Because of the special nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the level of popular mobilization has always been an important factor in determining internal political dynamics in Israel and Palestine as well as the political or confrontational relations between the two sides.
While Israel’s most potent weapon has always been exactly that, the army and its latest weapons technology, for the Palestinians popular mobilization remains their best card. First and foremost, this is because it drives home the message that the official and declared Palestinian position of the need to end the occupation in order to reach peace is not about politics but about people, their rights and their refusal to live a life of servitude to foreign masters.
This has been a prominent characteristic of the Palestinian political movement from the beginning but it was most successfully illustrated and applied in the first intifada. The famous Jabaliya demonstration, when tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza in December 1987, provided an example that gave the Palestinians the self-confidence to collectively assert themselves and the understanding that popular movements and activities have a very significant effect on political developments and on the international attitude toward and understanding of the conflict.
At the same time, the success of that aspect of the first intifada caused Israel to prepare so that no repeat performance might occur. From the very beginning of the Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli army confronted popular demonstrations with controlled but indiscriminate violence. This contributed greatly to reducing the popular nature of this intifada. In addition, the availability of weapons on the Palestinian side and the relative strength of the armed groups and organizations provided an alternative.
However, recently, the use of popular mobilization has made a comeback in Gaza. In one incident, Gazan women defied the Israeli army to protect armed men holed up in a house surrounded by Israeli soldiers. While Israeli bullets felled two of the women, the men escaped. Then popular mobilization also successfully confronted Israeli impunity in bombing homes in Gaza. For years now, the Israeli army has phoned targeted houses, telling people they had minutes to leave, before their houses were destroyed, usually from the air. Last week, rather than leave, residents called upon others for solidarity, and people streamed to the house calling Israel’s bluff. It worked.
In both cases, Israel’s military superiority was shown to be fragile when confronted with Palestinian determination on the popular level. And these tactics reminded many observers of the first intifada when well trained and fully equipped Israeli soldiers were chasing after young, poor and barefoot children in the narrow alleys of the refugee camps of Jabaliya, Balata or Qalandia with little or no success.
The strong belief of the Palestinian people in the justness of their cause and of basing Palestinian political demands and positions on the requirements of international legality will not waver. It is only strengthened by the continued attempts by Israel to control them, occupy their land and prevent them from enjoying their basic rights of freedom, self-determination and statehood.