The past several weeks have marked a re-emergence of action in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Obama made an important address to the Arab world, which included a sentiment of admiration for the Arab Spring and a suggestion that Israel return to 1967 borders, before the occupations of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
A subsequent visit by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to the U.S. was marked by a cold meeting in the Oval Office and an even icier address to Congress, which was interrupted by an American-Israeli protester’s shouts.
While the spectacle of the Obama-Netanyahu stand-off dominates headlines, the movement that has dragged these lumbering superpowers into motion has largely fallen off the radar, despite its unprecedented mobilization and organization.
Answering calls from youth organizers throughout the Middle East, Arab youth protestors amassed by the thousands in pro-Palestinian demonstrations just a few weeks ago. For months, organizers have called for protests beginning on May 13 to culminate in an Arab Unity march to Israel’s borders on May 15, the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence. (In the Arab world, May 15 is known as “the Nakba” or “the catastrophe,” in reference to the thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave their homes, now located in Israel proper. Those refugees have yet to receive any compensation, as peace negotiations continue to stall.)
“The Nakba Day is an important day for Arabs because it is a reminder of a tragic event where 700,000 [people] lost their land – something that shouldn’t be forgotten,” said Anwar M*, a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli student at Ben Gurion University in Israel. “Protests and events make sure that the new generation and the rest of the world know that the people are not neglecting this important part of their history.”
Anwar stressed that anti-semitism is not the goal, nor is violence necessary, especially with the region still undergoing such change and turmoil. “I don’t think that the violence and the anti-Semitism against the Jewish people in general is going to serve as an efficient tool to support the Palestinian cause… Arab countries are not ready to endure [an Israeli backlash] because of the recent political situation in these countries.”
These Nakba Day border demonstrations were later thwarted by Israel’s allied governments in Egypt and Jordan, but were successfully carried out in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank, unprecedented events that were met with violence from the Israeli Army. Nakba Day protests also resulted in bloodshed in Cairo when state security under Egypt’s transitional authority, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, opened fire on demonstrators outside the Israeli Embassy.
“Even if our government doesn’t support Palestine, we, the people of Jordan, do,” said Sheehan Q*, 25-year-old activist and human rights lawyer in Jordan, where nearly 31% of the population are Palestinian refugees. “Many of my friends and family are Palestinians here in Jordan and we support the Intifada even if our government doesn’t.”
Though organizers’ initial calls included moderate demands for a non-violent end to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, burning Israeli flags and hate speech notably precipitated at the protests as well.
“This will be the most glorious of the Intifadas. We are more organized than ever, we protest non-violently for years now, no matter what they do to us. But now we know how to get the media to watch us,” said Fahed K* a 24-year-old Palestinian activist and engineer from the West Bank. “Israel only knows violence. They don’t know what to do when we don’t behave violently, so they get scared that the world will figure out what they’re doing. They can keep trying to kill us and steal our land, but the world is watching now because of what those terrorists did to Gaza. They will see who are the real terrorists now.”
The Israeli terrorist motif is a popular one, it seems, despite the Western view of terror generally coming out of Palestine. The attacks on Gaza in the past two years have prompted this newest youth uprising against the region’s most dominant democracy. But, after the events in Cairo, Egyptian students see they can be effective with their discontent.
“In the new Egypt, we will no longer let our government support this injustice against our Arab brothers in Palestine. We are here to tell Israel that this game is over,” said Mohammad S*, 22, who studies at the American University in Cairo. “The crimes against the Palestinians end now. They can have Israel, they can have West ‘Jerusalem,’ and they can do what they want there, but we will have Al Quds [East Jerusalem], and it will be the capitol of Palestine.”
The First Intifada in the late ’80s began in refugee camps. It looks like the Third Intifada won’t be different. Hebaa A*, a 19-year-old student and activist in Damascus, Syria is the child of Palestinian refugees from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. “I am happy for this new intifada to awaken the Arabs and the people of Palestine to Israel’s terror. What they did to Gaza…They bomb families in Gaza, they terrorize the West Bank, they bomb the UN even, they bomb refugee camps even here in Syria,” she said, noting the world’s view of Palestinian terrorism. “What about the Israelis? Are they not terrorists because they have planes and USA [American] weapons to kill innocents?”
These developments by the region’s youth raise eyebrows about the motivations and possible direction of the Third Palestinian Intifada, which may be closer than we think.
*For security purposes, last names and pictures of Palestinians cannot be used in this post.