Peaceful Palestinian protests

Eyed with suspicion

The lack of support by the political elite for non-violent protests in Palestine means the model of local resistance will remain marginalised. By Mahmoud Jaraba

The weekly peaceful protests in the small village of Nabi Salih, northwest of Ramallah, against the confiscation of the villageʹs lands by settlers from the Halamish settlement had been largely unknown until Ahed Tamimi, one of its participants, was arrested on 19 December after a video of her assaulting an Israeli soldier had gone viral. Tamimi has been imprisoned and, since 13 February, is facing trial in an Israeli military court.

In search of an emotionally powerful symbol to rally supporters, activists and movements such as the weekly protests of Nabi Salih are eager to promote Tamimi and youth like her as inspirational figures who could potentially galvanise people and draw international attention to the village’s protests and become part of a new face of what Palestinians refer to as the "popular resistance". However, the absence of elite encouragement of such non-violent protests dooms this model of resistance to remain on the margins.

Between militancy and political torpor

The major political factions, including Fatah and Hamas, support popular resistance in principle, at least according to the various reconciliation agreements they have signed over the years. Nonetheless, neither group developed a strategy that actively pursues it.

Whether in Gaza or in the West Bank, Hamas still prioritises armed resistance and is trying to rebuild its forces. Many residents of Gaza, which has been under siege since Hamas took control of the strip in 2007, no longer see popular resistance as an option. And in the West Bank, Hamas doubts that popular resistance can stop the expansion of the Israeli settlements or respond to settler attacks on Palestinians.

Ahed Tamimi appears before an Israeli military tribunal in Ramallah (photo: picture-alliance/AA)
Symbol of resistance in the struggle against Israeli occupation: convicted of assaulting Israeli soldiers, seventeen year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi negotiated a sentence of eight months in prison with the prosecuting lawyer. The Israeli military tribunal responsible for trying the case agreed the prison term. Prior to the courtʹs acquiescence, Tamimi reiterated to reporters that there can be "no justice under occupation"

Meanwhile, Fatah is hampered by the institutional overlap between the movement and the official bodies of the Palestinian Authority (PA), especially its security forces, which have an interest in containing all activism, violent and non-violent. President Mahmoud Abbas did greet the family of Ahed Tamimi after her arrest, describing non-violent popular resistance as "a powerful weapon in the Palestinian peopleʹs hands exposing the falsity of the occupation, showing the whole world the brutality of this occupation."

Fear of another intifada

Nonetheless, Abbas has not harnessed the power of this new generation of activists to launch protests across the West Bank. This reflects Fatah’s ambiguous position and fear that the protests might flare up into a full-blown intifada that could turn against the movement, which many Palestinians see as part of an old and ineffective, even corrupt, structure.

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