Over the past several days, Palestinian youth in the West Bank have been exerting their political power — destroying parts of the Separation Wall surrounding the city of Abu Dis with a large hammer, rallying against the attacks on Jerusalemite Palestinians in the Old City, and clashing with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints.
The current wave of youth protest is not an anomaly in the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and colonization. Palestinian society is a young society. Youths make up a third of the population, with fully 30 percent of people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. In Jerusalem, 35.2 percent of the population is below the age of fifteen. And young people have been the driving force behind recent uprisings, such as the First Intifada in 1987–93 and the Second Intifada in 2000–05.
The First Intifada was a watershed in the history of resistance to Israeli occupation and featured mass forms of popular resistance. People of all ages and social groups united in that struggle against the occupation.
Neighborhood committees started to watch over the security of every neighborhood. When schools and universities were closed under military orders, teachers in every neighborhood gathered students to continue their classes. Agricultural relief committees, founded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, started writing how-to booklets on home-based agriculture to counter the months and weeklong curfews that the Israeli army sometimes imposed on parts of the West Bank.
“Intifada” would come to English as a synonym for “uprising” in its wake.
The uprising today is taking new forms. The explosion of the Internet and the widespread use of social media platforms have helped Palestinians transcend boundaries both geographic and Israeli-imposed. There has been communication across the isolated spaces that the occupation creates — including the Gaza Strip, Israel, and the West Bank, but also the increasingly isolated land areas in the West Bank — for several years now.
But this communication is not just about the logistics of coordination or transmission of information concerning day-to-day changes on the roads. It’s also about communication to create a new generation of Palestinians filled with national liberation ideals and resistance to colonial rule, both across historic Palestine and among the diaspora.
This is not an upheaval with any one leader. Among its participants are young men born a few years after the peace agreements — that is, the Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed in 1993, and the Agreement on Palestinian Interim Self-Rule, signed in 1994 — between the Palestinian leadership (the PLO) and the Israeli government. These young men have not seen Jerusalem, and have barely dreamed of traveling to another city in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, or even inside Israel, without facing multiple layers of oppression.
Today’s youth-led revolt is unique in that the young people who are participating are students in universities and schools. It is too early to determine their exact class background, but many of them are from refugee camps in the Palestinian cities — including young boys from the Jalazon camp, next to the Bet El settlement and military compound, in the vicinity of the West Bank city of Al-Bireh.
In the Gaza Strip, young boys and men have gone to the fenced border area of Nahal Oz to show solidarity with Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. Many of them have been fired at — since October 1, Israeli forces have killed over forty Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, with at least seventeen shot dead at demonstrations.
The major confrontation areas, where youth go to clash with soldiers — throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, deploying slingshots — are in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most of the activism has been elsewhere, however. In the span of one month, there has been a sustained Palestinian presence at the major checkpoint areas, helping spread the wave to other areas, including inside Israel, among the ranks of young Palestinian activists.
For the first time, we have all of Palestine rising up against the continued and escalating settler attacks on Palestinian homes and against the existential attacks on Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arabs. And for the first time, there’s an issue uniting Palestinians: Jerusalem. The youths that are rising up have given hope to the rest of the society, showing that Palestinians are not easily crushed in the face of increased Israeli violence. They are politically mobilized in the major Palestinian universities, especially those which have strong student councils of the various Palestinian political factions.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular have had young supporters brandishing their slogans on kuffiyeh headgear. Fatah shabiba have also joined the clashes.
It is premature to precisely determine the political affiliations of the youth who have joined the protests, because there is real danger in being identified publicly with political activity as the Israelis escalate their detention and arrest campaign. Indeed, according to Al-Haq,
Since 1 October 2015, Israeli forces raided numerous cities and towns in the OPT during which it ransacked houses and arrested hundreds of Palestinians. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Association, 800 Palestinian civilians, almost half of them children, have been arrested by the IOF in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and Israel. In some instances, those arrested suffered various at the hands of the IOF; such as being shot at, delayed medical assistance, intentionally delayed visits by their lawyers.
In other words, they are politically mobilized and are responding to Israeli repression. They are not, as the Israeli and US media portray them, mere mobs hell-bent on violence against the Israelis. It is also not necessarily the case that they are being led by the political factions’ upper ranks, or taking orders from them.
The youths in the streets have rebelled against the Oslo paradigm’s disingenuous aspirations for peace and prosperity, and at the leadership’s failure to redress this lie. They no longer accept their fate as the punching bag for Zionist encroachment.
This Zionist advance takes many forms, and culminates in pressure on Palestinians to leave Jerusalem. Measures include exorbitant Israeli taxes on Palestinian properties and the confiscation of lands under the pretext of lacking official state permits. The case of Jerusalem has successfully served as a rallying point because of constant humiliation and attacks on Palestinians by illegal Zionist settlers.
The Palestinian leadership has formally and actively sought out peace with the Israeli occupation, and yet the latter has fought to strangle Palestinian society in order to prevent Palestinians from liberating the land from Zionist settlement expansion. Indeed, Palestinian security forces have returned to arresting a few of the youth student council members of the Islamic Bloc at Birzeit University in Ramallah and elsewhere.
Once again, Palestinians everywhere in historic Palestine feel cornered and under pressure to remain silent despite attacks on their existence. What we can hope to achieve in the near and long term is for Palestinians to rebuild their social solidarity networks in every local community. This is because fighting back and finding an effective path of resistance will happen only minimally and gradually, and can only happen where there is unity. Over the past few weeks, manifestations of solidarity could be seen whenever there were direct confrontations with the Israeli army and settlers.
When people come together, it can mitigate the danger they face and help rapidly expand resistance. A key case in point is the village of Silwad, in the governorate of Ramallah. There, people brought a bulldozer to remove from the village’s entrance the cement blocks the army had put up following clashes between the youths and the army. In the villagers’ response to this collective punishment, we can see a collective spirit in the making.
The recent uprising shows clearly that Palestinians have confronted and will continue to confront Zionism. We must depend first of all on ourselves to liberate the land and to fight the ongoing dehumanization. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa’s centrality ought to be read in that light — not as a religious issue, but as a political response to the Israeli attempt to eradicate it from our imagination, as our capital.
Our response shows that this will not stand.