Originally published on openDemocracy
News from Ramallah which has plunged me into cynicism repeatedly over the years has transformed my mood into one of unqualified optimism for the first time. Over the past few days, Ramallah has restored my faith in the untiring free spirit of the people of Palestine. It has given me hope. Ramallah, by its own initiative, may have finally secured its place in Palestinian history as something that is, for the first time, not notoriously PA-dependant but rather astoundingly and heroically PA-opposed.
“They’ve occupied your land; don’t let them occupy your minds,” one friend advised me after listening to me speak so despairingly about the current situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I knew this was a precious piece of advice since one of the reasons I have always thought the status quo looked so unprepossessing is the level of manipulation and ‘mind-control’ deemed necessary not just by the Israeli occupiers but by the various political agencies across the political landscape in Palestine, particularly the Palestinian Authority (PA) which, until very recently, has had quite a sure hold over the minds of Palestinian people, particularly the youth, continuously and falsely feeding them a crudely self-contradictory narrative of an independent Palestinian state soon to be realised in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank while at the same time firmly holding onto the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, all this of course being conditional, we were told, on keeping the faith with our wise and experienced leadership.
Various incentives were deployed in order to keep the Palestinians in check, primarily the vision of economic prosperity, security (possibly the most incomprehensible word for a Palestinian) and development, all fulfilled through the building of the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state. What comes under the ‘infrastructure’ heading can, for the sake of simplicity, be understood as, on the one hand, security-related, though for the word security to have any meaning in this context it has to be attached to Israel, i.e. it has to be understood solely as Israel’s security, and translates as the sudden delivery of the collaborationist, western-backed PA’s Dayton-well-trained security apparatus (including police, intelligence and even riot-control forces), sufficiently equipped and excellently trained to deal with any stability-threatening situations as well as individuals or organisations who might be seen as posing a threat to Israel’s security — hence the large numbers of political prisoners inside PA prisons. On the other hand, there is the non-security-related infrastructure, i.e. infrastructure which is designed for the benefit of, not necessarily in the interest of, Palestinians in the occupied territories, and somehow this is bizarrely reduced and is in reality seen only in reference to the building of restaurants (including one KFC), cafes, hotels, streets (preposterously named after Russian presidents and to their embarrassment!), hospitals, sometimes schools and so on and so forth. All of this is meant to mirror the level of progress and, it is counterfactually claimed, independence, which Palestinians have come to achieve thanks to the commendable efforts of the Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, fear, intimidation, and detention are used as a part of a strategy to stifle any criticism and silence whoever dares openly question the supposed wisdom of the PA’s leadership, let alone take action against it.
Israel on the other hand has dreadfully stepped up its policy of colonial expansion as it continues unabatedly to occupy more Palestinian land and build more settlements (or more precisely colonies), forcing Palestinians out of their homes only to demolish them; the scenes of women and elderly people humiliated at checkpoints which have patently dotted the geographic scene in the West Bank has become an everyday reality, schoolchildren are constantly stopped, searched and kicked by helmeted Israeli soldiers during the day and traumatized by the same soldiers storming their way into their homes in the middle of the night and pointing their guns at them while in bed; arbitrary arrests have increased; the separation wall, and most significantly the graffiti and drawings all over it encapsulate several actual levels of misery, extreme vulnerability and despondent incapacity on the part of Palestinian people living under military occupation.
Gaza, meanwhile, has become, not only as is often mentioned, the largest open-air prison on earth, but more accurately described as the largest twenty-first-century concentration camp, where a population of over one million and a half, mostly poverty-stricken people, totally dependent on humanitarian aid and relief agencies for their daily subsistence, is sealed off from the rest of the world, its youth unemployed, its children uncared for running bare-foot down the streets, drinking extremely contaminated water from pipes lying across the camp’s narrow alleyways, and callously subjected to up-to-10 hour daily power cuts while thousands of power generators are regularly enlisted as a power alternative, resulting in several unfortunate deaths and an extremely unnerving clamour damaging to normal mental functioning, in addition to uncontainable pollution, prices skyrocketing, freedom of movement and crossing the Rafah border having become out of the question, while Israeli unmanned drones buzz ceaselessly above in the sky and rarely does a day go by without a series of targeted shelling or assassinations…
Over the past few months, there have been a few incidents which commentators from within the Palestinian spectrum thought might constitute the spark that would finally bestir the Palestinians into their long-awaited third Palestinian intifada. Dozens of analyses with different theses have regularly appeared in several newspapers and online publications all coming to the same pleasant conclusion of the impending collapse of the western-backed Palestinian Authority and the increasing prospects for a third Palestinian intifada which has now become closer than it has ever been. We read, cheered, circulated the post, awfully cursed the PA at the top of our lungs, and sat in anticipation. That one opportunity never came good, or in fact it has arisen quite a few times, every time more intensely and with more force than the time before, but nothing happened. Things continued to simmer beneath the surface, and the spark seemed too weak to rouse the Palestinians into any form of collective action that might shake off their infinite apathy.
As around 2000 Palestinian prisoners embarked on a mass hunger strike inside Israeli jails, a state of anticipation reigned amongst Palestinians, and it was said time and again that this would be the last straw that broke the camel’s back and that it is about time Palestinians joined the Arab awakening and took action— most likely in the form of, mass mobilization, large-scale demonstrations, and civil disobedience against not only the Israeli occupation but also the PA as the power enabling and facilitating this occupation through their despicable silence and shameless collaboration with the Israeli authorities.
Behind the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes, some commented, was a message very much indicative of their lack of faith in the power of the masses on the ground as prisoners took things into their own hands and won the battle all by themselves – this tone was even largely present in several of the letters written by many of them in which they appeared to be desperately pleading with their people to take action for them…
I became dangerously cynical and hopeless, and lost the pride once deeply-rooted in me as a Palestinian brought up with the heroic images, scenes, anecdotes, and music of the first and second Palestinian intifadas as the point when the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation had reached its heights. I lost that pride. For a moment, I felt ashamed of myself being a Palestinian, completely powerless and apathetic in the face of this oppression. “Where are the Palestinians,” gnashing my teeth, I asked myself time and again.
I was recently discussing the situation in the West Bank with a Palestinian from Ramallah who is currently conducting PhD research at the LSE . Although we both were down-spirited at the end of the discussion, having left one another with a bleak image of the status quo, he still thought change is somehow looming and the status quo is no longer sustainable. “Don’t despair, and keep up the hard work!” he cheered me up before we departed company.
Only a few days later on July 1, protests took place in Ramallah against a scheduled meeting between PA president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz. Although there has been a growing level of discontent amongst the Palestinians, none would have expected a protest of this kind to take place in Ramallah. That by itself is a huge achievement for everyone who is full of rage at the current situation. One has to acknowledge though the folly of the PA president’s decision to meet with an Israeli official as notorious as Mofaz. This created a situation in which Palestinians from various political backgrounds and affiliations united — only at the very early stages and before it was officially postponed — in staging protests against the meeting.
The brutal crackdown by PA security and intelligence forces has proved a widening, deplorable disconnect between the PA president and the youth on the ground. Instead of listening to the youth’s demands, Abbas completely isolates himself in his presidential palace while the people chant against him and the PA’s collaboration with Israel. He needs to know he is loathed by an increasingly huge number of the Palestinian youth before it is too late for him. Abbas in the eyes in an ever-growing number of Palestinians has proved that he is not different from his Arab predecessors as he continues to follow their steps even in the way they tried to quash protests and silence dissent. As a matter of fact, both Ben Ali and Mubarak were his closest allies. The parallels between the Arab western-backed dictatorships and the PA are striking and unmistakable. However, the PA has become a fully-fledged western-backed dictatorship now, before the state it is meant to rule over has even come into existence.
As the first protest was quelled, another protest, this time against police brutality, was planned; but, completely ironically, it was met with even more police brutality. During a third protest, the youth marched to the PA compounds known as al-Muqata’a and sharply and unequivocally chanted against the PA’s collaborationist policy and against Saeb Erekat as the head of the Palestinian negotiating team and, most significantly, against the Oslo Accords. It does not matter for how long the protests persisted. The fact that the turnout was not particularly massive is not relevant also. What matters is that the people — a considerable number of them — have finally spoken up, nowhere but in Ramallah, and not only against the Israeli occupation, but most significantly against the Palestinian Authority and its collaborationist policy. The first barrier of fear has been shattered for good, and that is what truly matters. Standing up against the PA is no longer an improbable scenario. Things will never be the same for the PA establishment.