Of Course, It Is An Intifada: This Is What You Must Know
12 November 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
When my book 'Searching Jenin' was published soon after the Israeli massacre
in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, I was quizzed repeatedly by the media and
many readers for conferring the word 'massacre' on what Israel has depicted
as a legitimate battle against camp-based 'terrorists'.
The interrogative questions were aimed at relocating the narrative from a
discussion regarding possible war crimes into a technical dispute over the
application of language. For them, the evidence of Israel's violations of
human rights mattered little.
This kind of reductionism has often served as the prelude to any discussion
concerning the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict: events are depicted and
defined using polarizing terminology that pay little heed to facts and
contexts, and focus primarily on perceptions and interpretations.
Hence, it should also matter little to those same individuals whether or not
Palestinian youth such as Isra' Abed, 28, shot repeatedly on October 9 in
Affula – and Fadi Samir, 19, killed by Israeli police a few days earlier,
were, in fact, knife-wielding Palestinians who were in a state of
self-defense and shot by the police. Even when video evidence emerges
countering the official Israeli narrative and revealing, as in most other
cases, that the murdered youth posed no threat, the official Israeli
narrative will always be accepted as facts, by some. Isra', Fadi, and all the
rest are 'terrorists' who endangered the safety of Israeli citizens and,
alas, had to be eliminated as a result.
The same logic has been used throughout the last century, when the current
so-called Israeli Defense Forces were still operating as armed militias and
organized gangs in Palestine, before it was ethnically-cleansed to become
Israel. Since then, this logic has applied in every possible context in which
Israel has found itself, allegedly: compelled to use force against
Palestinian and Arab 'terrorists', potential 'terrorists' along with their
It is not at all about the type of weapons that Palestinians use, if any at
all. Israeli violence largely pertains to Israel's own perception of its
self-tailored reality: that of Israel being a beleaguered country, whose very
existence is under constant threat by Palestinians, whether they are
resisting by use of arms, or children playing at the beach in Gaza. There has
never been a deviation from the norm in the historiography of the official
Israeli discourse which explains, justifies or celebrates the death of tens
of thousands of Palestinians throughout the years: the Israelis are never at
fault, and no context for Palestinian 'violence' is ever required.
Much of our current discussion regarding the protests in Jerusalem, the West
Bank, and as of late at the Gaza border is centred on Israeli priorities, not
Palestinian rights, which is clearly prejudiced. Once more, Israel is
speaking of 'unrest' and 'attacks' originating from the 'territories', as if
the priority is guaranteeing the safety of the armed occupiers – soldiers and
extremist settlers, alike.
Rationally, it follows that the opposite state of 'unrest', that of 'quiet'
and 'lull', are when millions of Palestinians agree to being subdued,
humiliated, occupied, besieged and habitually killed or, in some cases,
lynched by Israeli Jewish mobs or burned alive, while embracing their
miserable fate and carrying on with life as usual.
The return to 'normalcy' is thus achieved; obviously, at the high price of
blood and violence, which Israel has a monopoly on, while its actions are
rarely questioned, Palestinians can then assume the role of the perpetual
victim, and their Israeli masters can continue manning military checkpoints,
robbing land and building yet more illegal settlements in violation of
The question, now, ought not to be basic queries about whether some of the
murdered Palestinians wielded knives or not, or truly posed a threat to the
safety of the soldiers and armed settlers. Rather, it should be centred
principally on the very violent act of military occupation and illegal
settlements in Palestinian land in the first place.
From this perspective then, wielding a knife is, in fact, an act of self-defence;
arguing about the disproportionate, or otherwise, Israeli response to the
Palestinian 'violence' is, altogether moot.
Cornering oneself with technical definitions is dehumanizing to the
collective Palestinian experience.
''How many Palestinians would have to be killed to make a case for using the
term 'massacre'?'' was my answer to those who questioned my use of the term.
Similarly, how many would have to be killed, how many protests would have to
be mobilised and for how long before the current 'unrest', 'upheaval' or
'clashes' between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army become an 'Intifada'?
And why should it even be called a 'Third Intifada'?
Mazin Qumsiyeh describes what is happening in Palestine as the '14th Intifada'.
He should know best, for he authored the outstanding book, Popular Resistance
in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment. However, I would go even
further and suggest that there have been many more intifadas, if one is to
use definitions that are relevant to the popular discourse of the
Palestinians themselves. Intifadas – shaking off – become such when
Palestinian communities mobilise across Palestine, unifying beyond factional
and political agendas and carry out a sustained campaign of protests, civil
disobedience and other forms of grassroots resistance.
They do so when they have reached a breaking point, the process of which is
not declared through press releases or televised conferences, but is
unspoken, yet everlasting.
Some, although well-intentioned, argue that Palestinians are not yet ready
for a third intifada, as if Palestinian uprisings are a calculated process,
carried out after much deliberation and strategic haggling. Nothing can be
further from the truth.
An example is the 1936 Intifada against British and Zionist colonialism in
Palestine. It was initially organized by Palestinian Arab parties, which were
mostly sanctioned by the British Mandate government itself. But when the
fellahin, the poor and largely uneducated peasants, began sensing that their
leadership was being co-opted – as is the case today – they operated outside
the confines of politics, launching and sustaining a rebellion that lasted
for three years.
The fellahin then, as has always been the case, carried the brunt of the
British and Zionist violence, as they fell in droves. Those unlucky enough to
be caught, were tortured and executed: Farhan al-Sadi, Izz al-Din al-Qassam,
Mohammed Jamjoom, Fuad Hijazi are among the many leaders of that generation.
These scenarios have been in constant replay since, and with each intifada,
the price paid in blood seems to be constantly increasing. Yet more intifadas
are inevitable, whether they last a week, three or seven years, since the
collective injustices experienced by Palestinians remain the common
denominator among the successive generations of fellahin and their
descendants of refugees.
What is happening today is an Intifada, but it is unnecessary to assign a
number to it, since popular mobilization does not always follow a neat
rationale required by some of us. Most of those leading the current Intifada
were either children, or not even born when the Intifada al-Aqsa started in
2000; they were certainly not living when the Stone Intifada exploded in
1987. In fact, many might be oblivious of the details of the original
Intifada of 1936.
This generation grew up oppressed, confined and subjugated, at complete odds
with the misleading 'peace process' lexicon that has prolonged a strange
paradox between fantasy and reality. They are protesting because they
experience daily humiliation and have to endure the unrelenting violence of
Moreover, they feel a total sense of betrayal by their leadership, which is
corrupt and co-opted. So they rebel, and attempt to mobilize and sustain
their rebellion for as long as they can, because they have no horizon of hope
outside their own action.
Let us not get bogged down by details, self-imposed definitions and numbers.
This is a Palestinian Intifada, even if it ends today. What truly matters is
how we respond to the pleas of this oppressed generation; will we continue to
assign greater importance to the safety of the armed occupier than to the
rights of a burdened and oppressed nation?
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of
Exeter. He has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
'Searching Jenin', 'The Second Palestinian Intifada' and his latest 'My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story'. Visit his website: