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Reclaiming Palestine: How Israeli Media Misread the Intifada

Israeli commentators, Yaron Friedman, of “Ynet News” and Haviv Rettig Gur, of the “Times of Israel” are clueless about the driving force behind the Palestinian mobilization and collective struggle. In two recent articles, and with unmistakable conceit, they attempted to highlight what they perceive as the failure of the current Palestinian uprising, or ‘Intifada’.

Gur argues that ‘the terrorism’ of the Palestinians is not a surge of opposition to Israel but a “howl against the pervasive sense that resistance has failed”. He reduces the Intifada to the mere act of alleged stabbing of Israelis, and points out to the painful truth that the Palestinian Authority ‘elites’ are paying lip service to the ‘martyrs’, while “simultaneously acting with determination on the ground to disrupt and stop attacks”.

In his long-winded article, “Losing Palestine”, Gur essentially claims that the current struggle against Occupation stems mostly from internet fervor and is more a deceleration of defeat than a strategy for victory, and that no Palestinian leader dares to be the first to accept this.

Friedman, on the other hand, describes the ‘knife Intifada’ as a ‘fire without coal’; that the “insane actions of the stabbers” is designed to ignite religious fervor, ultimately aimed at blaming the Jews.

Those who launched the Intifada “have no real internal or external support (financial or with weapons) and it broke out at a time when the nightmare of all the Arab world’s leaders is the social protests turning into anarchy,” he wrote.

There is little sense in arguing against the unsympathetic approach Zionist commentators use to describe Palestinians or their insistence on seeing Palestinian collective action, violent or otherwise, as an act of ‘terror’; on their refusal to see any context behind Palestinian anger or on how they inject a religious narrative at every turn, and lob ‘anti-Semitic’ accusations unfairly, whenever they see fit.

But what is particularly interesting about the Israeli take on the Palestinian Intifada, as presented by Friedman, Gur and others in the media, including from within the Israeli political establishment, is the attempt to display an exaggerated sense of confidence, that unlike other uprisings, this one is a farce.

In fact, the Israelis are certain that the uprising is likely to deflate once the limited tools at its disposal are contained. This supposition has led Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, to meet with representatives of YouTube and Google “to discuss ways to cooperate in what she calls the fight against ‘inciting violence and terrorism’,” reported MEMO, citing Israeli daily, ‘Maariv’.

This hasty self-assurance among Israeli state officials and media is predicated on several suppositions:

First, while the PA has not yet moved to take part in crushing the Intifada, it has done its utmost to thwart the people’s effort at mobilizing Palestinians beyond the limited confines of the ruling Fatah faction and its worthless promises of peace and statehood.

The PA knows well that if the Intifada escalates beyond its current scale, it could undermine – if not entirely challenge – the PA itself, which has served for many years as a line of defense for the Israeli Occupation. Thanks to the ‘security coordination’ between the Israeli army and the PA, Palestinian resistance in the West Bank has, until recently, been largely contained.

Second, Hamas, although it has openly called for an escalation of protests against Israel, is swamped in its own problems. The siege on Gaza, tightened further with the closure of the Rafah border and the desperate need to rebuild what successive Israeli wars have destroyed, makes it difficult for Hamas to take part in any effort that could open up another war front with Israel.

One must recall that the Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014 was, itself, an Israeli attempt at redrawing the battle lines. At that time, a momentum for an Intifada was taking shape in the West Bank following an increase in Israeli army and settler violence against Palestinians. The war on Gaza managed to change the narrative of that budding conflict into an Israeli war aimed at defending its own borders, as Israeli hasbara dictated. Israel is now relying on the assumption that Hamas would avoid, at least for now, a repeat of that scenario which cost Palestinians over 2,200 lives and thousands of wounded and maimed, let alone the massive destruction of the already impoverished Strip.

Third, Arabs are consumed with their own regional fights, whether for political or sectarian domination. Almost every Arab country is somehow, either fully or partially, involved or is affected by the various wars and conflicts under way in Syria, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai, Iraq and Yemen. The supposedly successful Tunisian model is suffering its own fallout, too, from militant violence, whether homegrown or that which spills over from violent borders.

Previous intifadas succeeded, or so goes the Israeli logic, because of Arab backing. But the most that Arabs have done is to pay lip service and nothing more. In fact, if the PA itself is keen on spoiling popular Palestinian initiatives, little can be expected of the Arabs, who are busy fighting one another.

However, the Israeli argument is, as has always been the case, narrow-minded in its view of history, or it conveniently applies history to fit whatever political argument Israeli officials or mouthpieces deem handy. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, absolved the Nazis from the idea behind the Holocaust and pinned the blame on the Palestinian Mufti instead.

Previous intifadas, but more importantly the 1987 ‘Intifada of the stones’, was not constructed as a strategy for liberation, but was a spontaneous reaction to a series of Israeli provocations, and the adjacent failure of the Palestinian leadership, all positioned within the larger context of the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Palestinians do not revolt when ‘the time is right’ for them to do so, but whenever their collective suffering has culminated to the point that they cannot be silenced anymore.

Those, whether Israeli or even Palestinian intellectuals, who opine about the need for the intifada to do this or that, change directions or tactics, stop altogether or move forward, are simply unable to understand that the momentum of a collective struggle cannot be dictated from above.

This is not to argue that a grassroots, genuine Palestinian leadership that operates outside the confines of fatalism and defeat as demonstrated by the PA is not a necessary step needed to galvanize the popular efforts. But that is a decision to be taken by the youth themselves, and its timing and nature should be determined based on their own reckoning.

The Israelis are counting on their shoot to kill policy. The Palestinian leadership is waiting for the anger to fizzle out before resuming its endless quest for a frivolous peace process and financial handouts. The Intifada itself, however, operates on the basis of an entirely different arithmetic: a collective spirit that can neither be intimidated by violence nor procured by funds.

In fact this is precisely why the Intifada started in the first place and, as long as the factors that led to its inception remain in place, it, too, is likely to continue and escalate, not for the sake of liberating Palestine through some magic formula, but for the urgent need to regain national initiative, redefine priorities and a new sense of collective, as Palestinian first and foremost.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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