Last Tuesday’s demonstrations, which brought thousands onto the streets of Ramallah, Hebron, Tulkarem, Nablus and Gaza in defiance of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) attempt to silence the peoples’ voice, represented a crucial moment for Palestine.
Our demonstration, which was supported by the Popular Committees of the Refugee Camps and over 150 civil society organizations and representatives, called for the upholding of the fundamental principles of our struggle: the right of the refugees to return, the right to Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and the right to our land. We were refusing the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, as this would legitimize the Zionist ideology of colonialism, racism and ethnic cleansing, and effectively exonerate Israel from the crimes of the Nakba, waiving the right of return. Such recognition would justify and reinforce the Israeli system of apartheid against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Palestine that we are fighting for is one which upholds the fundamental principles of our national rights and equality, and which respects the democratic right of the people to express their views in protest on the streets. The PA has shown that they do not share this vision. On Tuesday they attempted to prevent the people from asserting their rights, first by banning demonstrations and then by attacking us with tear gas, batons and military jeeps.
The departure of the occupation from our land and the right of the refugees to return is non-negotiable, as is the question of Jerusalem. For the oppressed and occupied, ongoing struggle and resistance using all necessary means is not only our right, it is our obligation in front of all those that have sacrificed before us and the future generation that has the right to live in freedom. It is our only tool to ensure that “negotiations” talk about how to achieve our rights and not how to abandon them step by step. Yet for the first time in the sixty years of our struggle, those who claim to represent us at a national level are no longer talking about resistance to the attacks of the occupiers. Instead, they are disingenuously opening up negotiations relying on the US, the occupation’s most ardent backer, to act as an “honest broker.”
Tuesday’s actions were important in themselves as an expression of the voices raised against Annapolis, but also because by defying the ban on demonstrations, the popular committees, representatives of civil society and political parties threw down a powerful challenge to the Palestinian leadership: as the pressure for normalization grows, so the grassroots anti-normalization movement is growing. In the last month, the One Voice initiative, an attempt to coerce Palestinians into denying their own rights while recognizing their occupiers, was defeated by grassroots activists. Last week, Ramallah hosted a conference strategizing to beat the occupation through boycott, divestment and sanctions. Palestinians from within the Green Line voiced their powerful opposition to recognition of a Jewish state on their lands in a unanimous decision made by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, the senior representative body of Palestinian citizens in Israel. The demonstrations on Tuesday were not an isolated protest; they were part of a wide popular movement against concessions on basic principles, and against an apparent acceptance on the part of the Palestinian leadership of the isolation of Palestinians within the Green Line, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and in the Diaspora from each other. At the Cyprus conference in October, Palestinians inside Israel called Palestinians from all over their homeland and the diaspora together to build unified strategies and follow up mechanisms, as a powerful counterpoint to Israeli bantustanization.
In Annapolis, the Authority did not raise the issue of Palestinians within the Green Line, nor the right of return, nor the criminal siege of Gaza. The Wall caging Palestinians in the West Bank into ghettos was not on the agenda. Those appointed to rule the West Bank bantustans showed that they were not even representing the Palestinians there when they brutally repressed our protests. In this so-called “peace process,” only a tiny portion of Palestinians are represented: they are laying the ground for an outcome that the Palestinian people cannot and will not accept.
The so-called “peace process” demands not only that the PA clamp down on armed resistance: it is also becoming clear that it will require the repression of all of us who reject the abandonment of our rights. The Palestinian people who are confronting the Israeli occupation day after day have not been consulted or informed about the negotiations: they only are to feel the batons when they disagree and call out for their rights. Tuesday was a testing ground to determine whether the PA will be able to make the Palestinian people swallow a second Oslo, further compromising our rights.
The gulf between the PA and the Palestinian people is becoming increasingly obvious. Indeed the whole range of Palestinian political and social forces joined in condemning the repression on Tuesday. The choice for the PA is clear: either to go along with the dictates of the US and the occupation; or to radically alter their course, to return to the people and remember that they are leaders of the Palestinian national struggle. The grassroots movement against normalization with the occupiers will continue to grow. Resistance will continue as the Palestinian people assert their fundamental rights.
Jamal Juma’ is coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.