By Roqayah Chamseddine
There is a fire burning beneath the ashes of occupation in Palestine; these are the flickering embers of resilience which have long advanced the people’s struggle for national liberation, and in Palestine they continue to rage.
The historical narrative of Palestinian resistance is one shared by all subjugated and indigenous peoples — it is a chronicle of an indomitable human will to endure, to break the fetters of both mental and physical bondage. In Palestine, the occupation and its consequences are tangible, harrowing and intentionally humiliating: collective transfers, exploitation of natural resources, checkpoints, acts of random settler violence, home demolitions, the intentional burning of crops and a policy of colonization which has caused the Palestinians to become the oldest and largest refugee population in the world.
The ever-expanding colonization of Palestine has produced a farcical peace process that is clinically dead — stillborn from inception — as there can be no “peace” on Israel’s terms, or the terms of any other such settler-colonial entity. The immense failure of the “peace process” (and other such lifeless diplomatic negotiations ironically brokered by the United States) to bring an end to the occupation was predicted, as this was not the intention of such negotiations.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is widely considered corrupt by Palestinians, as its main focus is on marginalizing mainstream Palestinian voices in order to line the organization’s pockets — a premise corroborated by the PA’s often distracted collusion with Israel and the US. The only sufficient response to Israel’s occupation is popular resistance.
In Palestine, the people’s response to colonial and foreign hegemony is composed of armed resistance and unarmed resistance, and historically the people of Palestine have engaged in both — even prior to the creation of Israel.
Tax revolts, mass demonstrations and general strikes involving women’s unions, youth movements and political organizations made up the “Great Palestinian Revolt” against British occupation in Palestine from 1936 to 1939, as did organized armed resistance. The historical confirmation of popular resistance movements in Palestine, though often ignored, remains a testament to the determination of the Palestinian people, who have long expressed clear opposition to the occupation of their land. The dauntless people of Palestine continue down the path of resistance and over the years their countless methods have become more diverse and creative.
Hunger Strike for Basic Rights
In December 2011, administrative detainee Khader Adnan, a baker from the village of Arraba in the occupied West Bank, began an open-ended hunger strike. His action would lead to a historic mass hunger strike, continuing until demands pertaining to the conditions of Palestinian prisoners were met — the most pressing stipulation was to bring an end to administrative detention.
Earlier, in September 2011, hunger strikes and civil disobedience swept across the Israeli prison system in protest of Israel’s use of solitary confinement, denial of family visits and other punitive measures.
Administrative detention, a practice criticized by a number of human rights organizations as being a violation of civil and political rights, is the arrest and detention of individuals by the state without trial. In the case of Israel, Palestinian prisoners are held in administrative detention without being charged or allowed to stand trial. According to prisoner support and human rights association Addameer, “administrative detainees in Israel must endure severe restrictions on their right to education, rights to communicate with families and receive visits, and right to adequate medical treatment.”
In a letter given to his lawyers, Khader Adnan declared his intentions as to why he was on hunger strike: “The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey. … I hereby assert that I am confronting the occupiers not for my own sake as an individual, but for the sake of thousands of prisoners who are being deprived of their simplest human rights while the world and international community look on” (“Hunger-striking prisoner not backing down,” Maan News Agency, 11 February 2012).
Thousands of Palestinian prisoners joined the mass hunger strike with an international community of ordinary people — not governments — standing firmly behind them; campaigns were launched around the world in support of the prisoners; and the pressure against Israel was building without the voices of Palestinians being co-opted and therein marginalized.
Khader Adnan was released on 17 April this year, known to Palestinians as Prisoners’ Day, after being on hunger strike for 66 days. According to Addameer, as of 1 June, there were at least 303 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons, and so the struggle against Israel’s arbitrary use of administrative detention and prisoner abuse continues.
Youth lead by Example
Palestinian youth, within Palestine and in exile, have taken an active and effective role in resisting the occupation of their ancestral land; from organizing and movement building to empowering young Palestinians to take a more direct role in the liberation struggle.
Stop The Wall is one such organization which cultivates the role of Palestinian youth, from organizing protests at a national level to spreading information so that Palestinians globally are able to take a vigilant role. As of late, youth activists have held demonstrations lasting for many hours in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in front of Ofer prison, according to Hassan Kharajeh, a youth coordinator with Stop the Wall. The Palestinian Youth Movement, a grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and those in exile around the world, have led calls for international mobilization and have worked closely with popular committees throughout Palestine.
In an interview, Maath Musleh, a 26-year-old Palestinian activist and resident of Jerusalem, emphasized to me that “as in any place in the world throughout history,” the youth are leading movements for change in the region, but not exclusively.
Palestinians from all age groups and varied backgrounds are taking part in resisting Israel’s occupation and are leading on different levels. The younger Palestinian generation is directing, mobilizing and taking part in the stirring responses to the subjugation of their people and the Zionist colonial-settler project that is Israel; and, as Musleh and other Palestinians contend, they are doing so alongside the older generation as well.
Palestinian youth, who are now arguably even more invigorated by recent upheavals in the region, have taken even more coordinated action in order to smash the settler state; they realize that they shall inherit the earth which their ancestors have long watered with blood, sweat and tears and they will be the first to resist the occupation on the front lines.
Duty to Resist
The choice of what methods of resistance are used, be it armed or unarmed, are to be left entirely up to those occupied; what is imperative is that there must be an unwavering response and that the struggle must continue until the achievement of both physical and mental liberation. The colonized mind must be emancipated just like the colonized land.
Israel’s occupation is intentionally humiliating and crippling so as to hasten the process of ethnic cleansing, so as to make it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to go about their day-to-day lives, and to pressure them into leaving their homeland — thereby joining the distressing number of other Palestinian exiles around the world. The United Nations has also recognized the significance of the right of peoples to self-determination, as noted in UN General Assembly resolution 3070, which “reaffirms the legitimacy of the people’s struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
The people of Palestine have chosen to combat the further usurpation of their native land through strategic resistance, by any means they deem necessary; and, despite the ruthlessness of Israel’s violations of their basic human rights and the theft of their land, they continue to remain steadfast in their uncompromising struggle against occupation.
The liberation of Palestine from the grips of brutal Israeli occupation will look like that of my native south Lebanon — patient struggle, sacrifice and long-awaited victory. From the horrors of airstrikes which stretched across our southern Lebanese villages, claiming thousands of lives, including that of my aunt Hoda Chamseddine, to the countless homes destroyed atop the heads of their inhabitants to the checkpoints erected on our soil, it was all intended to provoke feelings of shame and helplessness.
Yet despite the brutality of Israel’s conquest of southern Lebanon, a brutality which is an equal opportunity destroyer, the organized and unwavering response which followed the occupation of our land is a tangible and historic reminder that we are the sole protectors of our people, of our land and of our dignity.
After witnessing the misery and suffering of our people, the national liberation struggle against the occupiers of our land grew and engulfed south Lebanon. The young and old stood united as one fist raised in the face of Israel’s insatiable militancy and cruelty — and in 2000, after nearly 22 years, the struggle against the foreign occupier produced our “Liberation Day,” commemorated every year across Lebanon.
Palestine’s own “Liberation Day” is coming — and the vast Zionist settler-colonial project, i.e. Israel, knows it. It is an overlooked and steadfast truth that these powerful ripples of hope, as seen in south Lebanon and beyond, will only encourage resistance to oppression. And in Palestine, this will result in an uprising that shall shake the very earth and warm the subjugated masses with cloaks of freedom.
The obligation of an oppressed and an indigenous people to resist occupation is universal; not only is resistance a right but it shall remain a legitimate duty. In the end, all that an oppressed people have to lose in the battle for national liberation are their chains.
- Roqayah Chamseddine is a US-based Lebanese-American journalist, commentator and activist. (This article was originally published in The Electronic Intifada on July 23, 2012)