A journey of revolts: bearing witness to the world outside us

Palestinian riot police block demonstrators during a protest following the violent death of activist Nizar Banat - Ramallah, June 2021 (APA Images)

Hurriyah Ziada

Mondoweiss  /  November 22, 2022

Hurriyah Ziada reflects on how the Arab uprisings and Palestinian youth movements revealed the best and worst of society.

In May 2021, we witnessed a Unity Intifada in Palestine. It extended across the lands which held us, and our power was once more revived as we confronted the fear of colonial practice implanted in us.  Almost one year later, we saw the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 of this year. 

At that moment, all of Palestine was in collective grief.

In the streets we afforded ourselves a moment to grieve. Just a moment to cry and allow our bodies to feel all wounds — the ones we experienced and those that are older than us. It was as though, for a moment, we collectively broke free from submission and repression. 

It was in that brief instant that I realized that while colonial regimes and oppressive powers might have mastered how to  rule by fear and imprisonment, they are neither able to comprehend nor control the eruption of collective revolt.    

In 2011, the Arab revolutions  in Tunisia and Egypt had a special place in our spirits. After 29 years of Husni Mubarak’s rule over the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Egyptian people  protested against the ruler and his rule at Tahrir Square, demanding the fall of the regime. 

The Tunisian people raised the volume of their demand to put a limit on the rule of Ben Ali. After years of being too afraid to delve into politics, due to the imposed absence of those opposing the regime, it seemed that those people were somewhere behind the sun, as was communicated in Tunisian circles prior to the revolution.

The revolutionary contagion extended to the entirety of the Arab world. It was a shock to witness the revolutionaries in the streets, a sight that ripped youth from decades of despair and indifference. 

We went into the streets in Palestine as well. We demanded elections for a new Palestinian National Council, holding up the slogan “A new National Council, representing Palestinians across the world.” We went on strike and protested in central Palestinian cities, where we were met by Palestinian security forces. At times they would try to contain us, and at others they would meet us with violence and censorship. This experience left me with the awareness that in times of revolt, we experience the best and the worst of society. We witnessed solidarity and collective appreciation for the land and its people, and we experienced neglect from  our male friends and comrades, who viewed themselves as intellectually superior and more level-headed than their fellow female activists. 

The spread of the Arab revolts in the world insisted that we join the wave of  revolt internally. It made us raise our voices to create change in Palestinian society, in the name of unity. The settler-colonial reality in Palestine also guided us to  protest against settlements in areas that excelled in resistance, such as Nabi Saleh and Bi’lin

The point was to avoid having our behavior be dictated by reactions. We watched developments at the social and political levels across the region. The slogans echoing across the Arab world spoke to one another, with only subtle changes to dialects and accents. After Mubarak declared that he would step down from his rule, different groups and individuals started planning protests in Manara Square, to celebrate with Egypt and its people. We headed to the streets spontaneously, resembling organized chaos. Out joy could not be contained as we  all chanted “The people of Egypt brought down the regime.” 

The excitement gradually ebbed due to little defeats. The revolts were met with arrests, harassments, injuries, and killing. At the level of internal mobilization, the fissures that were created  were a result of polemics, disappointment, and patriarchal practices. A revolt means a complete overturning that necessarily begins with the awareness of communities, groups, and individuals. To face every fissure, the matter may require many more revolts.

The opinions around the effectiveness and the tangible results of revolts may vary, but now I realize that despite  the uncertainty of the outcome of the Arab revolutions, the awareness of Egyptian or Tunisian identity did not replicate itself. The collective imagination no longer saw Egypt as an epicenter for dictatorship that made revolution seem impossible. In Tunisia, the people no longer shut their phones off out of the fear of having their political conversations tapped and surveilled by the intelligence apparatus. 

In this way, the revolution, itself, was the impossible that was made possible. 

We realized  that the continuation of oppression is impossible, not the revolution. What stands as a testament to this change is our very breaking and the scars on our injured bodies. The years of arrest. The pain of loss still in our chests and the shocks which came from the desecration of our bodies. 

These pains stand as a testament to the inevitable expansion of our minds. They are also the witnesses to the ways in which defeat snuck its way into our breath. As for the oppressive rulers — they became alert and prepared to face the people with weapons and batons,  hoping to crush a people that knows, even if subconsciously, that the awakening is inevitable, even if it takes time to arrive.

The killing of Nizar Banat by Palestinian police on June 24, 2021, was a critical moment in our relationship with the Palestinian Authority. There was rage as the police clashed with the protesters in Ramallah, and women were sexually harassed during protests. This time the police were more brutal, firing tear gas and detaining protesters even before the protests started. Nevertheless, there was social accountability. 

Today, almost a decade after the Arab revolutions, we understand the necessity of social accountability. The people have the responsibility to constantly question those in power, to be the deterrent in the face of oppression. 

The aftermath of the Arab revolutions revealed the price nations have to pay for their silence. Silence in the face of corruption and oppression will only lead to poverty, economic collapse, and will create an oppressive environment for the next generations. 

Perhaps our revolts and uprisings in the streets and public squares is our way of releasing our collective traumas, inherited from decades of relentless repression, dictatorships, violence, colonialism, and patriarchy. 

During every uprising, we shed parts of these fears. No matter the scale and the size of our revolt, it all comes together in a cumulative awareness, a conscious understanding that we must revolt every day in response to colonialism, settlement expansion, oppression, patriarchy, and corruption. We do this to afford our bodies a liberation that is rooted in the freeing of our minds and our consciousness.

Hurriyah Ziada is a Palestinian researcher and activist based in the West Bank