Lessons from popular resistance in Jerusalem

Mustafa Barghouti
Sunday 3 Sep 2017

Last month, Jerusalem and its surroundings presented an effective model of Palestinian popular resistance that should be generalised

The triumph of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa is a chapter in a raging and continuous battle, in which the Palestinian people are engaged, in order to end the occupation and the racist apartheid regime. It is a long battle.

It is important to learn lessons from this model that succeeded and that should be applied in other places and other stages later. Perhaps these lessons can be summarised in the following eight characteristics that distinguished the Jerusalem uprising.

First, the Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa uprising adopted the principle of self-reliance and did not wait and see what others would do. The participants believed that “It is best to do your own thing” and did not wait for instructions from anybody and did not link their movement to those of others. If they had, they would have waited for long.

The uprising also was an embodiment of the principle of self-organisation with all available means and benefitting from religious, societal and civil institutions. It challenged the occupation and its decisions clearly, evidently, determinedly and decisively.

In one day, Jerusalem embraced the principles of the first three Intifadas; self-reliance, self-organisation and challenging the occupation.

Second, the popular movement marched in a gradual, continuous escalation without setbacks because it remained popular and wasn’t politically opposed. Maybe it started with tens then hundreds then thousands, but reached tens of thousands. It succeeded because it moved through the sheer strength of a unifying idea and the living example grounded in a sense of duty.

Third, the strength of popular participation and its great influence represented the climax that every popular resistance act aspires to. But what distinguished the Jerusalem case was the continuity of participation without reducing it to one act or restricting it to one day, as usually happened.

Fourth, the clarity and accuracy of the popular movement’s objective and its steadfastness in pursuing it in spite of all the pressure exerted by the occupation and some political pressure on the local, regional and international levels. To remove what the occupation installed 14 July was the objective. And that was what was upheld. Even when the pressures mounted and the occupation made its last manoeuvre, through the closure of Bab Hatta, the masses didn’t hesitate in restarting a sit-in until the occupation caved and the objective was achieved in a complete, pure and impressive way.

Fifth, national and religious popular leadership unity, which was an interactive leadership, would not have succeeded or would not have been obeyed if it was not reverently respectful of the popular masses’ will and gave precedence to this during decisive and delicate watersheds.

Perhaps this exemplary unity was what astonished the occupation authorities which was mostly accustomed to exploiting Palestinian divisions and fomenting them with every possible means.

Sixth, the masses’ insistence on the peaceful nature of the popular movement, praying as a resistance tool and refusing to be provoked by the occupation or responding to its criminal violence. This insistence was in the face of the occupation troops that used all kinds of abuse, bombs and bullets, including live bullets, against unarmed civilians.

The cost was huge with the death of five valiant martyrs, some of them children, and the wounding of more than 1,500.

In the days that followed, the real picture began to reach the outside world. This picture Israel and its government fear more than anything else. The picture of an army in its thousands armed to the teeth facing unarmed masses who are full of courage and determination. It is the picture of the first Intifada, which exposed the Israeli occupation and that the occupiers fear that may return to the awareness of the world's people.

If the international community had been firm in respecting international law it would have formed an inquiry committee to investigate Israeli troops’ behaviour towards the Palestinian masses and it would have held Israel accountable and imposed sanctions on it, as it does in other regions. But double standards unfortunately still exist so far as Israel is concerned.     

Seventh, the Palestinian masses retained the initiative from the very first day until the last moments and afterwards. Netanyahu, his government, his police force and all those who came from overseas to assist him, remained unable to seize the initiative from the hands of the Palestinian masses.

This wasn’t easy and it wasn’t a simple thing but it was supremely successful. Netanyahu was obliged to acknowledge his defeat, which he could not conceal. Even on the first Friday prayer after entering Al-Aqsa Mosque, in an astonishing discipline and awareness, Palestinians foiled the attempts of occupation troops to provoke them and draw them to violence in order to justify taking revenge at their success. Thus, they kept the initiative in their hands and preserved their victory.

Eighth, the transformation of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Jerusalem issue into a general Palestinian issue. This happened, if somewhat after delays and disparities between one place to another, until it encompassed the interior and Palestinians abroad. Its impact extended to the Arab, Islamic and international spheres. This in turn transformed into escalating pressure on the Israeli government.

Nobody can argue that the victory of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa was essentially made by the valiant Palestinian and Jerusalemite masses and nobody can deny their capability to triumph.

The task is how to build on this model and its characteristics and develop Palestinian popular resistance on the national scale.

The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.

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