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Why is popular resistance in the occupied West Bank increasing?

January 4, 2022 at 2:30 pm

Palestinian residents of the West Bank village of Burqah confront Israeli soldiers on December 17, 2021, after reported attacks by Israeli settlers on the village [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

Recent weeks rank among the most turbulent in the West Bank, with massive protests taking place in different parts of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. From tension in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah that led to a bloody escalation last May, to the weekly protests being held since June in the village of Beita near Nablus and the most recent confrontations that erupted ten days ago in Burqa, the Palestinians in the West Bank continue to defy Israel’s inhuman and illegal military occupation.

Clashes broke out in Burqa after a group of illegal Israeli settlers marched to a Palestinian-owned hill on the outskirts of the village. Local villagers challenged the move before the settlers could occupy the land. Settler mobilisation was countered by appeals from Palestinian activists to the people living in neighbouring areas to rush in defence of the hill and foil the attack.

The sight of Palestinian villagers gathering to defend their land brought back memories of the first and second Palestinian intifadas. The villagers in Burqa and their supporters used the same tactics seen during the two major uprisings: throwing stones, burning tyres, equipping themselves with Molotov cocktails, and mobilising via announcements made through mosque loudspeakers.

This demonstrated the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank are emboldened to confront settler attacks on their homes, lands and farms. This, in turn, may lead to a level of resistance which falls short of a full uprising, but is nevertheless more than a one-off protest.

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The dynamics behind the youth-driven revitalisation of popular resistance in the occupied West Bank to counter the daily attacks by the Israeli occupation forces and the 620,000 Jewish settlers in more than 200 illegal settlements built on Palestinian land. The year-long series of protests along the Gaza Strip’s nominal border with Israel, started in 2018 and known as the Great March of Return, has played a pivotal role in the rebirth of popular resistance across the occupied Palestinian territories.

The weekly marches provided hope to the Palestinians in Gaza that the 15-year Israeli-led siege might come to an end. They found that such popular resistance is effective and allowed their voice to be heard as shuttle diplomacy was launched to alleviate their suffering under Israel’s brutal blockade. The Rafah Border Crossing — their only outlet to the world not controlled wholly by Israel — was opened by Egypt in large part due to these protests.

A Palestinian protestor lifts a national flag across from Israeli settlers and security forces blocking the entrance to the Palestinian al-Lubban al-Sharqiya village, preventing its pupils from going to school, south of Nablus city in the occupied West Bank on 28 November 2021. [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

A Palestinian protestor lifts a national flag across from Israeli settlers and security forces blocking the entrance to the Palestinian al-Lubban al-Sharqiya village, preventing its pupils from going to school, south of Nablus city in the occupied West Bank on 28 November 2021. [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

The demonstrations also forced Israel to allow financial support from Qatar to flow into the impoverished Gaza Strip, and acted as leverage in the hands of the Palestinians to exert pressure on the occupation state to open all crossings and ease the measures it had imposed since 2007. This model was inspirational for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza last May and the serious developments that accompanied it provided another important dynamic behind the ongoing popular resistance in the West Bank. The 11-day bombardment united the Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with those living within Israel, as well as those in the diaspora, for the first time since 1948. They found themselves protesting and struggling for the same purpose: to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, both in occupied Jerusalem.

Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan not only outraged all Palestinians, but also restated emphatically the root cause of the conflict. This is not, as Israeli and Western politicians and media would have us believe, legitimate Palestinian resistance; it is Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies which target the people of Palestine everywhere.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque is at the heart of the Muslim, Arab and national identity of the indigenous Palestinians. Israeli attacks on this sacred place contributed to Palestinian youth resurrecting the anti-occupation discourse.

This all shows that the grip that the Palestinian Authority has on the West Bank is weakening, especially after PA President Mahmoud Abbas “postponed” long-delayed elections last year on the pretext that Israel would not allow them to be held in Jerusalem. The PA’s reputation was eroded further by the heinous killing of renowned Palestinian opposition figure, Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by PA security officials.

The stalled peace process and lack of opposition to Israel’s expansionist policies in the West Bank have weakened the PA narrative and damaged the image of its security forces. The result has been calls for the immediate end to security coordination between the PA and Israel. It is no wonder that West Bank activists now look for other solutions to the daily settler attacks.

Every action has a reaction. Palestinian opposition in the occupied West Bank will continue as long as Israeli settler attacks take place under an extreme right-wing government and prime minister in Israel who believes that the whole West Bank should be “Jewish”.

No one knows to which level these protests will escalate. The fact is, though, that there is a new generation of Palestinians who believe that popular resistance works and will continue to grow.

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