As a Palestinian uprising gathered momentum last week, I sat for hours listening to and recording the story of Ahmad al-Haaj, an 83-year-old Palestinian refugee from the village of al-Sawafir. He has been living in Gaza since 1948. Listening to Al-Haaj's memories, my thoughts swayed between the past and the bloody reality of the present.

Ever since I took on the task of recording a people's history of Palestine over ten years ago, a tragic theme has permeated all of my books and most of my articles. I have been confronted with stories of loss and displacement time and again. Ordinary Palestinians have been retelling the same story for generations.

Few outsiders have ever connected narratives from Gaza, Jenin, Deir Yassin, Dheisheh, Sabra and Shatila, Yarmouk, Jabaliya and a thousand other locations. Stories from Palestine are rarely a cohesive intellectual and historical unit that can be separated or selectively analysed.

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Following every major event in Palestinian history, Palestinians are expected to learn to coexist with whatever new reality is shaped or determined by Israel. Not only were Palestinians expected to let go of Haq Al-Awda - their right of return - altogether, but their own self-proclaimed president, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly conceded his own right to do so, too.

'Selling out' Palestinian rights

Abbas was hardly the first Palestinian leader to freely compromise Palestinian rights. The series of concessions predates the Oslo peace process. Palestinian political elite have historically maintained their position at the helm of Palestinian society.

They have never possessed any moral qualms with the notion of "selling out", a term used by many Palestinians themselves. Successive leaderships cleverly navigated their politics under the Ottomans and coexisted with British colonialism, Jordanian hegemony, the Egyptian military administration, and, more recently, with Israel, which was established on top of Palestinian ruins.

Al-Haaj's story pertained to his exile from his beloved village, the existence of which was first documented in the early 16th century. Al-Sawafir was subsequently burned to the ground by Zionist militias in 1948. His narrative is largely confined to the neighbouring villages that, at the time, were also the limits of his world's geography.


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The defining event that led to his exile was the defeat of Beit Daras, a nearby but larger village inhabited by Palestinian fellahin, or farming peasants. The peasants were the majority of Palestinians, teetering between poverty and extreme poverty; some of them owned land, others worked as cheap labourers on the land of wealthy Palestinians. But they were always and would remain the heart of the resistance in Palestine. Indeed, in Beit Daras, they fought until the last bullet. What followed was a massacre that remained largely untold:

"The Zionist militias' convoys eventually returned - this time with a vengeance. They struck at dawn and charged against the village until the early afternoon. The village was surrounded from all directions, and all roads leading into it were cut off to ensure that the fellahin fighters didn't come to the rescue. Although by then the fighters in Beit Daras had acquired up to ninety rifles, the invading militias amassed an arsenal of modern weapons, including mortars, machine guns mounted on top of fortified vehicles, and hundreds of fully armed troops."

The current Intifada in Palestine cannot be separated from the past or reduced to a simple term linked to a failed peace process. It is a rebellion which is rooted in a much deeper and larger context, and that has to be appreciated in its entirety.

 

"The militias moved in, executed whoever survived the initial onslaught - civilians and all. The rest escaped running through burning fields, tripping on one another while being chased by sniper bullets. The massacre instilled fear and horror, especially as the death toll had reached 300 in a village population that once barely totalled two thousand."

Long-standing oppression

Al-Haaj could have been talking about any other village or refugee camp. There are many similarities between the stories I have recorded in my book "Searching Jenin", which details the military onslaught and massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, and the horrific events that took place in Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

Only the technical details have changed since 1948; the reasons behind the slaughter remain the same - the racist discourse that compels the current violence employed by Israelis and their leaders today, and that of their ancestors for much of the last century. The compromising, self-serving nature of the sanctioned Palestinian leadership and the elitist class it serves also remains the same.

The Palestinians fighting back in the streets of Jerusalem, or al-Quds, the West Bank and Gaza today are the descendants of a generation that once led an uprising and a rebellion that lasted for three years, starting in 1936.

Many of those mostly poor and illiterate fellahin peasants, possessed a degree of political consciousness that allowed them to sustain an uprising against vicious British colonialism and Zionist violence. It is those same fellahin who fought in Beit Daras and all the Palestinian villages in 1948 who have been fighting ever since.

The current Intifada in Palestine cannot be separated from the past or reduced to a simple term linked to a failed peace process. It is a rebellion which is rooted in a much deeper and larger context, and that has to be appreciated in its entirety.

True, little has changed in Israel's colonial endeavours and its propensity for violence remains bound by racist discourse. At the same time, little has changed in the Palestinian will to fight back, because they must, and always have.

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story".

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera