Palestinians to stage nationwide general strike as air raids pummel Gaza

Unlike previous official calls for general strikes, this one was organised and pushed for by ordinary Palestinians (File - AFP)

Shata Hammad

Middle East Eye  /  May 17, 2021

Strike will be held across occupied Palestinian territories as well as Palestinian towns inside Israel on Tuesday, as intense Israeli bombing shows no signs of abating.

Palestinians across the political divide have said a nationwide general strike will commence on Tuesday to protest Israel’s continuing bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip.

The strike, which will see the disruption of all economic and commercial establishments in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Palestinian communities inside Israel, comes as more than 200 people, including 61 children, have been killed in intense Israeli attacks on the besieged enclave of two million people.

The strike also comes amid plans to forcibly displace residents of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and days of attacks at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. 

News of the initiative was welcomed by Palestinian political parties, unions, syndicates and institutions, which published statements confirming their commitment. Residents of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights have also declared that they would partake. 

When the masses call, the establishment heeds

Unlike previous calls for general strikes, which have historically been made by political parties, unions or federations, Tuesday’s strike was organized and pushed for by ordinary Palestinians. 

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel said in a statement that it had taken a decision to include all sectors in the strike, with private education being the only exclusion. 

For its part, the Fatah Central Committee called for Palestinians across the West Bank to adhere to the general strike, and referred to it as a popular “day of rage.”

The Palestinian National and Islamic Forces coalition also released a statement in support of the strike and urged mobilizations to take place at various places, including Israeli-manned checkpoints.

Palestinian prisoners also announced they would participate and said they would not communicate with Israeli prison administrators.

General strikes as a tool of popular resistance 

The Palestinians have long used general strikes as a tool to express their rejection of Israeli practices.

The planned strike is reminiscent of a famous six-month strike that took place in 1936, which involved the whole country and was aimed at pressuring Britain to end policies that paved the way for the creation of Israel.

A general strike also took place during what is termed the “rocks intifada” of 1987-1993, when Palestinians responded to Israeli attacks by paralyzing the economy and refusing to deal with the Israeli establishment in charge of affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, prior to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

During that intifada [uprising], Palestinians adhered to a general strike every week on Tuesday.

Sari Orabi, a Palestinian journalist and analyst, told Middle East Eye that strikes are a method of popular protest and rejection.

“Palestinians have a deep-rooted memory of popular struggle using strikes, since the British colonization of Palestine, and in particular the famous strike of 1936,” Orabi said.  

He explained that during the rocks intifada, strikes were “an act of civil disobedience” against Israeli forces who maintained a presence in city centres and towns through their civil administration, a body answerable to the Israeli military, which controlled Palestinian civil affairs at the time.

“The occupation was attempting to end the strike by trying to force Palestinians to open their stores. Those who continued to adhere to the strike were punished by having their store doors destroyed,” Orabi said.

Are strikes still effective?

Historically, general strikes were used to mobilize the masses, and unify merchants, workers and students. However, a significant shift was noticed after the arrival of the PA and the Oslo Accords.

“The arrival of the PA meant the presence of a local authority that manages the affairs of the Palestinians, both civil and security. The Israelis left the densely populated areas and there was no longer direct friction, which led to a decline in the effectiveness and impact of strikes,” said Orabi. 

While the impact of strikes has diminished, they continue to hold moral value in uniting Palestinians in a single expression of protest and rejection.

Orabi said he believes the upcoming strike would be successful if it comes as part of a new national context and acts as a prelude to a new form of struggle that encompasses all Palestinians. 

Strikes as a milestone 

Political analyst Bilal Shweiki told MEE that the measurable and material impact of the strike will be inside the 1948-occupied territories. By disrupting daily life and putting pressure on Israeli authorities, the impact will be stronger and clearer than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Despite the weak impact of strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this does not negate their importance,” he continued, explaining that during this political phase, they have a large moral effect. 

Shweiki said the moral effect of the strike is represented by overcoming colonial divisions imposed on Palestine, including those stemming from the Oslo Accords.

“In this strike, Palestinians are emerging unified, regardless of the colonial space that they are permitted to exist in.

“The idea of a unified strike constitutes a lever for joint Palestinian national action. It is also a declaration of rejection against all agreements that divide the land.”

The strike, he continued, constitutes a shift in unified political action, especially in the occupied territories, where the struggle for civil rights is transformed into a national struggle against settler colonialism.

“We are witnessing a turning point in Palestinian history, and this strike will constitute a turning point in our history.”

Shatha Hammad is a Palestinian freelance journalist