Monday, 31 January 2011

Heroism in Palestinian Culture

Heroism in Palestinian Culture

Among the Arab world, the Palestinian people have become icons and heroes in a particular way. Listening to some Palestinian national songs generates intense reminiscence of Gaza and the ongoing Israeli's government violence in that territory. It also paints a portrait of the Palestinian struggle and how this contributes to the culture of resistance.

The Palestinian people brought up in an unstable environment dominated by all manner of violence for decades. Regularly different areas in the Gaza Strip are exposed to Israeli invasion resulting in the killing of people and demolishing of homes. Palestinian people always show struggle and patience against invasions. After invasion, people keep speaking about the consequences of the invasion for a long time and how resistance and non-violent resistance highly highlight the violence of these military operations. Obviously, this has ensured that resistance has become a culture within the Palestinian society.

In the Islamic world, there are two special occasions "Eid" where people celebrate and enjoy. From the very early part of my life, I noticed that gun game is unfortunately the main and favorite game for little children even during these moments of celebrations. I still remember how little kids named this game "let's play Yahood & Arab" that means "let's play Arab against Jewish". This abnormal environment has a crucial role to play in drawing attention to the culture of resistance inside the Palestinian community.

A Culture Sprung from Occupation and Resistance

Palestine was placed under the British control after the First World War by the League of the United Nations. The Balfour Declaration[1] (1917) proclaimed Palestine as a national home for Jewish settlers (Allain, 2004: 80-84). The British mandate facilitated the Jewish occupation and settlement in Palestine. As a result of repeated colonisations, Palestine has a long history of being occupied. Accordingly, this has often compelled Palestinians to revolt against these despotic occupations. Palestinians, since the occupation of their land in 1948, have never stopped resisting.

Resistance under the British Mandate

The Palestinian resistance did not start with the establishment of the State of Israel but dates back to the British mandate period, starting in 1917. The British mandate and the establishment of Israel are both strongly integrated in the Palestinian history where the British mandate is considered the root of the conflict in Palestine.

The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine came up as an example of uprising in protest against the British mandate and their role in bringing more Jewish immigrants to Palestine. In 1936, a general strike marked the start of the great Palestinian revolt.

The 1936 Palestinian general strike and the armed revolt that followed were momentous events for the Palestinians, the Region, and the British Empire. The six-month general strike, which ran from April until October and involved work stoppages and boycotts of the British- and Zionist–controlled parts of the economy was the longest anticolonial strike of its kind until that point in history, and perhaps the longest ever (Khalidi, 2006:106).

From Nakba (Catastrophe) to Naksa (Tragedy)

The history of Palestine became a long chain of losses, feelings of being outdone, dispossessed. From the partition plan (1947) to the numerous massacres and mass expulsions, Palestinians suffer to the chore the lack of a real Hero able to transcend an overwhelming situation. To survive the Creation of Israel’s State in 1948 to the “Tragedy” of 1967, survival in itself becomes heroic, and this explains too, the importance of the Hero, the love of heroic acts in Palestinian culture.

The First Intifada: Mass Mobilization

The first Intifada began in December 1987 when a military Israeli truck killed Palestinian workers awaiting permission to cross into Israel to work. It is important to realize that the intifada was a strong example of a mass mobilization uprising but not a politically-based discussion (Holt, 1996:28).

Due to the aggression of the Israeli military over the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinians revolted against this subjugation. Evidently, it had become a crucial part of the Palestinian daily life as it mobilized all population, including women, children and the elderly to participate. The first Intifada took the form of civil resistance where all population was participating to protest against the Israeli occupation (Ben-Ami, 2006:188). It also took the form of boycotts of the occupation's institutions and goods. Further, the Palestinian people at that time disobeyed the occupation and regularly organized general strikes around all villages. At the same time, there were the stone demonstrations where young people threw stones against the aggressive Israeli armed occupation troops (Beinin and Hajjar). In contrast, the Israeli army always responded with violence against unarmed vulnerable Palestinians. It was obvious that the Palestinian youths battled the Israeli tanks and soldiers with their bodies without any means of violence (Rosen, 2005:116). Palestinian youth considered that the days of fighting with the Israeli soldiers were regarded as the glorious days of the Palestinian resistance.

Manal who was thirteen years old when the Intifada broke out and she was shot at her chest at the age of fifteen. I miss those days a lot. They were the most beautiful days of my life. True, everyone was scared of the soldiers and their guns but we had dignity and it was our dignity that made us so defiant (Rosen, 2005:118).

It is interestingly attractive when I read a story that happened in refugee camp "Al Bureij Camp", where I received my primary education, which shows how the Palestinian women importantly participated during the first Intifada. For example, a woman spoke of routine raids by the Israeli soldiers. “The soldiers come,” she says:

Enter some houses without knocking and take the men and the boys away. We try to be quicker than the army and as soon as we hear the warning whistles from the guarding shabab (young men) at the edge of the camp, we women go out into the roofs and give signs to the shabab in our area that they have to run away. We signal to them from which direction the soldiers are coming. This is one of the roles of women during the uprising (Augustine, 1993:124).

The culture of resistance in the first intifada happened to be relatively non-violent. Further, it was dominated by the population through their disobedience of the Israeli occupation regarding their everyday life affairs. It’s an interesting case of “mass-heroism”.

The Second Intifada

The second Intifada is remarkably considered to be a religious uprising. It erupted as a reaction to the accumulation of the daily Israel oppression and violence. The visit of Ariel Sharon[2] to the Dome of the Rock[3] "Al Aqsa Mosque" in Jerusalem in late September 2000 was the start of the Intifada. Therefore, Palestinians give this Intifada the name of "Intifada AL Aqsa" so as to keep it linked with most religious places in Palestine. This visit was provocative for the Palestinian Muslim people as Sharon violated their holiest mosque. Israelis consequently fired upon the Palestinian worshipers and demonstrators sparking the second Intifada.

The resistance during the Intifada as it is characterized with the increase of Israeli violence toward Palestinians was more brutal than the first Intifada. According B'Tselem organization, in the first intifada around 100 Israelis were killed, about two-fifths of those security forces, and 1000 Palestinians were killed, the majority were civilians. The second Intifada was much more aggressive and bloody as around 5050 were killed, tens of thousands injured, and approximately 5113 houses were demolished (Palestinian Center for Human Rights: 2010).

It is believed that occupied people have to right to resist and International Law guarantees this right. In this respect, the Palestinian people have all possible right to resist either violently or non-violently. The violent resistance in Palestine always emerged as a reaction of the daily Israeli oppression on the Palestinians which is characterized by brutality.

Obviously, the second Intifada also took the form of non-violent resistance. This kind of resistance has powerfully sustained and empowered the second Intifada through exploring non-violence to control the Israeli power. For instance, there is a one weekly demonstration taking place in two of the Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank (Ba'leen and Ni'lin). In these demonstrations, there is a popular participation including Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and foreigners who struggle none violently. This includes the desire to halt Israeli's illegal confiscation of land for its notorious separation wall which Palestinians refer to as "Apartheid wall". This wall paralyzes the Palestinian daily life as it cuts them off from their villages and their neighbors (Dowty, 2005:172). The International Court of Justice describes the construction of the Separation Wall as illegal and gravely infringes on Palestinian rights. Additionally, the court considered the wall constitutes violation of the International Law (International Court of Justice, 2004).

Such non-violent conquests as demonstrated by the two intifadas produce different forms of heroism: At individual level and at the collective level. At the collective level, it is remarkable to observe that the Palestinian people, who in the face of comparative weakness and disadvantage, have demonstrated courage and the will power to fight non-violently for what legitimately belongs to them: their land. Such-non violent resistance also indicates the sacrifices of Palestinians which aims at producing a better good for its people. Such collective heroism is also demonstrated by the international awareness which the Palestinian people are able to create regarding the occupation of their land and their self determination.

At the individual level, Palestinians as a people have learnt to live non-violently. Suffice it to mention that as recently as February, 2010 one student, Ayman Qwaider, gallantly demonstrated heroism by exploring exhaustive non violent campaigns to achieve his right and noble objective of studying outside his country (McIntyre:2010).

Throughout the quick overview of the two Palestinian Intifadas, we would easily realize these Intifadas have created a real Palestinian heroism. Regarding the culture of resistance, the Palestinian heroism would be defined as the ability of Palestinians to dedicate their lives to struggling and resisting the occupation their land. Moving to discuss the hero in the Palestinian constitution would actually illustrate the Palestinian perspective about the occupation as both heroes have been influenced by the occupation.

[1]On 2 November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Author Balfour, in a letter to a leading British Zionist Lord Rothschild wrote: "His Majesty's Government views with the favour the establishment in Palestine of a national Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object. It is being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jewish any other country.

[2] Sharon is an Israeli general and politician, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He is currently in a permanent vegetative state after suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006.

[3]Al-Aqsa Mosque is the second oldest mosque in Islam after the Ka'ba in Mecca, and is third in holiness and importance after the mosques in Mecca and Medina. It is great stature in Muslim and Palestinians' heart.

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