The developments in the West Bank are picking up pace and this raises questions about whether these are early indications of another intifada (uprising). How realistic are the chances of a new Palestinian popular movement worthy of being called the “Third Intifada”?
Waiting for the spark
In a traditional uprising model, there is usually some incident which sparks off a train of events leading to a full rebellion. This is probably the most common and easily predicted uprising, as the trigger is often a shocking event that agitates and angers the masses.
In Palestine, the Israeli occupation puts a lot of pressure on Palestinian society and a shocking event can be enough to act as a trigger. What is happening in Jerusalem is escalating the pressure on Jerusalemites and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is stormed by Jewish extremists regularly. The occupation authorities, however, are careful to avoid allowing anything to ignite an intifada across the region.
Such restraint does not apply to the widely-supported extremist Israeli groups. They resort to violent acts that have the potential to spark off an uprising prematurely, such as the burning to death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and the actions of the so-called “price tag” terrorists. Other potential triggers include the prisoners’ issue, checkpoints and events inside Israel itself. Revolutions can start in the most unexpected places.
This raises a fundamental question. If a particular community has reached the point that it is in dire need of a revolution to shake off oppression, does it need to wait for a shocking event to trigger an uprising?
The form of the next intifada
It is not fair to ask the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem to create a shift in the status quo all at once, especially in light of their current complex situation. One step at a time is a sensible strategy; expanding the programme gradually for a mass confrontation with the occupation is a realistic and practical option.
As such, the intifada may crystallise from within a mass action with a brief agenda; it may come in the form of gradual escalation. An example of this would be the growing pressure on Israeli interests in the West Bank, such as the economic and commercial networks, the settlement supply lines, and the intelligence and security cooperation provided by the Palestinian Authority with the Israeli occupation. The latter could be disrupted, for example, as a means to exert pressure on the Israelis.
Channelling mass anger into pressure on the occupation can create an intifada that will be unlike any other. It will stem from the reality of the situation and will motivate change by means of what the masses view as an effective programme and achievable outcomes.
Civil disobedience can be an positive, peaceful way to allow the public to express their outrage. This could include action such as street protests blocking major roads and intersections, or coordinated flash mobs at the same times in various cities to stretch security resources.
Motives for popular uprisings
There are various motives for popular uprisings, the foremost of which has to be the death of martyrs. Their funerals provide opportunities to pass on the spirit of the challenge.
Global solidarity with the popular movement in Palestine can also motivate the Palestinians, with those in the Diaspora spreading the message of the intifada. Media coverage may promote the popular movement as an issue of public interest; this has become even more likely with the rise of social networks.
The geography of the intifada
Intermittent uprisings across the West Bank and Jerusalem in recent months suggest that the response to calls for an intifada is uneven. A new intifada may thus erupt in some parts but not in others; or it may be focused in some areas before expanding gradually.
This means that we may not necessarily see a traditional intifada in the populated areas of the West Bank. This is understandable due to the fragmentation of the territory.
Jerusalem seems to be the most likely centre for a new intifada, more than ever before. Israel’s pressure on Jerusalemites and violations of the sanctity of the holy sites, the acts of terror and torture committed by settler gangs, and the opportunities for direct contact with the occupation all combine to make this a strong probability. In addition, Jerusalem is, to some extent, outside the remit of the Palestinian Authority and its security agencies’ commitment to cooperation with the Israelis.
In the southern West Bank, Hebron is also a likely candidate for an intifada trigger. The Palestinians have frequent contact with extremist settlers in the city, and retaliatory measures by the occupation authorities and settlers cannot be ruled out.
People will also look to the Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1948, as they have become more prominent in the public arena. Their experiences in a unique situation have seen a growth in anger against the Israeli government, which has not kept its promises about Arab participation in parliament and other institutions of the state.
The “1948” Palestinians have a lot of interaction with Jerusalem and a continued presence in Al-Aqsa Mosque. They support Jerusalemites morally, culturally and economically in their isolation, restrictions and pressure imposed on them by the Israeli occupation.
Clashes in the Negev indicate that developments and shifts have also occurred amongst the Palestinian Bedouins.
Centres of the next intifada
The seeds of mass action can be planted in colleges and universities across the West Bank. Students are the most capable of using social media to escalate pressures on the occupation. However, they are also limited by the geographical fragmentation of the Palestinian territory and closures imposed by the Israeli authorities. They must also deal with the domination of student life by the PA security services and informers within the student body. Nevertheless, the students must not allow the calls for an intifada to remain confined to the world of social networks.
Palestinian refugee camps also have the potential to be the source of the next intifada; the refugees have frequent contact with the occupation forces. These overcrowded camps are not spared from the general situation on the ground in the West Bank, although they are hit harder than most by the economic and social crises, while benefiting least from the PA’s services.
At the moment, Palestinian public opinion still seems to be aligned with the resistance, according to local polls. There are, therefore, opportunities to ensure that the intifada will unite all factions; a mass, popular uprising against the Israeli occupation. The question is, will it be an armed intifada, a simple act of resistance or acts which symbolise popular opposition to the occupation?
Palestinians in the West Bank do not see any comprehensive and integrated strategies formulated or effective programmes for them to follow. There is no sense that the PA or any of the political parties have the political will to do this despite the abundance of their “popular resistance” slogans. There is no specific road map that the people can follow nor has a list of demands been announced that can be adopted by any intifada.
With the absence of alternatives to confront the status quo that is imposed increasingly on the ground by the Israelis, an intifada remains the most likely option for the Palestinians. It will have to overcome a number of obstacles but, when it arrives, it may well be unlike any other before it. If nothing else, it will certainly not wait for anyone’s permission before kicking off.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.