When indigenous people are outpowered by a colonial enemy, the only weapon they have left is that of determination.
The determination to resist the colonizer’s effort to exterminate them.
This has happened repeatedly in history. It’s happening again in Palestine, where people are resisting the Zionist colonial project.
Power is grossly skewed in Israel’s favor.
The so-called international community, led by the US, provides Israel with unconditional political, military and economic support. Israel’s material superiority enables it to control the lives of Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and thwart any resistance they attempt.
Israel also benefits from a friendly regional atmosphere, characterized by unelected Arab leaders who have effectively pledged their allegiance to Israel.
Those regimes fear that a Palestinian national uprising could inspire the people subject to their rule to form their own rebellions, which would threaten their interests.
They fundamentally believe that appeasing Israel is the quickest path to Washington’s favor. This is why the Arab states rushed to formalize years of covert relations with Israel last year.
Arab regimes are complicit in Israel’s oppressive siege of the Palestinians, depriving them of regional allies who might be able to provide support and assistance.
One of Israel’s key assets is the Palestinian Authority’s close collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces under the banner of “security coordination” in the occupied West Bank.
In this way, the Palestinian Authority acts as a buffer, delaying a national collective revolt that could directly confront the occupier.
With all the imbalances that allow the colonial state to wield its sword over the righteous Palestinians, what can the Palestinians do?
Facing the colonizer
Palestinians are left with two choices: to accept defeat and submit to the will of Zionist colonizers, or to say “no” and remain resolute in their resistance and pay the cost that accompanies this stance.
Palestinians have loudly said “no” multiple times in recent weeks in two highly symbolic events.
The first event occurred on 21 August, when Palestinian labor unions and political factions called for a demonstration near the eastern fence with Israel. Thousands heeded the call, gathering peacefully to protest Israel’s continued 14-year siege on the coastal enclave and practice of collective punishment of the entire civilian population.
As usual, Israeli snipers who were positioned behind the fence began firing live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters at protesters who posed no imminent threat.
Israeli forces injured more than 40 Palestinians that day, including 24 children. Two of the injured later died – including a 13-year-old boy observing the demonstrations without participating in them.
As Palestinians in Gaza are well-known for their courage, several youths approached an Israel-controlled separation wall through which a sniper was shooting at Palestinians through an opening and tried to take down his weapon.
One man carrying a handgun stood in the face of death and put his hand through the small opening from which the sniper was shooting and fired towards him.
The Israeli army later announced that the sniper had suffered serious injury, identifying him as Sergeant Barel Hadaria Shmueli of Israel’s Border Police. He later died.
The second event occurred on 6 September, when a tunnel measuring around 30 meters was discovered inside Gilboa, one of Israel’s most heavily guarded prisons.
Despite Israel’s tight security, six Palestinian prisoners, mainly serving life sentences, had managed to dig that tunnel and escape through it.
Those events were a tremendous morale boost for Palestinians and champions of human rights worldwide.
Rich in symbolism
The most important takeaway from those two events was the resolve of the Palestinians. Through the simplest of means, Palestinians demonstrated their refusal to submit to Israeli occupation or cede to its will.
The symbolism was rich in both events.
Palestinians, no matter how insurmountable the wall that besieges them, do not despair of trying to penetrate it.
It only takes a small opening for Palestinians to send their voices or bullets through this wall. This is all that Palestinians need in order to declare their match with Israel’s heavily armed colonial forces.
That is exactly what happened when a Palestinian opened fire at an Israeli sniper from the very same window through which the latter was firing at Palestinians.
The Israeli army learned its lessons from previous Great March of Return rallies in Gaza. It strengthened its fortifications by building a thick wall to provide cover for its soldiers.
Direct contact with demonstrators was limited to small firing slits. These slits were all a Palestinian needed to return fire and strike the sniper.
The scene went viral on social media, hailed as a display of heroism and pride.
It was highly meaningful, depicting Palestinian courage in the face of danger and death. It also demonstrated Palestinian fearlessness in facing the enemy.
Despite the stark power disparity, Palestinians are not eager to play the role of the victim. They are more passionate to challenge, confront and triumph.
It showed Palestinians were capable of resisting Israel’s occupation with the least resources, of finding small openings to break through the wall. The incident was a literal representation of this break in the wall.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The freedom tunnel, through which six Palestinians escaped, is also replete with symbolic meaning.
Israel denies Palestinians in its prisons the simplest and most basic rights. Israeli prison authorities closely monitor and inspect them daily.
Besides the state of permanent surveillance, the prison is designed like a fortified fortress, with concrete walls, iron bars and guards to hold the Palestinians like prisoners of war.
These elements failed to kill the will to resist in the hearts of prisoners. It was their sense of determination that spurred them to cut into rock and dig into concrete.
While it is a difficult task, it is better to try than to surrender to death in Israeli prisons.
Israel’s reputation has been severely tarnished by the escape of six men from beneath the prison’s walls.
To reinforce the illusion that it is unbeatable, Israel tries to maintain the image of military and technological superiority in the Palestinian and Arab psyche.
Maintaining this image is crucial for Israel.
Israel fears that if this image is damaged, Palestinians will become more rebellious.
The scandal – as far as Israel is concerned – extends far beyond the escape of six inmates.
Israel’s status has been undermined. Israel fears that people will discover it has pressure points that can be exploited.
The freedom tunnel also had symbolic significance, since Palestinians were able to engrave their nails in the rock to break the enemy’s will. It is not just that Palestinians walk into a tunnel hoping for light at the end, but that they begin digging with the belief that there will be light at the end.
The escape reinforced a sense of national identity among Palestinians.
Every Palestinian home was filled with feelings of pride after the men succeeded in escaping the hold of their jailer, and every Palestinian home was saddened to hear that Israel had rearrested them.
While Palestinians wished that Israel would fail to capture the men, it is not such a great achievement for Israel to rearrest them in light of its security, technological and military might.
But Israel had already lost – and the biggest victory achieved by the prisoners is symbolized in that undying determination of Palestinians and that humiliation of Israel. None of that is diminished by their rearrest.
The most important lesson that we learn from the events of recent months in Palestine is that the will of Palestinian resistance is mightier than all prisons – as big as the Gaza Strip or as small as Gilboa – built by the colonizer.
Ahmed Abu Artema is a writer who lives in Gaza and a researcher at the Center for Political and Development Studies.