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On anniversary of the Second Intifada, Palestinians are uniting for a general strike

Planned strike will bring together Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line amid ongoing fragmentation

This week, Palestinians throughout historic Palestine will, for the first time as one people, commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Second Intifada by staging a joint general strike and other activities. 

Palestinian refugees, whose plight has been exacerbated since the Oslo Accords and the Arab Spring, will most likely join in. The strike, called for by leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel, reflects the growing role of Palestinians in Israel in the wider national struggle, which has greatly evolved since the 2000 uprising.   

Regardless of its efficacy, this strike will be significant for uniting Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line amid ongoing fragmentation. It is noteworthy that the decision for coordinated political action was initiated by Palestinians who have been historically excluded from the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s decision-making process - namely, the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who survived the ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionist forces in 1948.

Increasing alienation

The call for a strike throughout historic Palestine was initially proposed by the Balad party, a member of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel (the umbrella body representing the Palestinian leadership in Israel), immediately after the Knesset passed the Jewish nation-state law in July. Representatives of the committee and Arab parties travelled from Haifa to Ramallah in September to meet all Palestinian factions, who endorsed the decision. 

Prior to the Second Intifada, in which about 5,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed, most regional and international political players overlooked the plight of Palestinian citizens of Israel and underestimated their political role. Some hardly knew about their existence. The Oslo Accords had increased these citizens’ marginalisation and alienation, as they were completely ignored in a peace process that was presumed to be facilitating an end to the conflict and addressing all its aspects fairly.

The intifada and the subsequent brutal Israeli suppression brought the plight of these forgotten Palestinians into the world’s spotlight, and in parallel, unmasked Israel’s true face as an undemocratic and racist regime

Prior to this historic event, Palestinians in Israel were not seen as a part of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel, through accommodation measures such as the right to vote and other subtle policies, succeeded for a long time in hiding its colonial and apartheid character from Western civil society, including from human right groups. 

Israel worked tirelessly to separate the question of the rights of Palestinians in Israel from those of Palestinians in the occupied territories. However, the intifada and the subsequent brutal Israeli suppression brought the plight of these forgotten Palestinians into the world’s spotlight, and in parallel, unmasked Israel’s true face as an undemocratic and racist regime.   

Rediscovering resistance

On 1 October 2000, just two days after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in the 1967-occupied territories triggered by Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians in Israel surprised Israel and the world by joining the uprising. Stunned by images of Israeli killings in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians citizens of Israel took to the streets en masse, blocked highways, and engaged in violent clashes with Israeli security forces for 11 days. Their rage was unprecedented; the forgotten Palestinians were rediscovering their potential to resist.

However, these demonstrations ended with brutal repression on the part of the Israeli government, which gave instructions for police to use live ammunition against civilian protesters. Thirteen Palestinians were killed, and hundreds more were injured. 

It took years for Palestinians in Israel to digest these events. They realised that they were being subjected to the same repressive colonial regime under which their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza had been languishing since 1967. They concluded that being Israeli citizens was no longer a guarantee of protection against live bullets fired by “their state”.   

Violence erupts outside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000, after a visit to the holy site by Ariel Sharon (AFP)
In those days during the uprising, the scenes of thousands of people on the ground looked like an orchestrated front against the Israeli regime, planned in advance by Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. But the truth is that the Second Intifada was spontaneous: it was an expression of public frustration with Oslo and its grave consequences, as well as the deep sense of alienation resulting from the longstanding oppression of Palestinians in Israel. 

In recent years, in an attempt to crush the national awakening echoed by the uprising, the so-called “Palestinian minority” in Israel has been subjected to sweeping repressive and exclusionary policies. The surveillance system has become stricter, and further denationalisation measures have been enacted, such as the 2011 Nakba law, which aims to dispossess Palestinians in Israel of the memory of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of their country. 

The Jewish nation-state law merely has affirmed how far the Israeli apartheid regime is willing to go to implement its traditional, hostile view of this segment of Palestinians, which it sees as a security and demographic threat. 

Strengthening national unity

To be sure, Israel’s draconian policies have consolidated among Palestinians in Israel the sense that they are part of the entire Palestinian people, and that they live under a single system of oppression.

However, although they are developing stronger relations with their brethren - engaging in international lobbying and advocacy, and mounting a national strike on Monday - Palestinian citizens are still uncertain of the best formula to guide their strategic relationship with the rest of the Palestinian people, especially amid the demise of the two-state solution. 

Nonetheless, in the 18 years since the Second Intifada, it is clear that Palestinians inside the Green Line have become more assertive of their national identity and more attached to their people. The last 18 years have seen widespread cultural, academic and grassroots cooperation, as well as growing debates over alternative political models for the future, such as that of one democratic state in historic Palestine.

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What gives them determination and confidence is the knowledge that they are in their homeland. This is in addition to other sources of strength, such as their growing political awareness and community organisation, which facilitates their continuing struggle for national and civil rights.

Their main challenges now are how to best develop and advance their local organising, strategic partnerships with the Palestinian people, and the ability to cope with Israel’s harsher repressive policies. 

- Awad Abdelfattah is a political writer and the former general secretary of the Balad party. He is the coordinator of the Haifa-based One Democratic State Campaign, established in late 2017. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinians take part in a demonstration in support of the Second Intifada in Gaza in 2016 (AFP)

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