The second Palestinian uprising will be etched in history as an era where a major shift in the rules of the game has occurred. To what extent have the rules changed and for what purpose?
These questions are central in a time when the Israeli military has increased its brutality against Palestinian children, families, men and women. Each day my email inbox is flooded with messages from readers asking, “What can possibly be done to end this cycle of insanity and violence?”
Is there anything we can learn from the sacrifices and struggles of the years of what we call the Second Intifada? In doing so, we must analyze its successes and failures. Only a careful comprehension of the Intifada can explain the many dichotomies and contradictions it presents.
How could a popular rebellion of an historically oppressed group of people foster so much corruption, disunity and infighting? How could the same uprising that fought for a manifestation of peace, justice and life, inspire death, martyrdom and suicide?
In a late November 2006 speech to the media, exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, gave Israel six months to negotiate an end to the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state, otherwise a “third Intifada” would be unleashed. But it was not Mashaal who introduced the expression “third Intifada.” But due to his political position, one must wonder if a popular uprising can be decreed and delineated by a confining time frame.
Palestinians have struggled for and demanded recognition as a people for generations (generations living in refugee camps for nearly 60 years), going back to a time when Israel denied the existence of Palestinians, a continuation of Golda Maier’s denial of Palestinians altogether in her June 15, 1969 interview with the Sunday Times (UK), when she ominously stated: “There was no such thing as Palestinians; they never existed.”
The tumultuous road starting from the Madrid talks of 1991, then the infamous Oslo accord in 1993 all the way to the disastrous Camp David II talks under the auspices of U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000, all attest to one predictable pattern of reinvented failure: Israel dictates the terms of peace, circumvents international law, uses blackmail and arm twisting — with the largest military in the region and support from the U.S. The Israelis succeeded in extracting Palestinian concessions, without halting colonial settlements or easing its military occupation.
Most relevant to the second Palestinian uprising, a few months preceding the ensuing violence, Israeli politicians were locking horns for using too soft an approach with Palestinians. A widening chasm between then-Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, became a major dispute within the Knesset. Barak was accused of being indecisive and feeble, not knowing how to handle greedy Palestinians – who only wanted to keep the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine. Barak agreed that Palestinians were overly greedy: “The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more,” as reported in the Jerusalem Post on August 30, 2000.
Sharon had his own way of dealing with “ungrateful” Palestinians. Addressing a meeting of Israeli militants from the right-wing Tsomet Party in November 1998, Sharon explained his peace strategy, saying: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we can take now will stay ours … everything we don’t grab will go to them.”
The UN was irrelevant — practically speaking — as far as Palestinian rights were concerned. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte (himself a human right violator), had advised Arab delegates not to bother presenting drafts of UN resolutions regarding Israeli actions to the Security Council, for they would always be vetoed. Now the U.S. has vetoed 85 Security Council resolutions condemning Israel, allowing the latter to destroy houses, bulldoze olive groves, and shoot school children with utter impunity.
On the other side, the ideological composition of the Palestinian leadership is irrelevant as far as Israel’s colonial policies are concerned. Israel’s policy was altered little before Hamas won elections in January 2006. There is always a reason to brand Palestinians as evil, the threat, or terrorists. Israel’s status quo must not be disturbed.
The status quo of Israeli dominance and colonialism pervades and suffocates any attempt to negotiate a fair settlement for Palestine and her millions of refugees and children of the Palestinian diaspora.
Amid this Israeli program of colonialization and genocide, Palestinian people are left with no option but to revolt. Thus Palestinian resistance to Israel, which for the most part has been a nonviolent, popular movement, shall remain in place – though Israeli oppression has crossed the traditional boundaries of daily murders and small-scale land confiscation. Under the misnamed “disengagement from Gaza,” Israel’s military vigorously expropriates West Bank lands and the illegal Israeli Imprisonment Wall swallows up whole towns and villages.
If history can guide us, these latest Israeli offensives will be a prelude to another popular Palestinian response, which is already echoing in the angry chants of destitute farmers whose lands are being effectively annexed by the Israeli wall. Regardless of how historians choose to chronicle the Second Palestinian Uprising, it will be remembered by most Palestinians, as well as by people of conscience everywhere, as a fight for freedom, human rights and justice. It will remain a loud reminder that popular resistance is still an option — and one to be reckoned with at that.
Ramzy Baroud’s latest book is “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (Pluto Press), and is available at Amazon.com and in the United States from the University of Michigan Press.