By Ramzy Baroud
To begin, let us clarify some of the language used to depict the ongoing violence in the Occupied Territories of Palestine and throughout Israel. This is not a “conflict.” Nor is it a “dispute” or “sectarian violence,” or even a war in the traditional sense.
It is not a conflict because Israel is an occupying power and the Palestinians are an occupied people. It is not a dispute because freedom, justice and human rights cannot be treated as a mere political disagreement. The Palestinian people’s inalienable rights are enshrined in international law and the illegality of Israel’s human rights violations in Palestine is recognized by the UN. If it is a war, then it is a unilateral Israeli war, which is met with humble, but real and determined, Palestinian resistance.
Actually, it is a Palestinian uprising — an intifada unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian struggle, both in its nature and its outreach. For the first time in many years, we see the Palestinian people united, from Jerusalem to Gaza, the West Bank and, even more critically, the Palestinian communities inside historic Palestine — today’s Israel. This unity is far more consequential than some agreement between Palestinian factions. It eclipses Fatah and Hamas and all the rest because, without a united people, there can be no meaningful resistance, no vision for liberation and no struggle for justice.
Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could never have anticipated that a routine act of ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood could lead to a Palestinian uprising, with all sectors of society joining an unprecedented show of unity.
The Palestinian people have decided to move past all the political divisions and factional squabbles. Instead, they are coining new phrases, centered on resistance, liberation and international solidarity. Consequently, they are challenging factionalism, along with any attempt to normalize Israeli occupation and apartheid. Equally important, a strong Palestinian voice is now piercing through the international silence, compelling the world to hear a single chant for freedom.
The leaders of this new movement are Palestinian youths who have been denied participation in any form of democratic representation and who are constantly marginalized and oppressed by their own leadership as well as by the relentless Israeli military occupation. They were born into a world of exile, destitution and apartheid, led to believe that they are inferior, of a lesser race. Their right to self-determination, along with every other right, has been postponed indefinitely. They grew up helplessly watching their homes being demolished, their land stolen and their parents humiliated. Finally, they are rising.
Without prior coordination and with no political manifesto, this new Palestinian generation is making its voice heard. It is sending an unmistakable, resounding message to Israel and its chauvinistic right-wing society that the Palestinian people are not passive victims; that the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and the rest of occupied East Jerusalem, the protracted siege on Gaza, the ongoing military occupation, the construction of illegal Jewish settlements, the racism and the apartheid will no longer go unnoticed. Though tired, poor, dispossessed, besieged and abandoned, Palestinians will continue to safeguard their rights, their sacred places and the very sanctity of their own people.
Yes, the ongoing violence was instigated by Israeli provocations in Sheikh Jarrah. However, the story was never about the ethnic cleansing of this beleaguered neighborhood alone. Rather, this is a microcosm of the larger Palestinian struggle.
Netanyahu may have hoped to use Sheikh Jarrah as a way to mobilize his right-wing constituency, while intending to form an emergency government or increase his chances of winning a fifth election. His rash behavior, initially compelled by entirely selfish reasons, has ignited a popular rebellion among Palestinians, exposing Israel for the violent, racist and apartheid state it is and always has been.
Palestinian unity and popular resistance have proven successful in other ways, too. Never before have we seen such a groundswell of support for Palestinian freedom, not only from millions of ordinary individuals across the globe, but also from celebrities — movie stars, footballers, mainstream intellectuals and political activists, and even models and social media influencers. The hashtags “#SaveSheikhJarrah” and “#FreePalestine,” among numerous others, are now interlinked and have been trending on all social media platforms for weeks. Israel’s constant attempts to present itself as a perpetual victim of some imaginary horde of Arabs and Muslims are no longer paying dividends. The world can finally see, read and hear of Palestine’s reality and the need to bring this tragedy to an immediate end.
None of this would be possible were it not for the fact that all Palestinians have legitimate reasons and are speaking in unison. In their spontaneous reaction and genuine, communal solidarity, all Palestinians are united. In Palestine’s new popular revolution, factions, geography and any political division are irrelevant. Religion is not a source of divisiveness but of spiritual and national unity.
The ongoing Israeli atrocities in Gaza are continuing, with a mounting death toll. This devastation will continue for as long as the world treats the devastating siege of the impoverished, tiny Gaza Strip as if it is irrelevant. People in Gaza were dying long before the Israeli airstrikes began blowing up their homes and neighborhoods. They were dying from the lack of medicine, polluted water, the lack of electricity and the dilapidated infrastructure.
We must save Sheikh Jarrah, but we must also save Gaza. We must demand an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and, with it, the system of racial discrimination and apartheid. International human rights groups are now precise and decisive in their depiction of this racist regime, with Human Rights Watch — and Israel’s own rights group, B’Tselem — joining the call for the end of apartheid in all of Palestine.
Speak up. Speak out. The Palestinians have risen. It is time to rally behind them.