Has the Third Palestinian Intifada Already Begun?

By Ruth Michaelson, Photos: Eloïse Bollack and Matthew J Bell


Protests in Palestine, photo by Eloïse Bollack.

According to the Israeli media, the Third Palestinian Intifada (uprising) is already well underway. This doesn't mean that it actually is, of course – the Israeli press is currently in the midst of a Cyclone Bhola of paranoid freak-outs, and media outlets there have been fuelling this particular worry since as far back as December last year. But it could mean that we're closing in on it. Mondoweiss – a website that promises to provide news "from a progressive Jewish perspective" – quoted Israeli army commander Yaniv Alaluf earlier this year as saying, “We’re no longer on the verge of a Third Intifada – it’s already here."

Following the death of 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat in Israel’s Megiddo Prison on Saturday, speculation as to when the Third Intifada will arrive and prove the Israeli media right reached fever pitch. An autopsy revealed that Jaradat didn't die of the heart attack that the Israeli Prison Service reported, but showed signs of “extreme torture”, including some suspiciously-shaped bruises, lash marks and broken ribs. Israeli sources claim that his ribs were broken in a resuscitation attempt, but may have a harder time explaining where the broken bones in his neck, spine, arms and legs came from. 

Jaradat’s death comes at a time when the treatment of Palestinian prisoners is dominating the news discourse and his passing has already increased protests against the treatment of prisoners on long-term partial hunger strikes. So far, those protests have hit Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Jayyous, Beit Ummar, Tulkarem and Ofer prison, close to Ramallah. On Tuesday, a boy shot at a protest in Bethlehem died of his injuries. Prisoners' rights are a key issue among Palestinians, which isn't surprising given that an astounding 40 percent of the male population are reported to have spent some part of their lives in an Israeli prison. 


Arafat Jaradat's funeral, photo by Matthew J Bell.

The funeral in Jaradat’s hometown of Sa’eer was attended by thousands, including representatives from every major political party from Hamas to the PFLP. The town is a Fatah stronghold and the party's armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AMB), were strong in attendance, making themselves known with ceremonial gunfire and broadcasting the fact that they intend to avenge Jaradat's death. Combine that with the increasing amount of protests and intelligence spread by the Israeli internal security, and you can see why the media are panicking about the tipping point of the Third Intifada. But is this really it?

The first problem here is a lack of leadership, in that there doesn't seem to be any. The AMB may be pledging vengeance, but as the armed wing of Fatah, they’re heavily connected to the Palestinian Authority, who’ve bundled up far too much political hay trying to make themselves seem “statesmanlike” rather than revolutionary. As a result, when an intifada does erupt, it seems far more likely that the PA will be on the opposing team.

At the Ramallah Café – the location of choice for Ramallah’s intellectuals to smoke shisha and read the papers – one customer volunteered himself as a former member of the AMB and was more than happy to parrot the PA’s line on the situation. He was fond of calling PA leader Mahmoud Abbas “Mr President”, saying that the PA will defend this “prisoners' revolution” that he saw as having already begun. Evasive as to why he wasn’t joining the revolution himself, he said the PA will back up protesters, even though they'd spent a fair portion of the previous Friday's afternoon stepping in between protesters and the IDF to assault demonstrators in Hebron.


Photo by Eloïse Bollack.

On Monday, they refused to partake in similar “crowd control” activities, but possibly only because it could have started a full-scale riot, purely against the PA police or even the PA itself. “We were so disappointed in the PA after they returned from exile,” said protester Abu Ashraf, welcoming journalists into his home to shelter themselves from tear gas last Friday. “We didn’t expect them to become this fig leaf for the occupation.”

“Mr President” has also tried to knock back the Israeli Prime Minister's request that he calm protests in the West Bank by saying that “Israel wants chaos but we will not be dragged into it” – thereby making it seem like he’s both standing up to Israel and capable of quelling Palestinian anger. Until this point, there’s been little evidence that he’s particularly capable of either.

In order to ensure that Abbas and the rest of the PA – particularly the police force – stay on side, Israel released tax revenues that they’d confiscated from the PA in November in the wake of the Palestinian UN statehood bid.  

With that in mind, it seems more likely that the Third Intifada will come from elsewhere in the West Bank. It’s no secret that places like Jenin, Hebron and Nablus aren’t the biggest fans of either the PA or Israel, especially among the refugee camps, which aren't PA-controlled. Regular protests and clashes have taken place outside Ofer prison near Ramallah, fuelled mostly by students from nearby Birzeit University, but others have centred on the anti-PA hotspots, especially Hebron, close to Jaradat’s hometown of Sa’ir. However, these initially coincided with planned protests to demand the reopening of the Jewish settler inhabited Shehuda Street to Palestinians, so although clashes continued, it remains to be seen whether they’ll burn on in the long term.


Photo by Eloïse Bollack.

Those involved in protests and clashes have so far used methods termed as non-violent resistance, made popular in the First Intifada. However, even if armed resistance groups chose this moment to start something closer to the more violent Second Intifada, they’d be likely to run into the problem of weapons shortages. The PA has been incredibly successful at cracking down on the spread of weapons in an effort to make the West Bank seem less like a hotbed of resistance and more like somewhere that Obama will feel comfortable walking around in during his visit next month.

There have also been suggestions that any intifada taking place in the West Bank would probably result in attacks on settlements. But apart from an attack by settlers on Palestinians in Qusra last Saturday, there haven't been any clashes reported between Palestinians and settlers so far, so protests have remained centred around facing up to the IDF in the name of prisoners’ rights. 

Essentially, the situation is missing another element to turn it into a full-blown intifada. There's no doubt that the prisoners’ situation is worthy of protest, but it would take spill-over into anger at Palestine’s lame-duck economy to drag most people out onto the streets, and the financial situation hasn’t quite sunk to that depth yet. Last summer saw some small protests against the Paris Protocols that govern the Palestinian economy, but there's no sign of them returning any time soon. Shop owners from Nablus to Ramallah were adopting a grin-and-bear-it attitude, rather than readying their placards and taking to the streets.

You've probably guessed from reading literally any media in recent history that the situation in the West Bank is hardly pleasant, and people certainly have a right to be angry. Right now, that anger is being vented over outrage at the treatment of prisoners, and it's going to take something more than that to turn that anger from isolated protest into an intifada, especially if the PA have anything to do with it.     

Asked if he thought these protests were the start of anything more significant, a fruit and veg vendor in a central square in Ramallah tutted and jutted his chin, saying, “We are tired. That’s all there is to it.” So, is this the start of the Third Intifada? Short answer: no. Longer answer: not yet. 

Follow Ruth on Twitter: @_Ms_R

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