Intifada graffiti in Ramallah.
Arabic reads: “we are the revolution.” (Photo: Abir Kopty)
December 9, 2011, marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of the first Intifada. The day is typically not commemorated in Palestinian society; however, this year, #Intifada1 is trending on Twitter and social network sites, where Palestinians around the world are remembering the first uprising, or “shaking off,” by tweeting about this time in Palestinian history.
The Twitter trend was started by Palestinian activist Ahmad al-Nimer to remind people of the popular model of the Intifada. Al-Nimer affirms, “the first intifada saved the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, as they for the first time took matters into their own hand, taking the street, and start protesting.”
Screen shot of #Intifada1 on Twitter.
The first Intifada is recognized for the active participation of a broad-based, cross-section of Palestinian society, over the six-year uprising (although the end date is much debated). Former political prisoner and political activist with al-Haq, Ziad Hmaidan characterizes the time:
The First Intifada was a unique example of popular struggle, involving old and young generations, people from every social and cultural strata and of every political background. It was a joint struggle of students, workers, peasants, men and women as equal actors – the key role women had in the resistance has to be stressed – to scream for their freedom and their rights. Peaceful mass demonstration, raising the Palestinian flag, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, organizing strikes of private businesses and labor forces–even in historical Palestine (Israel)–and the development of an economy of resistance were the major tools [of the First Intifada].
To understand the impacts of the #Intifada1 Twitter trend, I interviewed Mira Nabulsi, a Palestinian researcher in the field of media representation and digital activism, with a specialized focus on the Arab region.
Social media researcher Mira Nabulsi. (Photo: Allison Deger)
Deger: How does the Twitter trend #Intifada1, started by Ahmad al-Nimar commemorate the first Intifada?
Mira Nabulsi: I think creating a hashtag should be looked at as part of a larger effort to commemorate and revive the first intifada not only as an era in our longer history of struggle but also as a culture and revolutionary state of mind. In practicality, a hashtag in the online social-verse would allow online activists and bloggers to generate relevant content in an organized fashion.
Palestinian youth movements are largely factionalized. What role does social media take in the context of on-the-ground mobilization which traditionally functions through political parties?
MN: Well, I think a lot could be said about that. I have been a social media user for few years and I have been closely observing how it helped networking people as well as disseminating a better knowledge about Palestine and what’s happening there on a daily basis. There is definitely a better online content on Palestine now than there ever was, and millions have access to that. But in addition, social media helped pushing for a stronger Palestinian voice and representation internationally which we were and still aren’t able to acquire on mainstream corporate media (because we all know how they function and who dominates them) but what social media also is doing and no one will be able to control is connecting Palestinian active youth in West Bank, Gaza, ’48 territories and the diaspora among themselves as well as with solidarity activists globally in a way that I think we will still see clearer in the future.
The discourse of such youth is definitely closer to that of the Palestinian movement throughout 60’s to late 80’s than it is to the Oslo front and their followers which in itself a great development (issues like refugees and the right of return are again fundamental and center to our struggle) especially as Oslo managed to highly depoliticize our people and youth.
I know a lot of the young people who are active online are also on the ground either politically or in community work. More and more youth are now aware of the importance of coupling online work with offline work, as well as supporting work on the ground with documentation and strengthening presence online and I see that happening nowadays more than before. Perhaps the Arab revolutions also had a great influence motivating those youth. My only concern is the gap between similar youth and the larger Palestinian population who are not as tech-savvy or intellectual and that is a big challenge for us.
In the late 1980s, at the time of the first Intifada, the West Bank and Gaza had been occupyed by Israel for twenty years. Today, after forty-four years of occupation, how is the Intifada understood?
MN: I think today people view the first Intifada with a lot of pride and sacredness, perhaps even romanticization–that we don’t see in the more contemporary Palestinian history and politics of the last twenty years. There are layers and layers of frustration and de-politicization that people have been experiencing since Oslo and until now, and there are many factors that could explain that from the failure of Oslo and Palestinian leadership, to the disappointment in the international community and Arab countries, to the lack of trust people feel towards parties after the division, and all reconciliation efforts going in vain. So it is particularly that [background] that makes the first Intifada a different experience. It was a time when the Palestinian people were able to stir the politics of the region and take matters into their own hands versus the helplessness we feel now..
An anniversary in its twenty-fourth year does not lend itself to become a year of renewed celebration, e.g. it’s not 20 years, or 25 years? Why do you think people are specifically looking back to the first Intifada at this time?
MN: First I think it’s important to clarify that to my knowledge the commemoration is not taking place on a very large popular scale in Palestine. As for the call to commemorate the 24th anniversary, that was made this last week online by some Palestinian youth. I think what they’re trying to do is to revive the revolutionary spirit of the first Intifada also as a model of popular resistance and civil disobedience that was used by many revolutionary movements around the world especially at this time with everything happening in our region.
Another important aspect is the memory and the oral history aspect, and this is something we as Palestinians and Palestinian activists honor a lot. Although there are many oral history projects that worked on the Nakba and the few years that followed Nakba, not as much exists on the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, where the Palestinian civil society was able to mobilize the whole society around issues of prisoners, land theft, taxes,..etc. It is equally important that we learn this history because especially for those of us who were born in the 1980’s or early 1990’s the only political education we received on this level was what we heard from our families or older friends. The type of education and curriculum existing post-Oslo does not really deal with that, and here documenting, narrating and talking about those memories and histories becomes vital.
The Facebook event for commemorating the Intifada calls on “Palestinian bloggers in Palestine and in exile” to mobilze online. What is the significance of this call in the context of an effort to delineate “Palestinian” as a territorial definition–such as in the U.N. statehood bid.
MN: Well it means exactly what you just said. It’s a call for duty for all of us whether inside or in the diaspora. As I just said those youth we’ve seen planning and organizing popular actions and protests in the last couple of years and more this year do not identify with Palestinian political parties and leadership–at least not in the state they’re in nowadays–and although we respect the struggles of all Palestinian factions throughout history and their right to be part of Palestinian leadership and representation, we don’t think they represent Palestinians every where or our aspirations for liberation and self-determination.
It is clear that those youth still consider themselves in the process of struggle for liberation and fighting Israeli oppression which touches all our aspects of life and NOT state-building like Mr. Fayyad says. Personally and I know many youth would agree with me, I refuse this approach Fayyad and PA is imposing on us especially at a time when their whole legitimacy is questioned.
The call clearly aims to unite all Palestinians regardless of where they live because our struggle is not for bantustans in the West Bank or Gaza but in our right to return, exist and mobilize all over Palestine and we refuse for this fragmentation to be imposed on our memory, history and identity, just like we refuse it on our lands. Palestine is not simply a territory and Mr. Fayyad cannot tell us who can be a Palestinian or not in his imaginary state.
Mira Nabulsi is a researcher, born and raised in Nablus, Palestine. She has worked at the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU), where she co-taught a course titled: “Comparative Border Studies, Palestine to Mexico”.