July 22, 2014
Gazans could not hide their disappointment with their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank. They believe that one main reason why confrontations broke out with Israel was their rage over what the occupation forces did to West Bank residents. Now they are waiting for them to reciprocate as they follow some of the confrontations there.
Hebron – As the war on the Gaza Strip continues and the massacres multiply, the occupied West Bank is still in instant reaction mode. A day of mourning and a general strike were announced only after al-Shujayah massacre, i.e., after more than ten days of the Israeli war whose victims – the dead, injured and displaced – continue to rise. The strike was the result of a decision by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which means a simple decision such as announcing a day of mourning for the martyrs was not popular-based or spontaneous but rather was subject to a decision taken by an authority responsible for security coordination with Israel when it felt that popular frustration might reach a boiling point.
While the massacres continue in Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps and more than 153,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza, popular anger is exploding in the Strip but Gazans are wondering why the uprising in the West Bank, which sparked the escalation in this last round, has died down.
Not to defend the silence of West Bank residents or exaggerate the daily confrontations with the occupation forces but to answer the question about the West Bank and its role requires understanding the reality that has been created by the illusions of economic peace and the Third Way.
The Third Way was the slogan of the electoral list headed by the previous prime minister, Salam Fayyad, during the parliamentary (Legislative Council) elections of 2006 with promises of development plans and building state institutions. As debts and loans from the World Bank piled up, the electoral slogan became a strategy to re-engineer Palestinian society and eliminate any possible popular support base for the Resistance.
As a first step, the Third Way strategy argued that the first way – represented by armed struggle and the intifada – is over and the second way – represented by peace negotiations – has reached a dead end. As a result, the new approach was to build modern institutions and achieve economic development based on neoliberal principles in order to show the world that Palestinians are capable of managing their own affairs and are, therefore, worthy of having an internationally-recognized state.
Hence, Palestinian society in the West Bank fell for the trap of dependence on a system of bank loans. By the end of February 2014, the total loans and loan facilities in the public and private sectors reached around $4.6 billion. People rushed to buy cars and apartments which became a priority in their day-to-day lives, and they became preoccupied with one thing only: paying off their loans which they could not do unless the PA paid their salaries. Today, many of them are caught up in a cycle of waiting for their salaries to meet their loan payment deadline.
Parallel to this plan, the idea of “ending security chaos” emerged with an implicit goal of dismantling what is left of the armed resistance movements by arresting Resistance fighters who refused to surrender their weapons and turn themselves in, as well as punishing their popular base between 2007 and 2014.
Under the pretext that they are illegal weapons that threaten civil peace, Palestinian public opinion started describing Resistance arms as illegal weapons that should be disposed of. This gave the PA the freedom to finish the job. Little by little, Palestinians in the West Bank who were not arrested or killed began to turn a blind eye to the growing Israeli settlements, land confiscation and displacing people from their homes and demolishing them. Two sites of confrontation with the occupation persisted, one inside the refugee camps and another outside.
The refugee camps spark the confrontation
The PA, and the US security team behind it, realize that the refugee camps are where the story began and that the spark of any confrontation will lead to a third Intifada in the camps. For example, the Qalandia and al-Jalazoun camps in Ramallah and al-Arroub and al-Fawwar in Hebron represent points of direct contact with the occupation and no confrontation ends without martyrs and injured people. The tension even reached camps that are seen as outside the circle of confrontation, like al-Fawwar in southern Hebron.
Confrontations inside the camps were not restricted to throwing stones at Israeli patrols and preventing them from going deep into the camp, they also manifested themselves in other ways that made the discourse of “security chaos” emerge to the forefront again. Another site is Jenin, which is still resistant to the projects of social engineering. It is the camp where the military cells of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some Fatah activists – whoever is left of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – were formed. These cells found themselves in confrontation with the occupation forces and with the Palestinian security forces.
The dismantling of military cells in the camp was not an easy feat for both the Palestinians and Israelis. On May 22, 2014, three Palestinians were martyred and seven more were injured during armed clashes that broke out between armed men and Israeli forces who stormed Jenin and surrounded the home of Hamza Abu al-Haija, one of the leaders of Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades. That day, the Israelis fired a barrage of bullets and shells on his home, killing him. During the operation, confrontations took place with the force that carried out the assassination leading to the martyrdom of 25-year-old Mahmoud Abu Zeina from al-Quds Brigades – the armed wing of Islamic Jihad – and Yazan Mahmoud Bassem Jabarin from Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as their bodies were riddled with bullets. This brought the camp back to the forefront again.
As for the camps that fall under direct Israeli control, other policies were adopted. In al-Arroub camp for example, the Israeli occupation adopted a policy of collective punishment against camp residents by arresting young boys, torturing them and making them sign pledges to not throw stones because Israel sees these boys as the driving force behind any confrontation with the occupation, especially at the gate of the camp controlled by the Israeli army. This is in addition to the policy of demolishing the houses of those who participate in the confrontations. On April 30, 2014, the Israelis demolished two houses in al-Arroub owned by Helmi and Hassan Abu Ghazi to punish them because their sons took part in throwing stones.
Outside the camps
There are also points of direct contact with the occupation outside the camps, such as in the Bab al-Zawiya areas, Jaishoury and Beit El in Hebron, Tulkarem and Ramallah. Here, Palestinian security forces form a barrier between young Palestinian men and and the occupation forces to prevent any confrontation from erupting and eventually extending to the whole city.
It can be said that the popular mood after the deaths of the three settlers in Hebron started to change, albeit slowly and gradually, except for the businessmen in the area who refuse to see the situation deteriorating out of fear for their interests. While the idea of Palestinian security forces standing as a barrier between occupation forces and the youth can be delegitimized, it still needs some time, and in the meantime the question remains, what about the Resistance’s popular base inside the cities?
The PA understood the formula that governs people’s relationships with each other in the camps and the cities and manipulated it as part of the ongoing process of social re-engineering. Pressure was exerted on tribal elders to stop any popular tension before it develops and prevent people from moving beyond the permitted lines.
That is why municipality councils and tribal elders work interchangeably to curb and condemn any action on the ground. They came to stand with the PA in the same anti-Resistance trench. When the Israeli military operation was taking place in Hebron, the city elders and the municipal council issued statements condemning the operation and asked the international community to end the Israeli response through legal and human rights tools. But no mention was made of any resistance act that could stop the Israeli military operation, prevent the demolition of homes, and end the arrests and search campaigns that affected every area in the province.
A consequence of this is that thinking about resistance activities is done on an individual level; the social engineering in the cities of the West Bank made the Resistance an individual concern instead of a collective one. Nevertheless, there are people who have tried to take the initiative (snipers in Hebron, shooting settlers on bypass roads, stabbings).
The snowball effect
Everything that has been going on in and around the occupied West Bank has become like a snowball that keeps rolling and growing. The war on Gaza helped elucidate the scene, but the timing and circumstances of the outbreak of the intifada are still unclear. People are aware, however, that what the PA is doing is nothing but a political illusion.
Yesterday, there were confrontations all over the West Bank between Palestinian youth and the occupation forces on one hand, and between the youth and the PA on the other. These confrontations could be the beginning stages of forming a support base for the Resistance that may move away from social re-engineering projects. These confrontations mostly involve unemployed young men who were not included in the domestication project led by the PA in Ramallah. But, loudspeakers in mosques intervened yesterday. In Tulkarem for example, the mosques reminded young men that the security forces are part of the Palestinian people and should not be confronted.
Regardless of one’s optimism or pessimism, Palestinians in the West Bank are living in a state of constant tension because the economic prosperity they were promised never materialize, coupled with an increase in the prices of basic commodities and an increase in the poverty rate. All these factors might actually turn the tables on everyone.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.