Can the Palestinians revolt?

Mustafa, a stone-thrower

Mustafa Tamimi died for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, or as Jonathan Pollak put it, because “he dared to speak a truth, with his hands, in a place where the truth is forbidden.”

Sorrowfully, Palestinians have mourned the painful loss of a courageous man. Not that he is the first Palestinian to be killed by Israeli soldiers, nor is he the first unarmed, peaceful protester— unless one regards stones as one kind of heavy armament— to be shot dead at point blank range, and, certainly, he will not be the last to be heartlessly murdered in this brutal way. Mustafa isn’t also the first one whose death was followed by scores of people live on Twitter as his fellow activists provided minute-by-minute coverage of what was going on on the sad Friday in Nabi Saleh.

Although he is the first protester from the small village of Nabi Saleh to be murdered by the Israeli killing machine, this is not the reason why, I believe, Mustafa’s death is a significant chapter in the Palestinian resistance which, could have constituted the climax of such an immensely rich history of nonviolent resistance, which is often misrepresented or, at best, overlooked in Western media discourse.

Why a new Intifada?

It might be wishful thinking rather than logical reason to say that Mustafa’s death could have been the spark that ignited a new Intifada. But why I say so is because, given the facts on the ground, it was, and still is, about time that the Palestinians started a new Intifada.

First, the scope of the Israeli occupation’s outrageous crimes and violations of basic human rights is awfully unprecedented. In the Gaza Strip, these crimes usually take the form of sporadic F16 and unmanned drones’ bombings of the densely populated enclave resulting in the inevitable death of innocent civilians and children coupled with the hermetic siege that has been imposed for the past five years while, in the West Bank, they primarily manifest themselves in ceaseless ethnic cleansing which embraces a variety of criminal activity, namely land expropriations, house demolitions, property confiscations, expulsions, midnight house raids, illegal detentions and the list goes on.

Moreover, in face of all this generous amount of human rights violations and flagrant breaches of international law, the international community has proved to be absolutely futile, for it has shamelessly failed to hold Israel accountable for its crimes, prevent it from carrying on its violations in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel with impunity, or take any positive measures to protect the Palestinians’ lives or guarantee the fulfilment of their rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions.

To top it all, the naked failure of the so called Palestinian leadership, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, to advance the Palestinian struggle in any possibly helpful way has proved them to be worthless at best. In fact, the way their inability to overcome their disagreements over the past five years has influenced the course of action considerably in favour of the Israeli occupation and has made many Palestinians aware of the fact that their disagreements are fundamentally irreconcilable, therefore, increasing their discontent with both powerless leaderships.

Most importantly, after nearly two decades of the so called peace process starting with the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, there is now growing awareness amongst Palestinians, although with varying degrees of willingness to accept the fact, that the Palestinian Authority, chiefly due to its utter dependency on the international community and Western donors, is most impotent to bring about—not to say the fulfilment of the Palestinian rights— any positive change with regard to the Palestinians’ conditions in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel. Contrary to that, since the end of the first Palestinian Intifada and the advent of the peace process and with its unprecedented concessions, the PA has started the Palestinians down the slippery slope toward an uncertain future leaving them under the thumb of the Israeli occupation who entirely dominated every single aspect of their lives.

Shifting the discourse, shifting the course of action

Therefore, it is clear that what the Palestinians need at this stage of the Palestinian struggle is, above anything else, a prime shift in the discourse from one that is characterized by the equivalency of the conflicting parties; i.e. two equivalent parties seated at the negotiating table in the case of the PA and Israel, or two equivalent parties “exchanging rocket fire” in the case of Hamas and Israel, to one of a whole civilian population forced to live under military occupation, subjected to all forms of racism, oppression and injustice and fighting for freedom, justice, equality and full rights.

In other words, the discourse should be veered away from that of the limited elite leadership represented in both political parties, Hamas and Fatah, regardless the fact that they still maintain relatively huge support amongst Palestinians, to one that is more representative of all the sectors of the Palestinian people. This requires the formation, which needs not be systematic, organised or physical, of one contentious movement that can help direct the massive amount of energy, faith and frustration of particularly the young people in the right direction toward the creation of a massive grassroots collective movement against the continuous crimes and unjust policies of the Israeli occupation. 

Incentives, mobilisation, and opportunity

In theory, people’s recourse to collective action can be explained by incentives, means of mobilisation and/or political opportunities. However, most of the time, grievances form the backbone of contentious movements and— as Ted Gurr explains in his book Why Men Rebel— collective action (e.g. protests, rebellions, civil wars…etc.) has its roots in relative deprivation which results in people’s frustration galvanizing them to employ violence collectively or, one might add, to embark on any kind of collective action.

In the context of the Palestinian people, the grievances of the Palestinians not only form an incentive but rather they are the root of the problem for they have been present since, and as a consequence to, the creation of the state of Israel and the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their lands.

Nonetheless, that fact that collective violence, let alone other forms of nonviolent collective action, has recently been seen as a rational phenomenon helps explain why the Palestinians don’t seem to be inclined to take part in any form of popular mass movement.  According to the theory, people don’t feel inclined to get involved in collective action unless they have a good reason to do so; i.e. unless they’re convinced they will stand to benefit from their involvement. This benefit usually takes the form of short term materialistic gains.

Considering the massive amount of money Western donors supply the PA with, which according to the Congressional Report, made “the Palestinians…the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid worldwide, and with a shattered economy, mostly dependent on external support to meet basic needs”, the costs for any engagement in collective action in the Palestinian territories seem to be higher. The PA uses this money to pay its employees’ their salaries, to pay for water, gas, and electricity supplies, to build the institutions and infrastructure necessary for the establishment of the Palestinian state on bits and pieces of land. In short, this money is used to keep the Palestinians in check.

Besides that, the PA constitutes the hugest physical obstacle that prevents the Palestinians from being in direct contact with the Israeli occupation. The Israeli occupation has become an unapproachable entity thanks to PA’s “security cooperation” activities according to which the task of managing the “undisciplined barbarians” becomes its direct responsibility, and in case it fails to fulfil it, it has to be punished by cutting off the aid money. The PA’s Dayton-trained security apparatus has continually made sure that it held the Palestinians back from being in touch with the Israeli occupation through various policies and particularly during demonstrations where it steered them away from any point of contact with the Israeli soldiers. This explains the absence of a potentially powerful opportunity to help the Palestinians engage thoroughly in any kind of mass movement. 

With regard to mobilisation, although they didn’t have the sufficient economic endowments which are necessary to mobilise other people, the Palestinians have had every social means at their disposal: a shared identity, a shared culture, a shared language, shared past experiences, and, for the most part, a shared religion. Based on the above shared commonalities, I would argue, it should be enough for the Palestinians to be able to start off a mass grassroots struggle.

A missed opportunity?

The precedents to Mustafa Tamimi’s death, one likes to believe, seem to have provided a perfect context for the Palestinians to start a new Intifada, at least in Nabi Saleh and neighbouring villages, away from Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA.

Mustafa’s death could have been the opportunity that had finally opened up before the Palestinians to rise up and start off a mass civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation. Similar to what happened in late September 2000, following Ariel Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa mosque just two months after the failure of the Camp David peace summit, the Palestinians could have mobilised themselves, taken to the streets and engaged in open-ended mass civil disobedience propelled by the brutal murder of Mustafa as well as being greatly charged by the failure of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN Security Council just recently. As I explained above, it’s no wonder this didn’t happen, however.

Until every Palestinian picks up their stone, there is no reason to think there is going to be an Intifada any time soon. Until the PA stops being an occupation in disguise doing Israel’s business of keeping the Palestinians in check; until the Palestinians realise they are not going anywhere near liberation with PA and Hamas officials continuing to monopolise Palestinian decision-making; until every Palestinian feels ready to speak the truth with their hands, and until every Palestinian becomes a stone-thrower, may Mustafa’s memory be a blessing.




Great analysis Mohammed. Stay safe comrade. The third Intifada is inviteble for the current situation is absolutly miserable.


I agree with the analysis here.
Can I also add: The moment in which an uprising will start, will most likely be unexpected and come at a surprise. If the past is anything to go by, i.e. the previous intifadas and the events in various Arab countries this year with the uprisings there, then the spark is usually difficult to predict. That said, on-the-ground organizing must continue to grow, so that when the mass of the Palestinians in the OPT, particularly in the West Bank finally rise up, sufficient organization is present to support them and bring the intifada forward all the way.

In this sense, I feel that the West Bank is more important for organizing. It has more potential contact with Israel, and so it is in a more powerful position than Gaza.

Freedom to Palestine, sooner rather than later, inshallah.

Mohammed Suliman

Mohammed Suliman's picture

Mohammed Rabah Suliman, 22, is a Palestinian student and blogger from Gaza. Mohammed currently undertakes graduate studies at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Gaza Diaries of Peace and War, and can be followed on Twitter.