Nationalist Slogans Fade From Palestinian Discourse


When news spread on Sept. 22 that an Israeli soldier was killed in Hebron in the West Bank, Al-Monitor spoke by telephone with a leading activist in the city's nonviolent popular resistance movement who wished to remain anonymous. His voice sounded uneasy as he explained that he could not ascertain whether the killer was Palestinian, for, he said, the soldier may have died as the result of friendly fire. While unease from an activist in a peaceful resistance movement can be understandable, it has become noteworthy that a new way of thinking may be developing among the Palestinian populace in general.

Palestinians have long chanted an old traditional slogan that goes, “We die so that Palestine may live.” But this slogan is now being rivaled by a new one: “Long may we and Palestine live,” which was adopted this year at the annual festival of Nazareth, commemorating the Palestinian Nakba. It was a slogan sung by Palestinian youth on New Year’s Eve in 2012, as they also chanted in favor of armed resistance and against negotiations with the Israelis, talks that have gone on for two decades without measurable results. Meanwhile, they repeated the ubiquitous “We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, oh Palestine.”

Many significant events have lately converged. The first distinguishing moment occurred in Damascus’ Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in June 2011, when the camp’s inhabitants marched against factions that had sent their sons to swarm the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, leading to the death of 23 peopleAl-Monitor spoke with two pro-Syrian regime activists shortly after the incident in 2011; one activist lives in the camp, while the other resides in Jordan and has frequently traveled to Damascus. They both confirmed that pro-regime factions had affirmed that they did not endorse sending the young men to the Golan Heights, but that did not help soothe people’s anger. This incident is unprecedented in that families had never before so sharply and publicly criticized such a move, even when it led to the death of their children in a confrontation with the Israelis. This is because tradition had previously dictated that casualties be treated as martyrs and heroes.

Prior to the Hebron incident, a Palestinian man abducted and killed an Israeli soldier who worked with the perpetrator in an Israeli restaurant. The Palestinian man later threw the soldier down a well in the village of Beit Amin, in the northern part of the West Bank. Preliminary information indicated that the culprit wanted to exchange the soldier, or his body, for his brother, an inmate in an Israeli jail. A few days later, Palestinians were shocked to see the perpetrator’s father on television condemning his son’s actions and questioning his motives.

A high-ranking retired officer was killed on Oct. 11 in an Israeli settlement north of the Jordan Valley. A group of Palestinians were subsequently apprehended, while Israeli military sources postulated that their motives were criminal, not political. The strange part is that the Palestinian factions that used to rush to take responsibility for such attacks remained silent, as did the families of the perpetrators.

By the same token, when young Younes al-Radaydeh overran an Israeli military camp with his bulldozer on Oct. 17 — in a scene reminiscent of his brother using a bulldozer to run over an Israeli car in Jerusalem a few years ago — his family denied that their son’s motives were patriotic. Younes’ uncle, Mohamed al-Radaydeh, even said, “There is no ideological reason for Younes to commit such an attack, for he is married with four children and works hard to care and provide for his family.” He expressed his opinion that Younes entered the Israeli military base by mistake. The family also denied that his brother meant to harm anyone in 2009.

The latest of these incidents occurred on Oct. 25, when the Palestinian Preventive Security forces in Hebron accused three engineering students of developing a remote-controlled plane capable of carrying explosives. While Hamas at first praised the students and considered their actions part of the “resistance efforts,” their families denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the plane was merely a university graduation project. Later, Hamas rejected that claim and stated to its affiliated Palestinian Information Center, “The matter is completely fabricated. There is talk about a plot hatched by the Hebron Preventive Security forces to undermine the Islamist bloc in the Polytechnic University.”

There are three possible explanations for this current state of denial and the skepticism surrounding real or alleged Palestinian actions against Israelis. The first is fear of punishment, specifically Palestinian fear of Israel’s usual actions against those who kill Israelis — namely, destroying Palestinian homes in retribution. The second is the popular resentment toward factions and organizations, regardless of their leanings. These factions are fighting one another for power and have reached understandings with Israel, whether through Fatah, which leads peaceful efforts to reach a settlement, or through Hamas, which signed a truce agreement with the Israelis last year. Third, decades have passed without armed resistance leading to satisfactory results, as far as the populace is concerned. This is due to what many Palestinians consider poor political performance. This situation makes Palestinians more deliberate in their resistance efforts, if not standing against said resistance.

The youth chanting, “Long may we and Palestine live,” while endorsing armed resistance, are also perhaps expressing a desire to adopt a different rhetoric.

There are growing Palestinian calls for the development of a popular resistance movement as doubts mount about the current dominant powers and traditional methods and style of governance. However, there is no condemnation, in principle, of armed resistance. This period is rife with doubts and hesitation, just as much as it is filled with anticipation and waiting for new approaches and leaders, capable of leading Palestinians toward a better future.

A new intifada may still erupt, for the spark may start anywhere. It could come from attempts by some Israelis to encroach upon the Al-Aqsa Mosque grounds and force a change in the situation there, or from the expansion of settlement-building activities, among a plethora of other possible flashpoints.

Published in Al-Monitor, Oct. 29, 2013