What we talk about when we talk about violent resistance–a funeral in Hebron and the 21-gun salute

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Masked gunmen with al-Aqsa Brigades prepare for a 21-gun salute at the funeral of Palestinian prisoner Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh in Hebron on Thursday, April 4, 2013. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)

Without broadcasting defeat, Palestinian armed resistance in the West Bank ended as a tactic a decade ago, but as an aesthetic it is in overdrive. It is used by virtually all Palestinian political parties, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah that has renounced and outright suppressed stone-throwing against the Israeli authorities. The contradiction between the presentation of force and a policy against it was no clearer than last week at the Hebron funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Palestinian prisoner who died of esophageal cancer while in Israeli detention. While one reading of the gunshots fired that day suggest a warning to the Israelis, the intended audience was more likely another faction of the same political party.

Abu Hamdiyeh’s funeral procession was stamped closed by a 21-gun salute from al-Aqsa Brigades, Fatah’s armed wing. Even more, a dozen unmasked Palestinian Authority (PA) police (also aligned with Fatah) gave a separate weaponized hail to the late prisoner.

Procession for Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, Hebron.
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Palestinian Authority police transport Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh to Hebron’s Martyr’s Cemetary.
Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh.
Al-Aqsa Brigades during Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh’s funeral procession, Hebron.

Abu Hamdiyeh was rumored to have been a fighter in the second Intifada, a legacy that was fought over by attendees. At the funeral a group of Hamas supporters wearing green baseball caps for the party chanted that the shaheed, or martyr, was one of their own. But shortly after the cheering started others gathered and scolded them in Arabic. The second group said that Abu Hamdiyeh is a “Palestinian martyr, not a Hamas martyr.” The tension over defining Abu Hamdiyeh’s legacy was palpable throughout the day. Perhaps it is because when violent resistance is reduced to a symbol, owning that symbol is a sort of status—like firing a gun into the air and pausing for journalists’ cameras.

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Clashes before the funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, downtown Hebron.

A short 15-minute walk from the burial site, clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers went on for hours. In the end the gunmen never supported the stone-throwing youth. And no one, including the handful of Israeli border police who faced off with the youth, seemed to expect them to join. In fact the clashes appeared to almost be a separate event, reflecting the constant tension in Hebron rather than the community seeking revenge for Abu Hamdiyeh’s death.

Today in the West Bank guns are more often than not ornamentation, and violent resistance has been mildly replaced by popular resistance. The ammunition is merely things that are found on the ground. Still the image of a man with a gun is not forgotten.

Drawing even deeper into the aesthetics of resistance while not engaging in it, in January Fatah celebrated its 48th anniversary in Ramallah by decorating the event stage with images of violent resistance. A slide show of fighters and an armed Yasser Arafat looped in the background as musicians performed national songs. At that time even the acrimonious relationship between Fatah and Hamas eased. That same month the PA allowed a Hamas anniversary celebration to take place in the West Bank and a Fatah anniversary was scheduled for the Gaza Strip.

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Clashes following Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh’s funeral, downtown Hebron.

Yet it is unlikely that a call to arms will come from those who most revere arms–at least certainly not from the current political leadership. Months ago Abbas publicly stated that his party will no longer be engaging in violent resistance, only diplomatic measures. And in the past few years Fatah has done just that—lobbying the United Nations for recognition and using force to push back Palestinian stone-throwers from getting close enough to actually have one of those rocks hit a soldier.

So while violent resistance proves to still be the cannon for displaying power, it is more or less a show for rival political parties rather than the Israelis. It is but a mainstream symbol for who is on top, and Abu Hamdiyeh’s funeral conveyed that while the PA’s brand of Fatah may have won over the international community, al-Aqsa Brigades has an arsenal of support.

All photographs are by the author.

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