The Intifada: from violence to more violence

IssueDecember 2001 - February 2002
Comment by Marwan Darweish

On 28 September 2001 the Palestinians commemorated the first anniversary of the second Intifada with more people killed and injured adding to the already hundreds of deaths and the thousands injured during this year.

The characteristic of this Intifada in contrast with previous Palestinian confrontations with the Israeli occupation is the extraordinarily high number of civilian casualties within both the Palestinian and Israeli societies. This was due to an excessive use of violence during the first year of this Intifada. It has been argued that the use of arms by Palestinians and the use of live ammunition by the Israeli forces causing many deaths and injuries has terrified many people deterring them from joining popular protest.

Militarisation by the PNA

After the first four months the uprising took a turn away from popular grassroots protest to a sporadic armed struggle and later to low level guerrilla tactics including suicide bombing. It must be clearly acknowledged that there is no symmetry between the occupier and the occupied; the relationship is one of that between oppressor and victim. The violence of the powerful Israeli occupation army using live ammunition, tanks and helicopter gunship and finally F-16 fighter jets, demonstrates who is the military power.

The militarisation of the Intifada by Palestinians has clearly been ineffective in fighting Israel, a strategic miscalculation and distinctly counter-productive given the military might of the Israeli retaliatory measures.

The militarisation of the uprising provided the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) security forces with the opportunity to prove their significance, particularly as they had not been paid for a few months due to a lack of funds. In January 2001, for the first time, the PNA security forces executed two Palestinians for their collaboration with the Israeli intelligence service. This again serves to highlight their crucial role in maintaining order.

The empowerment of the security forces in Palestinian society over civil and political movements has given them the upper hand, and a seemingly free hand to abuse their power. This has undermined the democratic process by excluding many sectors within Palestinian society from actively participating in the uprising.

This exclusion of civil society organisations has impacted on the participation of women and secular organisations and has shifted power in favour of religious groups. In fact, the PNA has been putting enormous pressure on NGOs and tightening its control through the introduction of laws and regulations. Since the Oslo agreement in 1993 political parties have been sidelined, leaving the PNA to make decisions on all aspects of Palestinian life.

Nonviolence and empowerment

The use of armed confrontations with the Israeli army represents a failure to learn from the past, most recently the 1987 Intifada. Nonviolent action during the first Intifada stripped Israel of its military power over the Palestinian civilians and caused serious damage to the image of Israel internationally. The grassroots participation and the formation of popular committees was a source of empowerment for the whole population. The mutual support system established in local neighborhoods to face the hardship of the closure imposed by the army proved invaluable and inspirational in the security and confidence they provided for people living the intifada day to day.

In contrast, the corruption within the PNA ranks and the public mistrust towards the Palestinian leadership has created an atmosphere of apathy and feelings of hopelessness. The PNA has failed to convince the public of their transparency or accountability. However, Israel has collaborated with this trend and a close eye needs to be kept on the dubious economic cooperation between the PNA officials and former Israeli military personalities.

Internationals working in Palestine are some of the few to call for nonviolent action against the Israeli occupation. Over the past year they have arranged some very successful, if small scale, actions. And in many situations Palestinians and Israelis from the peace camp organised sit-ins and other protest activities. My own experience of these actions has been that they are very powerful and render the army completely powerless. Their attempts to use sound bombs, tear gas and physical violence against protesters were chaotic and pathetic. My observation is that there is a great potential for the use of nonviolence training and the development of strategies for nonviolent actions.

Since 11 September

The reaction of the PNA to the events of 11 September has been to distance itself from the attack and to publicly condemn it. However, in the Palestinian streets, like in many other Muslim countries, anti-American feelings are being expressed and a few demonstrators in the Gaza strip have been killed by the Palestinian security forces.

More voices in the world have called for recognition of the Palestinian grievances and their right for self-determination and the establishment of Palestinian state. But, as after the Gulf War, the Palestinians and other Arab countries are suspicious of US motives - and exactly what their support will mean for the future of Palestine - until they see the US actually take some action against Israel. There is no doubt that there is no military solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that the only way forward is through negotiations. However, this dialogue must recognise the Palestinians need for freedom and justice and the Israelis need to live in security.