Roots of Resistance: During the first Intifada Palestinians used our most strategic asset — our people

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Girls holding stones in a village near Hebron during the first Intifada. (Photo: Alison Glick)

This post is part of the series “Roots of Resistance: 25 year retrospective on the first intifada.” Read the entire series here.

So much has changed since the first Palestinian intifada, 25 years ago this month. Sadly, the bulk of changes have been for the worse and, even more shocking, most things have remained the same. Two and a half decades ago, the Palestinians under occupation boldly arose in civil disobedience, which, for the most part, was non-violent. They totally debunked the Israeli notion at the time (one that persists through today) that a prolonged military occupation, one that micro-manages every important aspect of our society, was somehow benign and could be “lived with.”

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A Palestinian woman outside the Ansar II
prison camp in Gaza, January 8, 1988.
(Photo: Sven Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

During that first intifada, Palestinians around the globe heeded the call of those under occupation and everyone, or so it seemed, did their part to say enough was enough. An underground leadership led the uprising by issuing numbered communiqués and using wall graffiti. Their tools were primitive, but effective. More importantly, they led. They used our only real strategic asset: our people. They did not only react to developments; they acted in setting the agenda. They creatively found ways to resist the occupation by using culture, art, music, tax boycotts, general and partial commercial strikes, demonstrations, home schooling after the IDF closed the university, community gardens to decentralize the food chain, boycotting Israeli goods, and much more. It was all employed in a decentralized, organic way, but also within a coordinated political message.

The political message of the time was crystal clear: the occupation must end – not be improved, streamlined, adjusted, coordinated with, or otherwise. The leadership, coming from the ground level, knew the terrain best. Remaining underground was the only way they could operate. Momentum was picking up by the week, until the traditional leadership from outside the country caught up with events. At that point, two schools of thoughts emerged and were decisive. One said we must remain focused on levying a cost on the occupier (morally, financially, politically, etc.). The other school of thought was in a rush to politically cash in. I remember the discussions as if they were yesterday. Serious players started calling for a national referendum to allow the masses to weigh in. The traditional leadership wanted nothing to do with it. This is when the seeds of Oslo were planted. The rest is history, as they say: a history that refuses to turn the page.