An Intensified Sense Of Unity Among Palestinians Across Divided Geographies

Young activists are now managing to reunite fragmented Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel in their fight for rights and freedom.

Something new is in the air”, says Samer Sharif, a Jerusalem activist protesting the displacement of 28 Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. This sums up the opinion of the growing youth movement in the occupied territories of Palestine that is gaining momentum. The recent wave of young Palestinian protests fuelled by social media, a feeling of being fed up with their leaders, and a borderless unity are receiving global attention. How are they different from their parents or grandparents?

Renewed unity and nationalist wave

Palestinians claiming their rights and an end for the Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing, the irrelevance of existing diplomacy, and the disengagement from the two-state framework have long been present, but what is different is “Palestinians’ willingness to mobilize behind these ideas in such large numbers” finds out, Ph.D. candidate at the George Washington University studying comparative politics and social movements, Samer Anabtawi. Online and offline protests have created a renewed social movement that is developing outside traditional parties and other organizations.

Division among Palestinian political factions and growing frustration with their leadership are being widely echoed by social media, namely TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Activists are using these platforms to document, coordinate, and share protests and injustices such as Israel’s planned expulsion of 13 Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and police violence against worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on May. Some are calling these protests the “TikTok uprising” and are vowing for an intensified sense of unity among Palestinians across divided geographies.

Activists are also using a distinct speech and vocabulary. They have dropped the “Oslo vocabulary and refrain from calling Palestinians Arab Israelis, a label the state deliberately uses to erase Palestinian identity for those within Israel’s borders because it would seem to deny their specifically Palestinian identity and links with Palestinian communities elsewhere”, explains professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, Nathan J. Brown. They are chanting “Palestinian lives matter” or “ethnic cleansing” while avoiding a deeper political discussion to avoid issues that have distracted Palestinians from the shared struggle for civil rights.

The expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah may have ignited and united the feeling of millions of Palestinians. In areas under Israeli control, Palestinians feel they are marginalized on ethnic bases in different ways, but “the consensus within today’s growing pan-Palestinian movement is not to atomize the different Palestinian hardships that all stem from an entrenching apartheid regime that strikes with varying types of repression and legal codes”, adds Professor Brown. The sense of outrage is now extensive and Palestinian claims and struggles are being heard all over the occupied territories, shared and understood by all of them.

Moreover, earlier this year, large-scale collective action in Israel’s Palestinian towns begun when thousands marched in Umm al-Fahm to protest Israeli police inaction toward a gun violence crisis in the Palestinian area of Galilee, the Triangle.

The ongoing frustration towards their own Palestinian leadership has also prompted these protests. The realization of a future Palestinian democracy has been limited by Israel’s control of the electoral system, which means that the last time a Palestinian legislative election was held was in 2006. Back then Hamas’s victory was ignored, and the United States and Israel decided to install PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his party, Fatah, into power in the West Bank.

In January this year, Abbas called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held this spring and summer but indefinitely postponed them. Abbas blamed the decision on Israeli authorities’ refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem, but many observers think that it was Fatah’s complicated re-election and weak control of PA institutions that prompted the delay.

The youth is creating new socio-political organizational structures outside the traditional framework through social media denounces. In addition, there is a “gradual but clear shift in political culture among Israel’s Palestinians, manifesting itself in sites of art and cultural production”, reports Brown for the Think Tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Changes in cinema and music with examples such as the band DAM in Lydd or Faraj Suleiman’s new album Better than Berlin that talks about what it means to be a Palestinian in Israel are new expressions of grievances and activism.

Alongside these new cultural forms, Palestinians are now building an intersectional movement that links up with global protest movements. For example, a feminist Palestinian movement called Tal‘athave linked police brutality following the killings of George Floyd in the United States and EyadHallaq in Jerusalem.

People walk by a mural of George Floyd, whose murder by police in Minneapolis helped ignite worldwide support for the Black Lives Matter movement, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, in June 2020.
Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

They draw parallels between the Palestinian struggle for liberation, the Black Lives Matter movement, “and issues such as racial discrimination and dispossession that resonate for communities in Western states to maximum effect,” says West Bank analyst at the International Crisis Group, Tahani Mustafa.

While the Palestinian political factions are still very much separated, the youth is leading by example. Fatah and Hamas have still some staying powers because they control the limited governance bodies in the West Bank and Gaza, and have formal international recognition. Nevertheless, we should keep an eye on the ability of this grassroots activism, as the Palestinian Youth Movement, to consolidate ties between them, their vitality, and the way in which they navigate Israeli repression and international resonance.

Fearless, uncensored, and leaderless Palestinians will continue to make their voices heard in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Young activists are managing to reunite fragmented Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel in their fight for rights and freedom.

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