In response to the Arab revolutions a new Palestinian movement seems to be taking shape. Driven by the youth it is in part aimed at a civil Palestinian mobilization to end the catastrophic political factionalism. But it must be placed in the larger context of reclaiming the struggle to liberate Palestine.
Political unity is not a goal in and of itself, but a strategic requirement for rebuilding a resistance movement to Israeli Apartheid. Therefore, the political unity advocated in the first major mobilization on March 15th cannot sit under the umbrella of 'two-sided negotiations' or the 'peace process.'
This old tune played by Zionists and the Palestinian Authority and orchestrated by Washington has only served to delegitimize the resistance and to relinquish inalienable Palestinian rights. On the contrary, united political leadership that is representative of all Palestinian people would reassess the Palestinian struggle altogether, and put it back on the tracks of a liberation movement fuelled by popular resistance against settler-colonialism.
For several weeks, Palestinian youth across the West Bank, Gaza and 48 territories (Israel) have been diligently organizing in anticipation for the 15th of March. The plan is to get as many people on the streets as possible calling for an end to the political division that has culminated, in 2006, to the official disintegration of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) into two separate camps chaired by two separate authorities.
Inspired by the mass uprisings shaking the Arab world, and encouraged by several ‘starter’ protests across the OPT in solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt, the protests set to take off on the 15th of March hope to put an end to a political scene that has brought the Palestinian struggle for liberation to a rock-bottom low.
March 15th calls for an end to division, but this does not mean confinement to mere reconciliation rhetoric. In fact, the organizers explicitly demand the re-democratization of the Palestinian National Council and the establishment of new electoral law inclusive of all Palestinians inside and outside Palestine & Israel, stating: ‘Our demands for change go beyond ending Palestinian disunity and partial tweaks to the status quo. We insist on full democratic representation for Palestinians all over the world.’ (The full statement is available at the end)
March 15th has invigorated Palestinian civil society. In the face of Palestinian Authority (PA) and secret service harassment and the danger of arrests, youth groups in nearly every city in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, and in Gaza are networking, leafleting, and spreading the word day and night. On Sunday 13th of March, eight young Palestinians met on Manara Circle in downtown Ramallah to amplify the demands of the Palestinian Youth Movement.
They stood in solemn unity behind rows of candles, carrying signs that announced they had begun a hunger strike as part of their calls for unity among Palestinians and for elections for the Palestinian National Council that lead to equal representation for all Palestinians. They plan to stay at the Manara Circle until these demands are met.
While forbidden to light a fire for warmth or erect a tent for shelter, they have the comfort of knowing that soon they will not be alone. The next day, the 14th, the youth movement in Gaza also put its foot down earlier than expected by spontaneously attracting a 4,000-person demonstration in Gaza City. The demonstrators, walking close to university buildings, chanted for an end to the division and asked everyone watching to join them on the 15th.
If the protests attract critical mass and pick up momentum, they will mark the beginning of a movement, and we will witness not only a disintegration of the poisonous factionalist rhetoric but also, more importantly, a dignified resurgence of Palestinian youth and student groups into the struggle. In a reactionary move, Palestinian parties like Hamas, Fatah and Fayyad’s government are attempting to co-opt this grassroots non-aligned initiative by calling on their part for ‘End the Division’ protests.
Student and activist Raya Ziada, who is organizing a support rally in London on the 15th, comments: ‘While it is not wrong for political players to reiterate demands for ending the division, we reprehend their attempts to pass off as victims of the division when they are in fact its key players. With this they seek to delude the youth movement, steer it away from its objectives, and avoid accountability.’
Not unexpectedly, the PA and Hamas have expressed rhetorical support for an end to division while simultaneously confronting the previous demonstrations in Ramallah and Gaza with violence and arrests.
As the PA continues to get bankrolled on American dollars and to engage in security cooperation with Israel, and as Hamas continues to dominate Gaza on the basis of the continuing fragmentation of the Palestinian struggle, it is unlikely that either side of the divide genuinely wants to put it to an end.
In this respect, they are more likely to respond to popular pressure by restructuring the divide (and passing that off as progress) than by ending it. Whether or not such cosmetic changes suffice depends, amongst other things, on the critical mass and political strategy we will see formulate on March 15th.
Political strategy is especially vital to the success of any move against the division. Palestinian analysts (often in a pessimistic tone) find the key point to remain elusive, and stress that division is unlikely to end if the reasons for division persist. Indeed, the factionalism within Palestinian politics goes back to the division process that started in 1991, of which the recent PA/Hamas contention is a symptomatic buildup.
It was the hijacking of the Palestine Liberation Organization by Fateh and the Oslo agreement of 1993 that excluded other parties as well as the Palestinian people from the decision-making process, and that undemocratically substituted the resistance doctrine with cooptation, concessions, and negotiations.
Therefore, an end to the division requires a thorough and substantive change of the entire framework of Palestinian politics. Oslo must be put to an end, its birthchild the PA dissolved, and the PLO redefined as a representative movement inclusive of, amongst other parties, Hamas.
The March 15th slogans have not explicitly targeted Oslo or the outright dissolution of the PA; this is not a fallacy of the movement but a reflection of the stage it’s at. Tuesday marks the first affirmative step, and escalating demands must be based in a foothold in the street.
If the protests solidify and expand through critical mass, the bar will rise, and political demands will gain the space required to escalate and crystallize. In fact, the condemnation of Oslo is already etched in between the lines of the call for a democratic Palestinian National Council that goes beyond the OPT and embraces the entire Diaspora.
Therefore, we do not hold the difficulty of achieving a representative democratic Palestinian front against the March 15th protests nor do we dismiss March 15th as a static event. Instead, we applaud the bravery of these young people riding against the tide, and stand in full solidarity with those taking the streets, because we are hopeful in the potential this holds for Palestinian politics should it formulate into a dynamic and escalating movement (of which Tuesday is only the beginning). Accordingly, the righteous political critique of ‘division ends when the causes for division end’ should guide the potential progression of March 15th instead of tear it down in its infancy.
The pessimism of many Palestinian analysts is understandable, and expecting enthusiasm from the older generation may be too much to ask, but Tunisia has opened the Pandora box of possibilities and now is the time to liberate our imagination.
March 15th Movement Statement
Regarding Attempts to Co-opt March 15th Protests
The mass protests planned by Palestinian youth groups for March 15th are gaining momentum and extended media coverage. We, the youth groups organizing and mobilizing for this movement, find it necessary to clarify the following points:
- These protests are being organized under the banner of national unity and reconciliation. However, we emphasize that resolving the predicament of Palestinian disunity must be based on principles and values agreed upon by the Palestinian people regardless of their political affiliation. The first of these principles is the illegitimacy of imprisoning people based on their political beliefs. Consequently, we demand the release of all political prisoners held by the government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Our demands for change go beyond ending Palestinian disunity and partial tweaks to the status quo. We insist on full democratic representation for Palestinians all over the world. Consequently our movement stipulates:
- Democratic Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections based on a one-person one-vote electoral system that guarantees equal representation for all Palestinians around the world (Gaza Strip, West Bank, 48 territories, refugee camps, and in the Diaspora). This necessitates a complete overhaul of the PNC’s structures and the establishment of new electoral procedures.
- Attempts to Co-opt March 15th Mass protests
Palestinian political parties, Hamas’ government in Gaza, Fayyad’s government in the West Bank, and a plethora of nongovernmental organizations are seeking to co-opt this movement to serve their narrow interests. Moreover, they are attempting to legitimize themselves by falsely stating that they are the main organizers behind this event. We open-heartedly welcome the participation of party members and NGO employees, who are an essential and inseparable part of our societal fabric. We do not welcome attempts by their leaders to redirect our efforts.
- We affirm that the March 15th movement is by the people for the people, and is independent of any political party or institutional backing. It is being organized by non-partisan youth groups who dream of a better future for their people.
We invite all Palestinians, and particularly Palestinian youth, to come down to the street on March 15th. We will only carry Palestinian flags, and chant and sing for freedom, unity, and justice. March 15th shall be the day we stand in unity to demand democratic representation for all Palestinians as an affirmative step in our struggle for Freedom from Israeli Apartheid.
This article was written in collaboration with Khalil Habash
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