Whether the clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank are the long-awaited “Third Intifada” is the question being asked by virtually every journalist covering the Middle East. (It takes stabbings and house burnings to get the media’s attention. Once it stops, attention will swing back to ISIS and the neglected refugees at sea—leaving the Palestinians to suffer their decades-long occupation alone, once again.)
Even among Palestinians, the answer to that question varies. The youngest are more likely to say yes, and to glory in the feeling of empowerment, however temporary. The older the person I interviewed, with some exceptions, the more jaded they became. However, there is one common truth among the people on the “street”: The uprising is once again bringing them together (at least in spirit) across borders—from East Jerusalem, to Gaza City, to Beirut.
Views from Gaza
“Everyone is watching TV, seriously, wherever I go—even at the hair salon,” says Maha Husseini, who is studying for her master’s degree in political science in Gaza. Among her friends, support is strong; there is a sense of unity with the West Bank. Even when the news came in that seven youths had died that day after Israeli forces shot them during a solidarity protest at the border, her friends “strongly supported the demonstration. I heard a couple of people say that even if the protest didn’t result in anything, it shows that our spirit has not been broken and that Palestinians here support the Palestinians there. They think it is the Third Intifada, and if not, they want it to begin.”
Aboud Asfour, a reporter for Alqanaa TV who lives less than a mile from the watch towers along the Israeli border, agrees. “The intifada has started, and it’s here in Gaza now. The politicians are afraid to say that but the young people are ready.”
Not everyone in Gaza agrees, however. It has only been a year since Israel launched a major assault on the Strip that left more than 2,000 dead and more than 10,000 injured; tens of thousands more remain displaced. Ahmed Alnaouq, an English literature student whose brother was killed in the 2014 assault, says emotionally, “I support what is happening there, but I think Gaza should step aside (this time). We are not ready for another war.”
Hossam Al-Madhoun, who heads the nonprofit Maan Development Center in Gaza, which treats many children with PTSD, supports resistance, but not by attempting to respond to violence with violence. “Human beings were created with a passion for freedom, and there will always be a struggle to get it. But my worry is that we’ll see a repeat of 2014. That conflict also started in the West Bank, and then Israel provoked Gaza. It’s easy for Israel to wage war and to convince the world it’s only defending itself. We will never defeat them with weapons. We can defeat them with peace (non-violence) only.”
But is it the “Third Intifada”? Mohammed Alhammami, Gaza project manager for a youth storytelling initiative called We Are Not Numbers, says no. “The current unrest could become a third intifada if the Palestinian powers in charge, embodied in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, had the political will. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. What would trigger a third intifada is the dissolution of the PA. The Palestinian populace is fed up with the conditions in which we are living, which are much worse than those during the first and second intifadas. But the division between the governments in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is a big factor in the PA’s calculations. The PA certainly doesn’t want Hamas to exploit the unrest against it. So, for the PA, an intifada is an existential threat.”
This line of thinking, that unity of political factions and leadership is necessary for an uprising to be sustained and effective, is a common one—and for good reason. While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still describes the uprising as “very dangerous” and warns against “an intifada, which we don’t want,” the leadership of the Hamas government in Gaza is sounding a deliberately contrary tune, at least rhetorically. “Gaza will fulfill its role in the Jerusalem intifada and it is more than ready for confrontation,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told a crowd in the Strip earlier this month. Whether that’s really what Hamas wants so soon after the 2014 51-day conflict or is just using the unrest to fuel anti-Fatah sentiments is a matter of debate.
“The lack of response of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in Ramallah, and its continued use of its security forces to prevent interaction between popular responses in various parts of the West Bank, is preventing a massive uprising,” says Ahmad Yousef, former political advisor to Haniyeh and now a deputy minister of foreign affairs. “Personally, I believe we will continue to witness protests, as well as individual stabbing incidents, until a unified stand develops. What is happening at Al-Aqsa can cause the entire West Bank to explode at any time, and once it becomes a direct confrontation with the occupation, Gaza will be involved completely.”
Around the West Bank
Mazin Qumsiyeh, a professor at Bethlehem and Birzeit universities and author of a book on the history of Palestinian nonviolence, rates the likelihood that an intifada is underway at a 7 out of 10. “The research I outline in my book shows that the conditions necessary in the months leading to an uprising are here now—including paralysis of the political/peace process, intensive onslaught from the occupiers and lack of trust in political leadership. If we are in an intifada already, we will probably trace it to the burning of the Dawabshe family. [On July 31, settlers set the family’s home near Nablus on fire, killing an 18-month-old boy and his parents.] No intifada is permanent or sustainable. [Previous intifadas, of which Qumiseyeh says there have been 13, not two, lasted two to six years.] However, resistance returns in waves until colonization is defeated or there is genocide of the natives.”
Sam Bahour, a business development consultant living in Ramallah and a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, agrees that some conditions for a true intifada are present, but joins with those in Gaza who warn the necessary unity is missing. Like Al-Madhoun, he emphasizes nonviolence. “An intifada needs unity, leadership, money and a clear commitment to nonviolence from all political parties,” he wrote on Facebook. “None of these ingredients are currently present. So let’s get real and not allow more precious young lives to be lost to nothing.”
It’s not just the parties that represent the political status quo that are reluctant to feed the fires of the populist youths. Hadi Abdalhadi Alijla, a Palestinian from Gaza who now runs the Institute for Middle East Studies in Canada, notes: “Many middle-class civil servants and civil society members [who do business with the occupation or rely on foreign aid] don’t favor a full intifada. They have bank loans and a nice lifestyle to defend.”
Rima Isam Anabtawi, originally from Nablus, now in the United States and co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, played devil’s advocate in the Facebook exchange: “Uprisings by nature emerge organically,” she wrote, “and it’s simply an historical fact that except for very few exceptions, oppressed populations and peoples have rarely liberated themselves without bloodshed. Not to mention that it is our right under international law to resist by any and all means necessary. That’s not to say, however, it’s anything to relish.”
Awni Shahrour, a prominent dentist from Ramallah, tends to agree that nonviolence is an unrealistic ideal. “A third intifada is likely to erupt if Al-Aqsa Mosque is directly usurped or attacked; this is the only trigger I believe would bring this about, whether or not there is any official decision,” he says. “In that case, while Intifada 1 was peaceful, and Intifada 2 was more aggressive and lethal, Intifada 3 will be worse, including Israel’s response. But what’s even more important is that this time we have smart phones connected to the Internet. People now can get accurate news from everywhere immediately, and not just from the state-friendly media.”
Lebanon: In the Camps and On Campus
The Palestinians in Lebanon often feel, for good reason, neglected and cut off from their brethren in Gaza and the West Bank. However, youths are seeing those smart phone videos, photos on Facebook, etc., and in the camps and on the college campuses, they are pouring out onto the streets—despite attempts by the political factions to control them.
According to Nizar El Laz, program manager for Pursue, which works on capacity building in the refugee camps throughout Lebanon, the Palestinian factions (the PLO and the Syrian-allied Tahaluf) are boycotting all popular movements organized to express solidarity with the uprising. However, he says, some senior factional officials have chosen to ignore the official line, and some camp residents are accusing the factional leadership of complicity with Israel.
In the last two weeks, a number of youth-led demonstrations calling for support of the uprising have been staged, with the largest taking place Oct. 13 in seven of the camps.
“The movement in the Palestinian camps is increasing and is mainly led by youth,” Laz says. “The reaction in the camps is directly related to the escalation and the communication in all of the media. Videos of the killings and harassments, like the 14-year-old kid from Jerusalem [Muhammad Manasra], are increasing the rage.”
With each Palestinian killed or injured, with each additional checkpoint set up and curfew imposed, the longevity of the protests is ensured. It is impossible to pacify these young, disillusioned-yet-still-idealistic Palestinians who are the majority of the population, and of which four in 10 (higher in Gaza) are unemployed.
“They rebel, and attempt to mobilize and sustain their rebellion as long as they can, because they have no other horizon of hope outside their own action,” writes Ramzy Baroud, originally of Gaza and author of My Father Was a Freedom Fighter. “This is a Palestinian Intifada, even if it ends today. What truly matters is that we must respond to the pleas of this oppressed generation and refuse to assign greater importance to the safety of the armed occupier than the rights of a burdened and oppressed people.”