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Reflections on the anniversary of the first Intifada

Several Palestinian demonstrators hold Palestinian flag with a portrait of PLO leader Yasser Arafat as foam thrown by Israeli soldiers drops from a roof during clashes 22 January 1988 in Nablus on the West Bank. (Photo by SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The first Intifada of 1987 to 1993 remains one of the most important stages of the Palestinian national struggle. The people of my generation, the Intifada generation, cannot forget the important details that made this uprising a milestone and turning point in our history.

Whenever December approaches, our memory plays out like a film, and we relive those beautiful moments in time. Everyone remembers the period with both nostalgia and deep sorrow, as well as grief.

The first Intifada was different. Just as our grandmothers look back and lament about the past, we also compare the past with the present and the current crises we face. However, we stress that its significance is not simply for nostalgic reasons, nor for the disappointments which followed; it really was very different.

Sociologists can give their opinions on the traditions that emerged during the intifada, such as national solidarity and unity, and strong social cohesion. Educators can also note the emergence of alternative education provision after Israel’s closure of schools and universities. Furthermore, researchers can speak at length about the emergence of voluntary work and service in society, as well as the shifts in the community and families affected by the violence of the occupation security services.

READ: Israel arrested 337,000 Palestinians since 1987

Political scientists will note the great interaction between the society and leadership of the national movements, as well as the emergence of field leaders who gained strength from the daily struggles. They can also talk about student movements acting as pioneers in the clashes with the occupation forces. The women’s movement can be proud of the great pioneering role played by Palestinian women, not as they are commonly described as the mothers of martyrs, wives of prisoners and sisters of the wounded, but as fighters who fought alongside the men in direct clashes with the Israeli troops. Young and old women alike threw rocks and confronted them with unmatched bravery and heroics recorded forever by journalists and photographers.

The record also shows Palestinian children standing up to heavily-armed soldiers. It is the right of the Palestinian children to teach the world, said Nizar Qabbani in his famous poem about the Intifada. According to Samih Al-Qasim in his poetry, Israeli soldiers, armed with weapons, were unable to pass through the land, as the skies above them and the land below their feet had become a hell.

My point is that these eternal moments carry more than one meaning and refer to more than one fact. While we can consider more than one aspect of these actions, I am certain that they will remain critical moments in our history.

READ: Oslo was a colonial tool which was never going to end Israel’s occupation

The Intifada started on a cold December day. Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip had fallen asleep to the sounds of bullets and tear gas, after the workers who were run over and killed by the Israeli settler were buried. It was a difficult night. The martyrs were in their graves and there was something on the horizon that suggested that what had happened was just a rehearsal for something bigger, which no one had planned for. At least that was how I, as a young boy in December 1987, understood things. No one told us to take to the streets and none of us planned to do so in groups. We didn’t agree to do anything. We fell asleep recalling the painful events of the day.

That night, our camp and the neighbouring towns and the suburbs rose up against the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in anger. It was a fitting way to bid farewell to ordinary workers who left their homes to make a living and were killed by a hateful settler.

The next morning, our teacher spent our first lesson explaining Canaanite history. Our usual curriculum was from Egypt and we were memorising the history of the Pharaohs and ancient Egyptian civilisation. None of it referred to the Canaanites or to anything related to us as Palestinians. However, our patriotic teacher made efforts to deviate from the curriculum in order for us to grow up with knowledge of our own history. Before our first class was over, though, our anger had reached boiling point and spilled out through neighbouring classrooms and boys’ schools in the camp.

Young Palestinians run away from armed Israeli soldiers during the first Intifada. Image taken in Al Ram in the West Bank on January 1988 [Cal3b Gee / Pinterest]

Young Palestinians run away from armed Israeli soldiers during the first Intifada. Image taken in Al Ram in the West Bank on January 1988 [Cal3b Gee / Pinterest]

Suddenly, students who had been banging on their desks in anger just poured out of the school and headed west towards the IDF base. At the same time, the students from the Faluja Secondary School on Jabalia’s western outskirts, both boys and girls, flowed into the streets, followed by those from the girls’ secondary and primary schools. Clashes with the soldiers took place in every direction as they fired tear gas and bullets.

There were sand dunes around Jabalia, where clashes occurred and my childhood friend and neighbour Hatem Al-Sisi was killed; he was the first martyr of the uprising. The night before, we had been playing together before our football fell into the open sewage that flowed like a small river down the streets. That morning, Hatem fell in a pool of his own blood. It was at that moment that anger began spread like wildfire in every direction.

Each of us has their own account of the Intifada, of those moments, how it started, the course of its events, and the habits and traditions that grew amongst us children as we compared notes on who threw more stones at the soldiers. Not long afterwards, having grown up a little, we met each other in prison as victors and exchanged our stories.

There were many heroes at that time and whenever we recall those moments, we must take our hats off to them. They were real leaders who were superheroes in the alleyways and neighbourhoods, leading the Intifada groups and organising and managing the affairs of people’s lives.

On this day every year, we must remember them. Those of us who know who the heroes were, and are, must thank them personally, from the bottom of our hearts.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ayyam on 10 December 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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