The numbers are grim . But the ongoing Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, should not be judged based on the records of the dead and wounded, but rather on its ability to evolve into a unifying movement with a prevalent national liberation discourse.
It has been two months since Palestinians took to the streets of Jerusalem, various West Bank towns and the border between besieged Gaza and Israel, rebelling against Israel’s military occupation. For now, they are avoiding direct confrontation with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
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Much of the media focus has centred on stabbings or alleged stabbings attributed to young Palestinians, driven by frustration and despair, or those deliberately framed by Israeli authorities.
These months of mass anxiety in Israel have helped underline the embedded racism in that society , of the “other” – any person, specifically Palestinian, who fails to display the required loyalty to the state and the necessary physical traits to demonstrate his or her racial status.
Disconcertingly though, the PA has remained largely removed from the popular discontent in Palestine, as if it governs a region that is not experiencing its largest mobilisation – violent or otherwise, for years.
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Yet, as the numbers of the dead and wounded grow, the Intifada faces a critical juncture: either it must evolve into a revolt with a clear political programme and an alternative grassroots leadership, or fizzle out altogether.
The latter is a particularly dangerous path, for it would undermine collective Palestinian efforts organised outside factional boundaries, and dominated largely by Fatah and Hamas.
But why hasn’t the Intifada evolved – considering the rising numbers of Palestinian casualties and the critical nature of the political situation – into something that is managed by an unelected, corrupt Palestinian leadership?
According to the Palestinian health ministry , 109 Palestinians, including 24 minors and five women have been killed in the two-month Intifada, and 4,800 have been wounded; 85 of these “executed in cold blood”.
Moreover, the PA’s Committee on Detainees has reported that 2,460 Palestinians were detained by the Israeli army and police between October and November, nearly half of them were children, and 69 were women.
These numbers are important as they demonstrate that Palestinians are fully aware of the price of their rebellion and of the media’s role in distorting the reality of the Intifada and Israeli aggression – yet persist with their protests.
What direction to go next?
Unlike previous uprisings, particularly the “Intifada of the Stones” in 1987, this one seems slow in articulating an independent, unifying political discourse that supersedes factions and their ideological and political divisions.
After over two decades, the PA has become an entrenched and miserable reality in Palestinian society – it failed to improve the lives of Palestinians, unify their ranks or challenge Israel in any meaningful way.
The explanation does not only lie in the actions of the Israeli government – the closures, the land confiscation, checkpoints, the so-called Separation Wall, and other attempts at producing not just physical separation among Palestinians, but also a mental one.
The above alone doesn’t suffice. Israel’s violent and oppressive tactics are, after all, the very driver behind Palestinian revolts – which ultimately aim at demolishing these physiological walls – resurrecting the collective Palestinian identity and articulating a new national discourse that defines Palestinians by their relationship to Palestine only.
However, the reason behind the question of where Palestinians go from here persists.
Since the establishment of the PA in 1994, the Palestinian leadership has served as a matrix of control that worked closely with Israel, partly through “security coordination” to suppress dissent in the West Bank and Gaza. It grew richer, yet more reliant on international handouts, and more liable to Western expectations.
After over two decades, the PA has become an entrenched and miserable reality in Palestinian society – it has failed to improve the lives of Palestinians, unify their ranks or challenge Israel in any meaningful way.
In fact, according to a poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research on September 21, two thirds of the public viewed the PA as a “burden” to Palestinian people, demanding that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, resign.
Abbas, of course, didn’t resign, but “warned” a day after the poll was published of ” the risk of a new Intifada ” fully aware that this feeling among Palestinians would empower them to push him and his “burdensome” authority into an urgently needed retirement.
A dual obstacle
Now that an Intifada is under way, the PA is hoping to ride the wave back to the safety of endless talks of a non-existent “peace process”.
Over the years, the PA had done its utmost to control any grassroots movement in Palestinian communities. In 2007, more than 100 civil society organisations were shut down in the West Bank for their alleged affiliation to Hamas.
Currently there are nearly 3,000 Palestinian NGOs, most of which have direct or indirect factional affiliations . Many are driven by Western funds, and sustained through their loyalty to the PA, the “peace process” discourse and the dominating Fatah faction.
Groups and organisations that operated in Palestine during the 1987 Intifada played an important role in offering solidarity to struggling communities and helped to build stronger rapport between the West Bank and Gaza.
Current NGOs are mostly loyal to those who have access to political legitimacy and funds, namely the PA. They purposely avoid playing a direct political role, which could help in the formulation of a new Palestinian national discourse.
The current Intifada is thus facing a dual obstacle , the largest being the premeditated breakdown of Palestinian society through 20 years of a deliberate process of control aimed at weakening grassroots communities, and empowering the elites and their supporters.
For the Intifada to march forward, it must overcome the PA altogether, and seek answers beyond the tired lexicon promoted by Abbas and his men.
Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 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.