When the first intifada erupted on 8 December 1987, I was working as a reporter with al-Fajr newspaper. I was 25 years old and the breadwinner for my family of four brothers and two sisters following the death of my father in 1983.
Life was demanding. But my “national and patriotic” education, in which I was well versed during my years at Bethlehem University, persuaded me to put any personal ambitions on hold and become involved in an uprising that responded to the long-bottled popular frustrations and the demand for freedom and independence.
I joined the Popular Committees, the grassroots youth body of the uprising. A few months later I was arrested for the first time by Israeli authorities.
I spent eight months in prison. My time there only deepened my belief in the just cause of my people. After my release in December 1988, I jumped right back into my activism, recruiting Jerusalem Old City youth to join the intifada.
In response to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s policy – he was defense minister during the intifada – of breaking the bones of demonstrators, more Palestinian factions and groups joined in. Even the Muslim Brotherhood became involved. Traditionally, the Brotherhood had adopted non-military means of dealing with the occupation but after it joined the ranks of the intifada and of the popular resistance it adopted a new name: Hamas.
We were proud of our activities, fully convinced of the righteousness of our struggle. We immortalized our martyrs, hailing our political prisoners as heroes and freedom fighters. The overall belief was that the uprising would ultimately end in victory, no matter how long it took. Everyone was involved in one way or the other and we had the support of the world. We were on a high, even though, on the personal level, things just got tougher. At one point, my three brothers and I were all in Israeli prisons at the same time.
The Oslo betrayal
Unfortunately, international support waned during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sided with Saddam Hussein, the Gulf states suspended their financial support to the PLO and Kuwait deported its remaining Palestinians after the war.
Fearing that it would lose its status as leader of the Palestinian people and stuck for financing, the PLO began secret talks with Israel that ended in the 1993 Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority a year later.
Among the many concessions made by PLO negotiators as part of the deal, the Palestinians’ sole representative recognized the State of Israel.
I watched the signing ceremony of that notorious agreement while serving my second stint in Israeli prison, this one a five-year sentence. At the time, Israel released a group of Fatah prisoners on condition that they sign a commitment to renounce violence. We leftists who opposed the Oslo accords refused and were kept incarcerated until our sentences were served in full. I was released in 1996.
Following my release, I resumed a personal life: I started a new job, got married and had two children. I also got a master’s degree in international studies from Birzeit University.
Today, 24 years after the Oslo accords, Palestinians are still stateless despite the UN recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012. Israel is in a race with time to build more settlements and take more Palestinian land. It seems that only when the two-state solution becomes impossible will the international community begin to support it.
The hopelessness of today’s situation has driven some Palestinian youth to desperation. They see no hope for a better future and without a strong or unified leadership to guide them, some have turned themselves into “lone wolves.” Since 2015, young Palestinians have rammed cars into Israeli soldiers or wielded knives against settlers, believing that it would be better to die a martyr than live in humiliation.
However, the spirit of popular peaceful protests recently took over Palestinians once again, particularly in Jerusalem when Israel tried to install metal detectors and impose other restrictions at the gates of al-Aqsa mosque. Mass nonviolent protests beginning in mid-July and lasting almost two weeks ultimately succeeded in forcing Israel to stand down on the new measures.
A future better than the present
If any lesson was learned, it is this: Even 30 years after the first intifada, Palestinians have not tired of resistance and will continue to resist until the occupation ends, no matter how long this takes.
Lesson two: In order to achieve this, they need a dedicated and faithful unified leadership to guide them. The Palestinians need a leadership that meets the demands of its own people, not one that offers free concessions to the occupying power. These concessions have just made Israel even more assertive and expansionist.
In the current situation, Palestinians have no choice but to unite and adopt a unified strategy to win their freedom. Unfortunately, I don’t see the recent Cairo talks to restore Palestinian unity bearing fruit. Hamas and Fatah’s political platforms have always been two parallel lines that will never meet. The two factions only entered talks after being put under pressure from regional countries keen on paving the way for US President Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal” for the Middle East.
This “deal” will reportedly focus on normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and regional Arab Sunni countries at the cost of Palestinian rights, ostensibly to counter the alleged Iranian threat. What it makes clear is that Palestinians have no other choice but to continue their struggle and steadfastness and wait out the tidal waves sweeping this unstable region. The Palestinians know that history is ultimately on their side. Occupation is always transient – it cannot last forever.
Today I run the Old City-based African Community Society, organizing social and community activities targeting women, children and youth to empower them and strengthen their resilience in their city.
After the disappointment of Oslo, I’ve renounced politics and now focus my time on engaging Jerusalem’s often marginalized youth to help them create a future that will hopefully be better than our present.
Mousa Qous is a reporter with Al-Quds newspaper and executive director of the African Community Society.