The West Bank saw sporadic unrest during the Gaza war, but it is unlikely to develop into a full-fledged popular uprising largely due to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) opposition to large-scale protests.
In addition to relief aid, fundraisers and donations, the activities in solidarity with Gaza that are taking place in the West Bank can be divided into four basic patterns:
- Local demonstration and protest marches
- Major central mass marches seeking to mobilize popular movement like the Arab Spring protests
- Boycott of Israeli products
- Violent confrontations against settlers and Israeli soldiers.
But can these activities shift toward a broader mass movement and uprising? A closer look at each activity might help better understand the situation.
Regarding local protests, one of the main problems faced by the protesting Palestinian youth is that the occupation forces are no longer deployed in the heart of densely populated cities and regions, according to the arrangements of the security coordination with the PA. This has deprived confrontations of their traditional impetus and drive, unlike the situation during the pre-Oslo period.
It should be noted that young Palestinians have started to develop a new type of confrontation in the villages near the settlements, or at checkpoints. They are starting to cut off roads and prevent Israeli vehicles from passing while the Israeli army watches from afar. Al-Monitor has witnessed such events in the village of Al-Eizariya, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Yet at times, the army would directly intervene as it did in Beit Hanina and Shuafat. This raises the question: To what extent will this situation develop?
The lack of traditional confrontations with the occupation forces led to the idea of holding mass rallies outside the areas under the PA’s influence, such as the protests that took place near Ofer prison, west of Ramallah, or the Laylat al-Qadr march on July 24 at an Israeli checkpoint in Qalandiya. The protest that was known under the name of the “48,000 march” reflected the will to gather 48,000 demonstrators — which is an unprecedented number of protesters — in reference to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.
Those who called for the march are young people affiliated with the Fatah movement, but they took action on their own without any official endorsement. This was made clear by one of the organizers in his speech at al-Manara, the main square of the city, where Al-Monitor was present a few days before the march was held. “This march has nothing to do with the leaderships,” he said.
Palestinian security forces were not present during the protest, as Palestinian police are not allowed in the Qalandiya area under the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. The march attracted a number of faction leaders, who did not take part in organizing the event.
The Israeli occupation forces clamped down on protesters, killing one person and wounding hundreds with live ammunition. The question remains as to whether mass rallies akin to the Arab Spring can erupt in the West Bank.
“We tried to call upon Palestinian factions to follow up on the mass popular support generated by the march, as it is beyond our means — we as a group of young people — to do so,” a source close to the organizers told Al-Monitor.
In the meantime, it appears that Hamas members prefer to participate in demonstrations and marches without leading a public mass movement, perhaps to avoid a strike by Israel security forces, as many of the movement’s political leaders have already been arrested by the Israeli army.
The Qalandiya march prompted other groups in Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities to hold similar rallies.
Activist Badi Dweik in the south of the West Bank told Al-Monitor, “Many young participants, particularly from the new generation, are not aware of the long-term implications of their actions. Many faction members are present in the protests but without an official central decision, clear plans or political goals.”
A leading member of Fatah explained to Al-Monitor, “Any major uprising that could take place would result in clashes with the Palestinian Authority, which refuses large-scale protests. Avoiding any clash between the citizens and power is a necessary and wise decision, but what is the alternative solution?”
The coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements group in the city of Hebron, Issa Amr, shares the same opinion with the Fatah-affiliated member. “The situation is very critical, but any potential sustained uprising is not a viable choice now because the leadership of Fatah is vulnerable and unable to [make] a decision to uphold a resistance,” he told Al-Monitor.
“This is not to mention the security coordination, as the security apparatus is impeding the movements of the newly formed groups. One must also mention that a large segment of traders benefit from the occupation, in addition to the violent reaction of Israel vis-a-vis any popular activities of this kind,” he added.
Moreover, many leading members of Fatah have expressed their resentment regarding the slow reaction on the part of leaders to the events in Gaza.
A member of the Central Committee of Fatah, Abbas Zaki said, “The Palestinian leadership failed to read the turning points and the threats. Some members in Fatah, as well the people, have outperformed the movement’s leadership in their actions and activities, while leaders took too long to make a reaction.”
As for the third solidarity activity, related to the boycott of Israeli goods, this step will be rejected by the PA if it is imposed by force — like the Palestinians did during the 1987 intifada. It will also lead to disorganization on the part of the different factions. This is true despite some supermarkets and stores boycotting Israeli products.
The fourth kind of activity, which has recently emerged, consists of individual attempts to create violent incidents, such as the stabbing of an Israeli security guard or the attack on an Israeli bus by a Palestinian bulldozer driver.
These activities remain at the personal and individual level and are rejected by the PA and most of the other factions. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said in a speech, “Our victims are civilians, while their dead are soldiers and military men.” This could be a hint to focus on the confrontation against Israeli military forces.
A proper civilian uprising necessitates readiness of the people and suitable circumstances, while excluding the option of any military action to this effect.
However, the commitments of the PA at the economic, security and political levels remain the main obstacle to such a popular movement. It is clear the PA will not encourage, or tolerate, mass movements or protests. Thus, it is expected that the current agitation in the West Bank will dissipate if a long-term cease-fire is found for the Gaza conflict. Activists must then begin to think of new strategies to bypass the official rejection of popular resistance, with upcoming elections — should they be held — one avenue to voice their displeasure with the current leaders of the PLO.