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Palestinian viewpoints on the intifada from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon

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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

Protest in Gaza. (Photo: Shady Alassar)

Protest in Gaza. (Photo: Shady Alassar)

“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

Protest in Gaza. (Photo: Shady Alassar)

Protest in Gaza. (Photo: Shady Alassar)

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.”

Pam Bailey

Pam Bailey is founder of and international secretary for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. She is based in Washington, DC, and travels to the Middle East frequently.

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18 Responses

  1. CigarGod on October 21, 2015, 10:28 am

    Damn, those are exceptional photos.

    • just on October 21, 2015, 9:47 pm

      He’s such a fantastic Palestinian artist:

      “My name is Shady Alassar , a 31 year old Palestinian professional photographer. Currently residing in Nusieret refugee campl located in Central Gaza strip. A member of the Palestinian journalists syndicate and a member of the International federation of journalists. In 2012 I toured various cities in Italy exhibiting my work and most importantly working in conjunction with UNICEF on “The Children of Gaza” exhibit at the “Frascati Fotographia” where I won 2nd place. I have also participated in many local Arabic Exhibitions. Most personal to me was the work I did in the Summer of 2014 on the last attack on Gaza , again this won local and international awards.Recently I worked with Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf originally from Gaza when he returned for a visit.A collection of my work is to be released in a photobook in 2015[:]”

      Check out his photo galleries @

      • CigarGod on October 21, 2015, 10:15 pm

        Thanks Just.
        I needed that.

      • CigarGod on October 21, 2015, 10:36 pm

        Thanks again, Just.
        I just contacted him with a proposal to do a exhibit exchange. My cowboy stuff for his Gaza life stuff. Seems a positive effort.

      • just on October 22, 2015, 10:17 pm

        CG~ that’s the way to do it! Make the connection…

        Thanks for your oh- so- true comment @ 11:51 as well, Ossinev.

  2. Ossinev on October 21, 2015, 11:51 am

    Exceptional photos – exceptional people/exceptional courage.

  3. HarryLaw on October 21, 2015, 1:02 pm

    Sam Bahour said.. “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.”
    Couldn’t agree more, unfortunately and understandably a commitment to non violence would probably not be respected by the youth’s as depicted in the photographs above. Even it it was, Israel could and does use undercover operatives to incite violence easily enough. Then once it starts, Israel, as western leaders always tell us ‘has a right to defend itself’ . Under International law the Palestinians can use force, including armed resistance to achieve self determination. To do this they should be united, they also need in the first instance the support of Arab neighbors. It is obvious that at present the Arab world is in flux, it may take some time for the competing states to come to some kind of equilibrium, what is emerging is a definite shift in the balance of power with the Sunni Dictators backed by the US losing out to the ‘Arc of Resistance’, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah backed by the other Superpowers Russia and quietly China. It could be argued that this should benefit Palestinians, whose past benefactors the Saudi and Gulf satraps together with Egypt have proven to be false friends. How could it be otherwise when they are all in bed with the Israelis and the US? In order to end the occupation they will need all these new friends, I do not wish to be a keyboard warrior but if they find it necessary to use force themselves they should do what the South African resistance did, ‘sabotage’. The Israeli economy is very susceptible to this. As an example when Ben Gurion airport was shut for a few days by an errant Hamas missile in the last Gaza massacre, many Israeli economists warned that if this paralysis of the hub of the Israeli economy carried on, Israel might have to stop the war. These Hamas missiles are so simple to make, the question is how many small 2 or 3 man cells operating in Israel would it take to destroy the Israeli economy? Hezbollah have GPS guided rockets and Nazrallah has bragged about being able to hit anywhere in Israel, that is why whenever Israeli commanders warn Hezbollah of Israeli military maneuvers near the border, they do so to avoid unnecessary Israeli suffering. The Israelis have been planning the take over of the whole of Palestine for a long time they have think tanks all over the Western world working on those plans 24/7 The Palestinians need to ‘think’ what it will take to destroy those plans, more than a catapult I suspect.

  4. Ossinev on October 21, 2015, 1:31 pm


    An interesting and apposite analysis of the situation and what may turn out to be the only way forward in terms of Palestinians themselves on the ground being able to make a real difference in the near to medium future. Sadly I believe that Norman Finklestein`s hope for a broad ranging and peaceful “demonstrations ” intifada is a non starter as Israel knows that it can simply outlaw and brutally suppress these, with US backed impunity. We in the non AIPACed West have got to underpin our support for the Palestinians by seriously cranking up support for BDS and taking every opportunity to label Israel ( using the Hasbara” repetition” weapon of choice ) for what it is – an apartheid state. Sooner or later one can only hope those Israeli Jews with a conscience as well as those Israeli Jews with common sense who can see the writing on the wall will start to leave the sinking ship as will a lot of the Exodus Dream settlers. The rump of Jewish Israeli society remaining will largely consist of the freakshow zealots. The economy will lose its major population drivers and the much vaunted IDF will struggle to get even a basic standard of recruit able to continue the 3 am raids on Palestinian homes and the shooting of innocent civilians let alone being able to put up any kind of fight against the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah.

    • Naftush on October 26, 2015, 5:09 am

      Supposing HarryLaw gets his way and BDS obliterates the Jewish presence apart from a freakish rump. Say this happens next Sunday. By next Wednesday, “the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah” along with Fatah and ISIS elements will be re-enacting Syria up and down the country. Palestinian Arab blood will flow like a skilled imam’s Friday sermon. What stand, what action, will the “non AIPACed West” take then? Or will it already have disbanded, now that “justice in Palestine” has been achieved?

  5. MaxNarr on October 21, 2015, 8:32 pm

    And not one person condemns the current bloodlust and stabbing of Jews. Typical.

    • CigarGod on October 22, 2015, 10:52 am

      When are you going to condemn those who implanted in you such a disabling conditioned response?

    • Steve Grover on October 22, 2015, 2:48 pm

      Plus 1 for MaxNarr!

    • Mooser on October 22, 2015, 10:32 pm

      “And not one person condemns the current bloodlust and stabbing of Jews. Typical.”

      Funny thing, while they were un-stabbed, they were lots of other things, too. Things that are very risky, and can get you hurt, like, oh illegal colonists, settlers, stuff like that. But the second they get hurt, they’re all Jew, and nothing but. And nobody should be hurt just for being Jewish, right?
      What a system!

    • bryan on October 24, 2015, 3:48 am

      You will obviously also condemn the heroic but futile resistance of the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto? If you have been following the news you will see that the vast majorityof attacks have been aginst soldiers enforcing the occupation and their settler allies, not against “innocent civilians”.

      • Naftush on October 26, 2015, 5:04 am

        So another commenter heads to the Warsaw ghetto for his analogies. Cheap, banal, and above all false.

    • Naftush on October 26, 2015, 4:57 am

      Even more typical is the unmasked cheering-on of bloodshed in pursuit of a “justice” that rules out durable conflict resolution that will satisfy enough of each side’s aspirations.

  6. just on October 21, 2015, 9:40 pm

    Many thanks for this important and excellent piece, Pam.

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