Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish
The last time bombs were falling on Gaza in their multitudes, I was living in Hebron – the biggest city in the West Bank and perhaps the least-touristed. Hebron, despite being associated with Abraham and thus an important city in Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions, for the past twenty-five years has been the eye of the occupying storm. In this city, systems of military, cultural and political apartheid converge perfectly in one place.
Once an economic centre for the West Bank, Hebron lies divided in two parts: one nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the other in the hands of the Israeli army. The Israeli-controlled zone, named Kiryat Arba, has been populated by extremist settlers since 1971, devouring a large chunk of the old city and ripping the souq of half of its stores.
As white Westerners in the city, my friends and I could easily wander from the busiest Palestinian street, through a guarded checkpoint, and into the ghost town of Kiryat Arba.
During the summer of 2014, three teenage Israeli settlers were kidnapped near Hebron attempting to hitch-hike home from their yeshiva, a Jewish religious school. The resulting campaign of collective punishment nicknamed Operation Brothers’ Keeper, particularly focused on the city of Hebron and its surrounding villages, escalated into Israel’s most lethal attack on the Gaza Strip yet, called Operation Protective Edge.
As my friends and I taught English and studied Arabic, and lived with our respective host families, tens of Palestinians were killed by the occupying forces, many of them children.
In this period, as Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned alive and the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujai’iya decimated, we constantly talked about ‘The Third Intifada.’ It certainly felt like the beginnings of a new uprising, just as it does now – but in Palestine, the situation is always sitting on the intifada’s knife edge.
The real question is: why do we think a new intifada is any of our business? Aside from mainstream media speculation on a third intifada, any claims to this effect coming from well-meaning activists in solidarity with the Palestinian cause are also flawed. Commentators and activists from all shades of the spectrum of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict enthuse in regarding any so-called ‘flareups’ of violence as the return of intifada.
However, such claims fundamentally miss the point, no matter how supportive your activism and personal convictions are of the validity of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Our convictions should be guided by those we support, not by obtuse rhetoric which ignores the developments of the past 10 years in favour of speculation based on historical half-truths.
In the past few weeks, media organisations across the board have claimed that the situation across occupied Palestine (I use this term to refer to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank) has ‘escalated.’
Precisely what an ‘escalation’ is in terms of Israeli apartheid and violence after 67 years is I’m not quite sure. Violence as experienced by Jewish-Israeli citizens may have indeed escalated, however Israeli military and settler aggression against Palestinians has not seen any special rise in past weeks.
Since last year’s ceasefire after Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the Strip has seen regular incursions via Israel’s fleet of drones. Likewise, Palestinians continue to be attacked week upon week. The only difference is Israeli perception of Palestinian ‘aggressions’ – this being that, all of a sudden, Israel’s security wall is suddenly experiencing cracks in effectiveness. Thus, the situation has escalated – all Israelis are in danger of knife attacks by Palestinians and likewise Palestinian citizens of Israel face greater danger as racial hatred – subversive to claims of equal citizenship and treatment within the Jewish state – slips beyond the surface. We cannot forget that our perceptions of violence, aggression and intifada within the Palestinian context have long been led by a media which counts Israeli lives – both military and civilian – as more valuable than those of Palestinians.
We must change our tune and define an intifada on the terms of Palestinian activists. Ultimately an intifada is not ours to define or declare: a third intifada should remain within the hands of Palestinians to decide.
Likewise, we should not consider an intifada as something we can comment on so explicitly as Western activists. The amount of news and opinion pieces circulated over the past couple of weeks proclaiming or defaming a third intifada is appalling when put within the correct context of Israeli military and settler aggression.
Just last week, a 16 year old girl who studied English at the school where I studied Arabic in Hebron was shot and left to die by Israeli soldiers. Her name was Bayan Ayman Abd al-Hadi al-Esseili and she wanted to be a journalist. Her friend Dania described her as a ‘sweet and virtuous girl.’
Such occurrences are hardly rare within the scope of Palestinian life, and the very normality of a continued siege on Gaza and executions of civilians on the street shows more than anything that we should not characterise the past, current or future situation of the occupation within terminology which Western media has made bland.
The continuous over-exercising of the term ‘intifada’ has led to this term for immense bravery and collective resistance being transformed into a catch-all buzzword for violence in Palestine – particularly when it ‘escalates’ against Israeli civilians. Intifada in Arabic essentially conveys the concept of ‘shaking off,’ and this perfectly articulates the sentiment behind so-called Palestinian aggressions: the act at hand being shaking off in all manners: cultural, military and political apartheid.
To forget that the Palestinian struggle has its roots in a genocide which wiped hundreds of villages from the land and replaced them with European pine trees, murdering and displacing thousands of people, is to forget that the meaning of ‘intifada’ is to shake off, by all means necessary, further genocidal attempts against the Palestinian people. To forget this is to take any concept of intifada out of the Palestinian’s hands – and to further act towards the false perceptions of Palestinian history, culture and identity promoted by Zionist organisations.
In order to maintain solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must ultimately drain our language of such rhetoric and simply support the ‘shaking off ’ of genocidal practices when it comes.