By: Jacob Høigilt, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
The grassroots popular resistance movement in the West Bank continues its strategy of reclaiming Palestinian land to highlight how Israel slowly annexes big parts of the West Bank. This time they did not establish a new village, like the case was in early 2013, with Bab al-Shams and its offshoots. Instead, they re-established an existing village in the vicinity of Jericho. Its inhabitants were expelled by the Israeli army, which established a base near the site. Their descendants have been denied access to the village ever since.
But on Friday 31 January about 300 activists, most of them Palestinians, entered the village, started rehabilitating it and announced its re-establishment and their claim to it. Of course the Israeli army intervened eventually; after a week they arrived last Friday and expelled everybody, razing the improvements the villagers had made during their week at Ein Hijleh. This was only to be expected, and frustrating though the experience must be for these activists, who repeatedly see their work destroyed by the Israeli army, the physical act of reclaiming the land is not the most important in the long term. What seems to matter more and more is the symbolic force of these collective actions and the way they contribute to integrating various parts of the current grassroots non-violent resistance in the West Bank and internationally.
This time, even more than before as far as I know, the activists use social media effectively to spread news about what they are doing. They are also good at getting press: al-Jazeera and several Palestinian news organizations have published video reports from the village, and international coverage has been provided by the BBC, Jerusalem Post and The Guardian. The initiative this time was connected to a wider campaign, which is new. On the day they arrived, the activists published a press release that is quite interesting. First, after announcing the rationale for the re-establishment of the village (Kerry’s peace plan, which suggests Palestinians give up part of the Jordan Valley), they go on to encourage people to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, mentioning specific Israeli products they would like to see boycotted. Second, they also warn against accepting Israel as a Jewish state, as that would “turn Palestinians living inside lands occupied in 1948 into residents and visitors that can be deported at anytime. We affirm the unity of our people and their struggle wherever they are for our inalienable rights.” The press release thus helps creating links between grassroots actions such as Ein Hijleh, the wider (by now international) BDS movement and Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is a clear anchoring of the popular resistance in the West Bank to a rights-based, international approach to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and a clear break with the existing PA/PLO strategy of bilateral negotiations. A militant, non-violent resistance has taken hold in the West Bank that actively seeks to partner with Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is a strategic threat to Israel, which has lived quite comfortably with the meaningless negotiations paradigm for twenty years now.
This is a development that has been going on for some time now, so there is nothing revolutionary in it. But it is getting very interesting as far as internal Palestinian politics is concerned. The top echelons of Fatah in the PA and PLO still cling to negotiations as the only viable strategy. From what I could see on Facebook and the videos the core group of Ein Hijleh activists included well-known Fatah grassroots leaders who have participated in most of the popular resistance initiatives the last few years, and Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, also stayed for the whole time, it seems. When will the latent conflict over strategy within Fatah come out into the open?