From cubs to lions: towards a new Palestinian Intifada

A Palestinian man walks past a mural marking the anniversary of the First Intifada in Gaza City, December 2020 (Mahmoud Ajjour - APA Images)

Gilbert Achcar

Middle East Monitor  /  October 20, 2022

The Palestinian Authority has long since lost what limited patriotism it might have had by virtue of the circumstances of its establishment within the framework of an agreement with the actual authority in occupation Palestine: the Zionist state. It lost even its repressive prestige, as the Palestinian people, especially their youth, no longer obey the orders and instructions of that “authority” which is headed by a man who has been presiding over it for seventeen years. He has become president for life through the unlimited extension of his term of office under the pretext of the circumstances arising from the division of the independent Palestinian state project into what are two effectively landlocked states.

The truth is that the Zionist state, along with its American godfather and their allies, counted on the state project that resulted from the 1993 Oslo Accords to tame the Palestinian people after they fought the pillars of the apartheid regime with their Great Intifada of 1987-93, but the Israel-US bets failed miserably. The first failure ended in overwhelming disappointment, even from the founder of the PA himself after he had illusions of achieving his dream of an independent state through agreement and cooperation with the occupation regime in the West Bank. The Aqsa Intifada that began in autumn 2000 was absorbed politically by Israel more easily than the first intifada, because the second fell into the trap of taking up arms. This allowed the Israeli regime to portray its brutal oppression as a war between two equal entities. It was a narrative that suited the Zionist state, with its inherently violent nature.

After the brutal suppression of the Aqsa Intifada, which concluded with the killing of Yasser Arafat in 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as his successor in 2005 — with Israeli and US blessing — a second attempt was made to tame the people of the West Bank, especially after the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from 2007 onwards. The process relied on international aid aimed at eliminating the spirit of rebellion among the Palestinians by distracting some of them with the pursuit of money, accompanied by serious corruption. This succeeded in dissuading the generation that experienced defeat in the second intifada from rising collectively against the occupier.

However, a new generation who were young cubs twenty years ago have now come of age in an untamed revolution: not because of frustration at the Zionist military machine and its oppressive Palestinian stooges, nor in terms of the dollars and corruption; but because Palestinian living conditions are deteriorating against the background of a global crisis and suffocation by the Israeli occupation. It is this generation that has begun to move independently of the traditional frameworks such as Fatah, Hamas and the other factions. Their indignation is aimed at the Zionist oppression that has been getting worse against the backdrop of Israeli society’s slide to the far right. The beginning of the latest intifada, which began in Jerusalem a year and a half ago, heralded a new wave of popular struggle against the occupation, before Hamas aborted it all by firing Jerusalem Shield missiles and turning the situation into another asymmetrical war. The mistake of taking up arms was similar to that made during the Aqsa Intifada.

Yesterday’s cubs have now turned into lions and the most powerful of them have formed independent fighting groups throughout the occupied West Bank, including the Lion’s Den in and around Nablus and the Jenin Brigade. These groups are carrying out resistance operations against Israel, leading its occupation forces to escalate their repression in all its forms. This, in turn, provokes collective discontent within a Palestinian society that is no longer able to tolerate Israel’s behaviour; we now see the masses taking to the streets to express their indignation, as they did on Tuesday.

There is one critical issue that the new youth groups need to be aware of: the use of weapons must remain aimed at pushing the Palestinians towards a popular revolution by provoking the occupation state and relying on its repression to galvanize Palestinian society. This is the kind of tactic understood by many revolutionary groups in history, who saw their use of weapons as a means of pushing the people to rise up without having any intention to replace a popular uprising with an armed revolt. The goal should remain to provoke a new intifada, like the first intifada, and not another massive Israeli military offensive.

Gilbert Achcar is a Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London