as exemplified in its cry of ‘No Taxation without Representation’. The 1936 uprising sent a stern message to the British government that Palestinians were nationally unified and capable of acting as an assertive, self-assured society in ways that could indeed disturb the matrix of British mandatory rule over the country. The British administration in Palestine had thus far discounted the Palestinian demand for independence and paid little attention to their incessant complaints about the rising menace of Zionism and its colonial project.
That collective action was hardly a passing phase, but was repeated throughout history, even after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 which institutionalized the Israeli occupation and ruthlessly punished those who dared to resist.
The PA in Ramallah should quit utilizing and referencing the notion of ‘popular resistance’ while doing everything in its power to suppress it; and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad must not associate popular resistance with Oslo and its bankrupt institutions, for history can easily delink that distorted connection. Popular resistance in Palestine continues to exist not because of the Palestinian leadership but despite of it.
‘Popular resistance’ is the bond that kept Palestinians fighting for one common goal – their freedom - despite the geographic and political fragmentations imposed by Israel, and the relentless factionalism among the elites and self-proclaimed representatives of the masses.
- Ramzy Baroud (ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.