By Annabel Merkel, Student, Human Rights Studies,
Despite two large Palestinian uprisings – the first and the second intifada – the Palestinians have hardly been able to change their living conditions for the better. Instead an impenetrable wall has been built around the West Bank with approximately 500 checkpoints inside. At the Gaza Strip the Jewish settlements have been abandoned, but the blockade, created and maintained by Israel, has made life very difficult for the Palestinians still living there. It’s been about six years since the second intifada ended and the mores stories and photographs that leak out from the Palestinian Territories the more urgent my question becomes. When will the next uprising start? How do the Palestinians look upon an intifada when memories are left of earlier attempts that have only made the situation worse?
Experience and Expectation
One of the reasons why this conflict is difficult to solve seems to be the fact that so many different intentions, hopes and visions for the future are deeply embedded in the problem. We can possibly assume that a person’s take on future resistance movements would be different depending on where he/she is based geographically. In order to gain a wider understanding of the many diversities within the Palestinian population, I have explored the concepts ”space of experience” and ”horizon of expectation”. This theory is based on the idea that each person has his/her own space of experience – a space built by and created from the persons’ past experiences. From this space of experience each individual can gaze out towards their own horizon of expectation. What appears on the horizon – i.e. what expectations a person has on their future – is determined by the past experiences that he/she has collected in her own space. A Palestinian born in the West Bank would have a space of experience where the separation wall, check points and Fatah have affected daily life. A Palestinian raised in Gaza would instead have a space of experience affected by Hamas, the blockade, bombs and isolation. If a person has been living in other contexts – in exile far away or as a refugee in a country close by – that means entirely different experiences and perspectives that will be reflected in his/her way of creating expectations for the future. Considering the large gap between Gaza and the West Bank – including the Palestinians restricted ability of movement, related to checkpoints and settlements – the internal divisions amongst the Palestinian population will come as no surprise. Do these splits affect the Palestinian resistance movements’ ability to grow and become efficient? Is there anywhere a collective vision for what a possible outcome of the conflict would be and what would it take for the Palestinians to start a revolution together in the context of today’s situation?
Hearing the Palestinian voices
Getting an insight in to what ”regular Palestinians” think of their situation is difficult. Politicians from Gaza and the West Bank are the Palestinian’s official representatives and thus have a relatively open channel to express their opinions to the outer world. If we assume that Palestinians actually do feel the internal divisions amongst them, it undoubtedly becomes problematic when an elite group of politicians speak in place of a whole nation. When a few powerful individuals get to represent a large group of people in the face of the international community it also makes understanding the conflict very complicated for people who are not themselves Palestinian. I wanted to hear the voices of the ”ordinary” Palestinians and therefore I chose to dig deeper beneath the surface. These voices can be heard in numerous ways – by interviews, visits, debate articles, art, books or any of the many ways opinions can be expressed today. I searched for articles published by Palestinian bloggers that weren’t representing any political parties or organizations. There is a lot of discussion about the widespread use of blogs but for me it was not the blogs as such that were my focus of interest – it was the opinions behind the written words.
Three Palestinian Blogs
I read all the Palestinian blogs I could find and then I focused on analyzing three of them. What I discovered was three different views of the conflict and since the writers all live in different places it became an interesting study of three different spaces of experience. In many ways their horizons of expectations differed from each other – expressing emotional and symbolic resistance, wishes for practical political reform and the complexity of uniting people online. But in between these visions there are common concerns that also bring the authors together. The internal divisions amongst the Palestinians, the disappointment regarding the Palestinian politicians’ way of dealing with the conflict and the strong sense of how important resistance is even when it seems like all hope is lost – those are opinions that can be found amongst all the writers regardless of their otherwise differing horizons of expectations.
One blog is called My Palestine and is written by a Palestinian woman born in Jerusalem but now living in Germany. She publishes poetic texts about the Palestinian situation and often the articles circle around a collective memory of the Palestinian people. She describes the situation through a child’s perspective – how everyone who is Palestinian has been brought up with a similar view of the occupying forces. The emotional, nationalistic element is something that shines through all her work. She often writes about al-Nakba, which translates as ”the catastrophe” in Arabic and marks the Palestinian name for the day Israel became a state at the expense of Palestine. In these articles the collective memory becomes clear and the heartbreaking stories that are told give the reader an emotional understanding for the political resistance. According to the author, the will of resistance will be in the hearts of the Palestinians for as long as the occupation exists – even if that resistance is not always expressed in practice.
The second blog I studied was that of Rana Baker. This writer is born and raised in Gaza and has a burning passion for politics and practical resistance. Many of her texts are reflections of her past and she writes about what she’s been through and how it has affected her life. An important part of all this are those of her articles describing her experiences during the Gaza War and how they shaped her strong political will and desire to change the conflict. Baker also writes about the divisions between Fatah and Hamas and says she is skeptic when it comes to believing a unity between the parties could lead to the Palestinians right of return being implemented. Amongst the bloggers articles about political initiatives and disappointed exclaims regarding the huge gaps within the Palestinian population Baker makes it clear that no matter how big the internal problems are there is always an opposition that her people will stand united against – Israel. Whether this is a genuine belief or just a rhetorical punch-line we can only guess.
Life on Birzeit Campus is written by two Palestinian students at Birzeits University in the West Bank. It is not always clear which one of them writes the articles, but the texts are unified and often formulated as though the opinions being expressed belong to both of them. A reoccurring topic in the blog is the discussion about social media and the part it plays in helping people organize uprisings and revolutions. The writers express their disappointment over the fact that an event labeled ”the Third Intifada” on Facebook didn’t get enough people gathering at the place of the demonstration. They also compare Palestine to the Arab states that during the spring of 2011 went through groundbreaking changes in their political systems. ”Palestine is not Egypt” they say and seem to be of the opinion that an effective revolution is hard to carry out in the Palestinian Territories today. Cynical texts are written – as in the other blogs- about the supposed unity of Fatah and Hamas and their conclusion is, after many discussions, that the Palestinians are not ready for a third intifada. As for now there is no clear revolutionary plan and to only increase the number of martyrs would be a waste.
Uniting the people
The ways in which the above mentioned authors express themselves is varying. Rana Baker is focused on the practical resistance and she participates in political demonstrations and continuously documents her situation by publishing photographs and articles on her blog. By doing this she can effectively reach out to people from all over the world and express her opinions as well as share her experiences and perhaps increase the chances for others to react. Baker is also critical towards Hamas and the way they rule Gaza. Part of her strong political commitment seems to be growing from an inner wish to one day create a Palestinian society where today’s political parties can be replaced by something different. The two student writers from Birzeit University focus a great deal on the internet as a social gatherer for demonstrations and uprisings. When an event started circulating on Facebook about a third intifada there where hundreds of thousands of people who supported the virtual idea. When – in reality – only a few thousand people showed up for the event these bloggers were challenged with the question about whether or not the internet supporters actually cared at all. According to Charles Tilly there will certainly be local resistance if there is a resistance online. The problem with uprisings on the internet is that the local movements – that are strong when their participants stand together – often become less united when their message spreads across the world. The group of people who were supposed to fight together can lose their core connection to each other when less committed people become a part of their plan. This lost sense of community is a central theme in Life on Birzeit Campus and becomes especially clear in the articles about Facebook and the unity of Hamas and Fatah. In My Palestine the Palestinian internal divisions is the most reoccurring problem. The author writes sarcastically about how the Palestinian politicians negotiate and negotiate away the Palestinian land and the rights of the people. She seems convinced that the politicians are not representing their people in a respectful and worthy way.