For decades, Palestinian anti-colonial resistance has been exploited. As the colonizer, Israel has built its whole security narrative on subduing and eliminating “terror attacks” from the colonized Palestinian population.
Since the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 – a supposedly interim government which has remained illegitimately in power beyond its mandate, Palestinians have faced repression through its security coordination with Israel. This subcontractor function of the PA is a component of the illusory state-building that is funded by international donors to maintain the status quo.
The escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Israel’s high security Gilboa Prison in early September was no exception. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s high alert discourse and action, warning that the incident had “the potential to affect several arenas” implied imminent danger. The terror premise is never far from Israel’s rhetoric –particularly post-September 11 and the ensuing US “War on Terror.” Since then, Israel’s security narrative has become a lucrative endeavor for the settler-colonial state’s arms industry.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority reportedly participated in the manhunt for the escaped prisoners through security coordination. Hypocritically, aiding Israel to recapture the prisoners did not stop Nabil Abu Rudeineh – spokesman for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas – from stating that “the issue of the prisoners, the heroes of the Palestinian people, is exemplary of the unity of our people and their commitment to gaining their [national] rights.”
Hamas, on the other hand, claimed that the “leadership of the resistance is working to complete an honorable [prisoner] exchange deal for our prisoners and our people, of which the six prisoners will be among its heroes.” Hamas has enjoyed being synonymous with Palestinian resistance, especially amid Israel’s periodical bombing of the Gaza Strip, and the fact that it is, so far, the only organized political and resistance movement that can offer leadership apart from the PA and Fatah.
However, Qaddura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, succinctly described the current stage of Palestinians resistance as having “restored the unity of the Palestinian street.” Palestinian prisoners, Fares stated, “have become more aware of their ability to influence the national situation.”
Hamas has long been associated with armed struggle, and the PA occasionally clamored for non-violent resistance. Though non-violent resistance was only preached when the PA could position itself as a pragmatic leader, even as it subjugated itself to Israel’s demands. Two outstanding occasions would be the US unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, more recently, the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israel’s relations with several Arab states.
The PA’s cancellation of elections scheduled for May set the ball rolling for the Palestinian people’s pent-up frustration.
The shift in Palestinian resistance has been long overdue, and this year’s political circumstances have been instrumental in removing the Palestinian factions’ monopoly over the struggle for rights and freedom. The PA’s cancellation of elections scheduled for May set the ball rolling for the Palestinian people’s pent-up frustration. As the PA dithered over Israel’s planned dispossession of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents, Palestinians across the occupied territories —as well as within Israel— united in their protests, triggering a display of unity which the PA never came close to garnering in its years of seeking out agreements with Hamas.
While Palestinians protested, the PA came to terms with its political irrelevance, which became a source of concern for Israel and the US. Not having experienced such a significant political shift among the population before, the plan to empower the PA was set in motion. Meanwhile, as discontent with Abbas’ rule intensified this summer, the PA’s security services committed their greatest mistake so far – murdering Palestinian activist Nizar Banat in June within an hour of his arrest. Palestinians immediately demanded Abbas’ resignation and justice for Banat, and the PA’s security forces responded with more violence, ostensibly to restore order.
Against a backdrop of a collective Palestinian expression, the prisoners’ break from Gilboa was more significant than their recapture by Israel.
Against this backdrop of a collective Palestinian expression, the prisoners’ break from Gilboa was more significant than their recapture by Israel.
For Israel – the prime recipient of US military aid – the escape prompted scrutiny of the state from a colonial perspective. Israeli media reported on the weaknesses which facilitated the breakout – including negligence by the guards and the online availability of the prison’s blue print.
Palestinians, on the other hand, celebrated the escape, as it mirrored what Palestinians are doing with the little means available to them to resist colonial violence and military occupation. Contrary to Israel’s expectations, there was no violent rampage and the last two prisoners to be captured turned themselves in willingly, so as not to endanger other Palestinian lives. The act itself was symbolic, as the likelihood of recapture was high. Yet it was a significant feat, devoid of any political interests, other than reflecting the Palestinian people’s dream of liberation.
In the aftermath of the prisoners’ flight, Israel’s security narrative ensnared both Hamas and the PA as accountable scapegoats, depending on its focus. While Gaza is typically vilified due to Hamas’ existence, Abbas has often been accused of public incitement by Israel. The Palestinian people, however, have ultimately been the target of Israel’s aggression regardless of which faction is blamed for any display of resistance.
Nonetheless, Hamas’ increasing marginalization due to Israel’s prevailing terrorist designation has resulted in the movement taking a step back from its foray into politics, as it reassesses its efforts in diplomacy. While Hamas is still the faction that is most associated with resistance, the Palestinian people have carved a new path for themselves – one that returns to its historical origins, when resistance was a grassroots effort and collective mobilization was prioritized over party or faction affiliations.
The recent resistance efforts by the people indicate a departure point for the Palestinians, who have been betrayed by the PA and other political factions, as well as the international community, despite the latter determining that anti-colonial struggle by all means is legitimate to fight back against colonization.
As Palestinians reclaim their resistance narrative from political factions, they are no longer spectators on the sidelines.
It is therefore notable that neither the PA nor Hamas was responsible for the prisoners’ escape. It reveals a renewed independence and galvanizing of the street, just as the Palestinian people took it upon themselves to protest the extrajudicial killing of Banat. As Palestinians reclaim their resistance narrative from political factions, they are no longer spectators on the sidelines. Palestinians are active social and political participants, precisely because they are not waiting for any form of leadership to determine when and how resistance should be articulated and practiced.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) shows that 78 percent of Palestinians are demanding Abbas’ resignation. And while Hamas would emerge as the winner if legislative elections were to be held, it would only beat Fatah by 5 percent, whereas three months ago the survey showed a wider gap of 11 percent in favor of Hamas.
The narrowing down between the two main factions is another indicator of the shift in Palestinians’ approach to politics and resistance. Resistance is now owned by the people and electoral preference is less tied to what the parties can offer in terms of anti-colonial struggle. This new outlook and unity has the potential to present a formidable challenge to Israel’s security narrative, as colonial violence against the people – away from the involvement of Palestinian factions to quell the backlash – will expose Israel’s ongoing brutality.