Ramallah’s landscape this February 21 has overtones of a war zone. Residents have dismantled the ancient stone wall across the street for a series of barricades. The smoke of a burning tire rises in the clear early afternoon air over nearby al-Am‘ari refugee camp and army flares light the camp at night. The camp’s main entrance has been sealed by a wall of cement-filled barrels. Helicopters chop the air overhead; sirens of ambulances and army jeeps pierce streets that are virtually deserted this afternoon, ordinarily a busy time of day. In camps and villages, even the winter nights are the scenes of sharp confrontation. In the village of ‘Abboud, settlers from the nearby Neve Tsuf settlement descended on the village at about 10 pm on February 27, told the villagers in fluent Arabic to come out of their homes and not to be afraid, and shot two residents, Ahmad and Riyad Barghouti, dead.

In Ramallah, we shop between 8 and 11 am. The sounds of the shop shutters closing signals a possible demonstration or march; otherwise, an uneasy quiet prevails through the afternoon and evening. Marches are launched on Friday from mosques and Sunday from the churches, Christians and Muslims and non-believers participating in them all. These places of worship are simply the (relatively) safest and most convenient places for people to gather.

In early February, villages in the north like Ya‘bad, ‘Arraba and Toubas were surrounded by row after row of self-made barricades: a moment when the army had lost control. In Ya‘bad and ‘Arraba, hundreds of soldiers raided one dawn to punish the population — beatings, detentions, smashing household possessions — for their temerity at defying authority.

February 22, in Kafr Nama, a village near Ramallah: The army stays away as about 1,000 men, women, and children march through the village to the cemetery to mourn 20-year old ‘Abdallah ‘Atiyya, shot dead in Ramallah two days earlier. The village is decorated with scores of homemade Palestinian flags; at the graveside, when a minute of silence is declared for all the fallen, several family members slowly raise their arms and make the familiar V-sign. The whole crowd repeats their gesture as hail and driving rain whirl around them.

“Abnormal Routine”

In the occupied West Bank these days, people walk around with their eyes lowered to the ground. This posture is not to avoid the attention of the incessant military patrols, or to avert one’s eyes from witnessing their physical violence and harassment which are, still somehow shockingly, often carried out in full view. (A street scene, February 12, in Ramallah: After a small demonstration, soldiers detain a young man, cover his head with a makeshift hood and beat him. One red-haired soldier, with a fresh face and wire-rimmed glasses like a bright college student, repeatedly returns to kick the prisoner. Soldiers shout at people staring silently from the windows of their houses: “Go away.” If the watchers do not vanish quickly, soldiers hurl stones at the windows.) Neither do the downcast eyes indicate a population weary after 12 weeks of an uprising that has left over 100 dead, many hundreds injured, and thousands detained. The collective mood is almost electrifyingly high.

Rather, people look down to spot the latest statement from the United Leadership Committee for the Uprising, often found in the streets or tucked under a windshield or door. For the first time in many years, words have a direct bearing on individual and collective action. People shape their daily lives around the announcements of general strikes, demonstrations from churches and mosques, and “assignments” to different sectors of the population. In mid-February, people rejoiced as “Statement Number Seven” came out on schedule, despite an army raid on an ‘Isawiyya print shop suspected of producing the statements.

Ask almost anyone in the Occupied Territories about this “uprising” and they will say “it’s something new.” In fact, it is part of the complex dynamic in the Palestinian national movement since 1982 in the Occupied Territories, with characteristics both new and old.

We live and work in the West Bank, and our experiences form the basis of this description of events there. As residents, rather than as journalists, we have also experienced this “new life.” “Interruptions” — curfews, detentions of neighbors and colleagues, sit-ins and merchants’ boycotts — comprise our daily schedule. We participate in the charged atmosphere and emotions of this time: Although this is not always conducive to critical distance, we try here to identify main trends of the uprising, keeping in mind that our readers will have the benefit of another month or more of developments since we have filed this story.

We do not document what a delegation from Physicians for Human Rights recently called an “uncontrolled epidemic of violence by the army and police,” as the media have provided a wealth of such material. We only note here that the scope of this brutality is hard to appreciate from the individual accounts, as is its collective effect of erasing any protective barriers that previously stood between the army and settlers on one hand, and Palestinians on the other.

Rather, we wish to concentrate on the movers of the uprising — the Palestinians under occupation. From our arbitrary vantage point writing from Ramallah during the last two weeks in February, we view the new life of the population after nearly three months of the uprising.

This new “abnormal routine” is a fundamental achievement of the uprising. In the first phase, from December 9 to the end of that month, the protests and demonstrations in the camps of Gaza and in several camps in the West Bank, especially Balata, moved like a paradigmatic “prairie fire,” sparked by the rising toll of dead. Local organizers and organization were vital, but coordinated leadership was still missing.

The first statement from the United Leadership Committee for the Uprising appeared in the West Bank on January 8. Many date coordinated leadership, and thus the second phase, even earlier, pointing to the demonstrations that arose all over East Jerusalem on December 19. Two days later, on December 21, Palestinian leaders inside Israel called a general strike that was completely effective in the West Bank and Gaza as well. This second stage decisively marked the uprising as more than an upsurge in the “cycle of violence.” Any reference here to the Israeli occupation is now marked “Before Uprising.” No one knows what “After Uprising” will bring. The problems are truly formidable, but there is a palpable sense, among both Palestinians and Israelis, that things will never be the same.

Weakness Into Strength

Perhaps any popular rebellion seems inevitable after it happens. As a Birzeit University academic puts it: “Any political scientist can write a quick paper on the roots of the uprising: It’s all there.”

And so it is. But after nearly 21 years of military occupation this cuts both ways: why now and not before or later? The occupation seemed entrenched. The notion that occupier and occupied exist in an “uneasy equilibrium,” as Meron Benvenisti put it, was one of the most powerful myths of the post-1982 period, one that encapsulated the mood of these bleak years.

Anyone walking into a military installation in the Occupied Territories has been aware that harassment, not security, was paramount in the soldiers’ minds. Neither the Israeli military nor political establishment seriously contemplated any major internal threat from the Palestinian population. The chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, told Israeli defense correspondents that the army “had been taken by surprise by the scope and intensity of the rioting that swept through the West Bank and Gaza.” [1]

Some of the same factors that led to the entrenchment of the status quo contributed to its undoing. Since 1982 and the PLO withdrawal from Lebanon, hope for an external political solution has steadily dwindled. The Arab summit in Amman in November 1987 and the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in early December helped dispel any remaining illusions of progress through summitry, Arab consensus or state visits to Washington. (On the positive side, the reconciliation of Palestinian organizations at the April 1987 meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers was probably an important factor in the unified leadership that coalesced in December.) While the official Israeli-Palestinian “problem” remained gridlocked, a new dynamic began to emerge in the Occupied Territories.

Minister of Economics and Finance Gad Ya’acobi described one side of this dynamic when he attacked the “delusion of the status quo” and frankly noted “a creeping process of de facto annexation.” [2] Other factors sharpened the contradiction, including (in no order of importance) the economic downturn in the Arab world, the coming of age of the generation of occupation and the “iron fist” policy launched in August 1985.

A crucial linchpin of the occupation — the strategy of “normalization” — was beginning to weaken. Shlomo Gazit, the coordinator of affairs for the Occupied Territories for the first seven years of the occupation, once wrote that his goal was to create a situation where the Arabs “have something to lose.” Israeli efforts in this direction — from Dayan’s 1967 “open bridges” policy to the 1987 opening of the Cairo-Amman Bank — sought, with varying degrees of success, to construct the appearance of normal economic, social and community life, while enormous demographic and economic transformations took place. The intensification of settlements, confiscation and repression since 1983 finally overwhelmed any Palestinian sense of having something to lose.

The spark for the uprising is in itself of no special significance: a bizarre and bloody collision on the road leading to Gaza when an Israeli truck swerved and crashed into a car, killing four Gazans. The news spread quickly that the collision was deliberate, revenge by a relative of an Israeli settler stabbed in Gaza. The immediate backdrop is more relevant: an autumn of episodic but escalating confrontation between the Israeli army and settlers on one hand and Palestinian civilians and militants on the other. [3]

The Uprising of Communities

In a rally at Birzeit University on December 20, students intoned the names of Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza — Balata, Jabalya, al-Shati’. The camps themselves had become actors, not merely places.

Birzeit University students, who also have a strong sense of their own identity, had not yet really entered the “field” of the uprising. They were commemorating the founding of the PFLP — a traditional ceremony. Interestingly, the Fatah anniversary (January 1) did not become a major event of the uprising, despite the army’s and Palestinian supporters’ high expectations.

In the December phase, the uprising was primarily a war of the camps versus the army. In Khan Yunis or Dayr al-Balah, the camp was in flames while the adjacent town remained relatively quiet. Both town and camp dwellers have similar socioeconomic profiles (workers in Israel, for example), and presumably similar nationalist sentiments. Later, the uprising moved from community to community, and by mid-January West Bank villages became locales for resistance. Similarly, it spread from one strata of society to another.

Communities — refugee camps, villages and towns — provided a strong social base for the uprising. The new and extremely popular clandestine Voice of Jerusalem radio station — “a Palestinian Arab broadcast for the liberation of land and man” — daily peppered its broadcasts (before it was jammed in early February) with odes to places (“O, Hebron”) and dramatic readings of names of towns, camps and villages, down to the tiniest Jerusalem suburb or remote village. Part of this is Palestinian tradition and a strong local sense of identity; part is embedded in the dynamic of the uprising, which took its initial flavor and momentum from the explosive mixture of the special oppression and politicization of camp residents. [4]

An image comes to mind: A small group of Israeli leftist women, accompanied by a few foreigners and Palestinians from Nablus women’s organizations, enters one of the main roads to Balata on December 17, carrying a wreath in memory of three Balata residents killed on December 11, one a teenage girl. An army jeep blocks the way. Behind it, a mass of people suddenly appears. Some delegates manage to slip by the jeep and turn the corner into another world. At least a thousand people, primarily young men and older women, are tightly pressed together, a wooden coffin draped with flag raised high, other Palestinian flags fluttering in the wind. For a second, it seemed televised; the echoing chant of “Allahu akbar” increased its “stereotypical” air. The courage of Balata residents and their organization in the enclosed world of the camp was evident, as the army chased the demonstration down narrow street to alley to graveyard and to the main street again. After the Israelis left, they imposed a curfew.

Privilege is relative. It could be defined as living in Ramallah instead of Balata. The roll call of deaths by army gunfire from December 9-20 included 13 from Gaza, four from Balata and one from Nablus. (Eleven are 17 and younger.) On December 21, the day of the first all-Palestine general strike since 1939, the deaths of two Palestinians from Toubas and one from Jenin foreshadowed the remarkable role of West Bank village communities in the next two months. Today, prosperous Ramallah is still obviously distinct from its nearest neighbor, curfewed al-Am‘ari refugee camp: “Boundaries” are more evident — the sealed main entrance to the camp or, from the inside, the jeeps of the Golani Brigade meeting the barricades put up by camp residents.

Ramallah and other towns, including Jerusalem, have found their own forms of struggle, from successful commercial strikes to marches and violent demonstrations. The dynamics of community still operate as the network of resistance has spread. The active resistance of youth and youthful workers has moved outwards to encompass other parts of society, although roles, degree of participation and victimization vary.

Generations of Occupation

Two Birzeit students accompanying an NBC crew to their closed campus in late January encountered a barricade in the road near the small village of Abu Qash “manned” by a boy so young he had to stand on his tiptoes to look in the car window and check out the passengers. “Go back, go back,” he commanded imperiously, “we are all on strike.”

Stories like this abound in West Bank living rooms, as Palestinian society reflects on the role of its youth in the current uprising. “Our generation failed,” a dignified middle-aged woman told a visiting church delegation on Christmas day. “It is the children now who show us how to fight.”

The international media tends to portray an undifferentiated image with a new label, shabab (colloquial Arabic for “guys” or youths): a young man, kaffiyya masking his face, rock or flag in hand, confronting an Israeli patrol. This collective profile of bitterness and defiance ignores this generation’s optimism and articulation. The “generation of occupation” stands at the center of the uprising in more ways than one, but it in no way stands apart from the rest of society or from the PLO. The society itself is youthful: 46 percent of West Bankers and 48 percent of Gazans are under the age of 14, and the number of persons aged 25-34 in the West Bank has doubled in a decade. [5]

The experience of Israeli occupation, and this generation’s response to it, has created both striking and subtle changes in society and politics. Young people are not so much in rebellion — either against their families or against Palestinian leadership — as they are acting as a collective dynamo.

In the Ramallah-area village of al-Mazra‘a al-Sharqiyya at the end of January, for example, young men of the village rather than elders greeted the medical team from the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. They had made all arrangements for the temporary clinic. The young men, dressed in jeans, sneakers and thin jackets despite the blustery day, enthusiastically called out the names of the patients and counseled them to be at ease; they were “responsible” and would make sure the doctors would see them. These role reversals surface in many situations during the uprising: Entering Balata or Jalazoun or even a government hospital, any visitor encounters youths who are “responsible.”

The very momentum of defiance has undermined two decades of assumptions and so political realities. In Ramallah, a middle-aged professional woman, after watching demonstrations on television for a month, eagerly joins a group of young boys building a roadblock; in a Gaza hospital, a 100-year old woman, her hand broken by soldiers, toothlessly murmurs defiance to the applause of other beating victims in surrounding beds.

The unprecedented popular mobilization has not been contingent upon the achievement of concrete political goals. Villagers in Ya‘bad tell visitors the uprising will continue “until freedom”; a shopkeeper in Ramallah, who probably has not sold an appliance in months, swears he is striking “to end the occupation.” The momentum of defiance is sustained by people’s awareness of the new dynamics emerging on the ground, where Palestinian action now determines the Israeli reaction in an unprecedented fashion.

Street Facts

Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has always contained a large element of denial: denial of rights, denial of legitimacy, denial of voice. Not surprisingly, the initial Israeli response to the uprising was to deny 1) that it was an uprising; 2) that “normal” measures were insufficient to control it; and 3) that it articulated the feelings of the majority of the population. On December 15, when four people were killed in Gaza’s massive demonstrations, Chief of Staff Shomron announced that “although the area is not entirely quiet, the situation is already under control. Under no circumstances will we allow a small minority of inciters to rule over the vast majority, which is in general pragmatic and wants to live quietly.” [6]

But the Israelis arrested 1,200 people in three weeks in December. The IDF deployed more troops in the Gaza Strip alone than it used to occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. [7] Troops used tear gas and rubber bullets as well as live ammunition, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave his military commanders the power to deport “troublemakers,” order administrative detentions, declare curfews and close schools. [8]

A month into the uprising, despite these harsh measures, an organized leadership emerged and protests spread to cities and villages throughout Palestine. This stage heralded something new in Palestinian resistance. Israeli pronouncements were suddenly acknowledging the conflict as one of physical control of the streets and ideological control of the political agenda. On both counts, the Israelis were having a surprisingly hard time holding their ground. Was Rabin betraying some panic when he insisted that “Gaza and Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus are not and will never become Beirut, Sidon and Tyre”? “Here we shall fight,” he declared, “united and with all our strength, and it is great, against every force that tries by violent means to undermine our full control of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.” [9]

Rabin’s now famous “force, power and blows” announcement came out of this new context. “We will make it clear who is running the territories,” said Rabin. “We are adamant that the violence shall not achieve its political aims.” [10] That morning scores of Israeli troops had rampaged through the streets of Ramallah, beating shopkeepers and young men behind the “bloody wall” and forcing stores open. TV viewers later saw Rabin standing in front of stores in Ramallah’s main square, saying: “You have seen most of the shops are open, so the announcements that called for strikes were not received by part of the population.” [11] But strikes spread throughout all the Occupied Territories. Over the next month, dispirited soldiers patrolled Ramallah, seemingly too tired from fighting demonstrators to use the heavy crowbars they carried to open shops. By the beginning of February, patrols had given up altogether trying to force open stores. Rabin announced the policy of closing shops had been a mistake, and the general daily strike had become another fact of life under occupation — but one determined by the Palestinians themselves, not the occupiers. The “war of the shops,” at least this first phase, was won.

The new dynamics of the uprising have redefined other familiar scenarios of occupation. The curfew has become the most effective technique for military control, as it generally ensures quiet while in effect. But in Gaza curfews now signify that the IDF is unable to enter a particular camp or area. Their efficacy is further blurred against the days of general strike, when Palestinians willingly recreate curfew conditions.

Curfews also symbolize another major setback for the Israelis — the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians in the uprising and their open insistence that East Jerusalem is occupied territory. On January 23, authorities invoked emergency powers in East Jerusalem and imposed a curfew for the first time since 1967. The violent clashes since then have dispelled the myth of a unified city.

Increased Israeli violence and collective punishment often serve to popularize resistance, involving new sectors of Palestinian society by force. Women and girls in the Gaza camp of al-Shati’ tell of battling troops who come to arrest their husbands and sons. They point proudly to 14-year old Maryam, whose arm and leg were broken trying to protect her father. In Ramallah’s Old City, women attacked a patrol with pots and pans in an attempt to release a detained youth. Outside Ramallah prison, three different women claim an arrested youth; when a soldier screams in frustration, a woman explains: “They are all our sons.”

Shopkeepers played an important role in maintaining momentum by their strict adherence to the daily and general strikes. Shops close at 11 am (or 6 pm in East Jerusalem) after three hours of business, as a matter of routine. In Ramallah, the merchants’ committee patrols the streets, checking on closed shops in particular and the army’s activities in general. Shopowners appear generally to have followed the call by the national leadership to desist from paying the much-resented value-added tax (VAT); in fact, many have been unable to pay because of their low cash flow. Civil Administration sources report a decline in taxes collected since the beginning of the uprising. The authorities have responded by making import and export licenses, as well as travel permits, contingent on proof of payment of taxes. [12] At the same time they lowered the amount of money that can be brought in across the bridge from an unlimited amount to 600 shekels in an effort to undercut any outside financial support for the strike. [13]

Israeli-made products are more rare in shops as the leadership’s call for a boycott has widened. Shopowners are having difficulties in paying their Israeli suppliers, but banks have been apprehensive of enforcing payment of debts because of the great dependence of the Israeli economy on markets in the Occupied Territories. The large number of bounced checks has become a topic in the economic pages of Israeli papers.

On February 6, the United National Leadership called on Palestinians collaborating with the authorities or employed in the Civil Administration, including the appointed mayors, to resign. A news reader with the Israeli Arabic-language television program reportedly resigned after he received threats. Four municipal council members in Ramallah, al-Bira and Dayr Dibwan, all appointed by the Israeli authorities in 1986, formally resigned during the second week of February without stating their reasons. Names of collaborators appeared on Ramallah walls in mid-February; late at night, army patrols could be seen carefully blacking out the names.

The most dramatic case of popular vengeance against a collaborator occurred in the village of Qabatya the last week of February. While passing during a demonstration, a small boy threw a stone at the house of Muhammad Ayad, an alleged Shinbet informant. He opened fire on the crowd, killing a child. Villagers stormed the house several times: 13 were wounded by gunfire. When Ayad’s ammunition was exhausted, villagers entered the house and killed him with an ax. They dragged his body to the street, where virtually the entire village spat on it, including his relatives. His body was then hung up on an electricity pylon, topped by two Palestinian flags. The next day, at a gathering in the mosque, four other collaborators handed their guns over to the mukhtar, and formally apologized to the village. (Qabatya has been cordoned off ever since, and many residents seized.)

Local Leadership

From the hilly neighborhoods of Nablus, voices ring out, chanting the names of PLO organizations, then join together in the rallying call of “Allahu akbar”: A demonstration is underway.

The call is instructive: The leadership of the uprising rests firmly with local supporters of PLO organizations — Fatah, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front and the Communist Party (which has no counterpart abroad and only recently official representation in the PLO). In Gaza, one must include the Islamic Jihad, which works in coordination with the PLO. The echoing call of “Allahu akbar” is usually less a mark of Muslim revivalist politics than a unifying thread in Palestinian society.

It is common knowledge, and common sense, that the clandestine United Leadership consists of representatives of all the groups in the Palestinian national movement. The PLO and its constituent organizations have built an infrastructure of support and leadership in the occupied territories, recruiting and mobilizing among key sectors of Palestinian society such as students, workers, women and professionals. The pattern of politicization in the 1980s, particularly among the “generation of occupation,” has increased affiliation along organizational lines. Crystallized into the United Leadership, the local PLO has coordinated and steered the uprising.

“Local” is a more operative word than “new.” While firmly adhering to the slogan that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, activists here have taken the initiative on the ground. The voice of this leadership is communal and anonymous; clandestine leaflets have replaced the press conferences of former days. In the process, some traditional nationalist leaders have been overwhelmed by events; “spokesmen” like Hanna Siniora and Elias Freij have been relegated to clearly marginal roles.

Local activists have learned the lesson of anonymity after 20 years of Israeli arrests and expulsions. Their role does not call for visibility. Their immediate aim is not to open negotiations with the Israelis but to sustain the momentum of the uprising, to create a context in which the PLO’s demand for an international peace conference will be heard, and to help set the agenda for any such conference.

In each leaflet, the United Leadership enumerates specific demands and calls for specific actions. Distribution of the communiqués is no longer a major problem: they are now headline news in the Israeli media. Communiqué 9, the Jerusalem Post dutifully reported on March 2, called for Palestinians serving in the Civil Administration and police to resign and urged the overthrow of the Israeli-appointed municipal councils.

The communiqué gives each day of the week ahead a particular focus: Friday and Sunday are for demonstrations, after mosque and church services; Thursday is the Day of Return to the Land, urging people to take part in agricultural work; Sunday is Flag Day; Tuesday (March 8) is Women’s Day; Wednesday is Martyrs Day, with general protests to mark the beginning of the fourth month of the uprising.

By meticulously observing the various calls by the United Leadership, Palestinians have underscored the committee’s legitimacy. Clearly the reconciliation between the various PLO factions during the April 1987 PNC in Algiers enhanced coordination between the various blocs in the occupied territories and boosted popular morale. A number of local groups have issued calls for mass action, in conjunction with the United Leadership. In the village of al-Ram, for instance, landlords called on other landlords in the area to follow their example and not collect rents from striking shopkeepers. In Jerusalem, merchants from Ramallah and al-Bira held their own press conference in January, vowing to strike until the end of occupation and enumerating the demands stated in the National Leadership communiques.

The level of coordination behind the uprising and in particular its “invisibility” clearly frightens the authorities. Military analyst Hirsh Goodman’s alarm is typical as he imagines “the silent, shadowy figures moving between Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, spreading fear and hatred, forcing their children out of school to assemble at predetermined confrontation points, giving crash courses on how to make a Molotov cocktail and how best to burn a bus.” [14]

Born of the Uprising

In a driving rain on February 17, about 60 women, three Palestinian flags bravely raised at the fore, marched to the municipality of al-Bira, chanting slogans against the Israeli-appointed mayor, against army brutality, against “autonomy.” “Let Shultz stay home with his wife,” shouted one middle-aged matron to wide approval, referring to the secretary of state’s upcoming visit.

During the political turmoil of the winter and spring of 1982, the municipalities and other nationalist institutions were the focus both of Israeli repression and Palestinian mobilization. The nationalist mayors, dismissed that spring, had a commanding role. Universities, though closed, were centers of protest. Petitions circulated from professional associations and nationalist institutions. The National Guidance Committee, banned that year, still devised strategies.

Today, the 1982 leaders are silent or marginal, and the nationalist institutions that were their base are grappling to find a suitable role in the fluid environment of the uprising. While PLO leadership remains a constant, there are important changes in the makeup of that leadership and in its organizational expression.

Generational and even class relations are visibly shifting. Institutions with the largest resources, like universities, are floundering, and intellectuals and professionals to date seemingly marginal. By contrast, a bare, cold hall in Ya‘bad is full of life, as the local popular committee meets with visitors in the wake of an army raid in the early morning hours of February 7. The popular committee — young men, chain-smoking, with faces alive and powerful — comprises known village activists from the worker’s union and youth groups in particular, but it is nonetheless a new formation, born of the uprising.

A general strike marked the three-month anniversary of the uprising on March 9, designated the Day of the Martyrs. The events of that day are telling because they are not extraordinary: two more young men killed by army gunfire in the villages of Silwad and Turmus ‘Ayya. The day before was International Women’s Day. Village women marched together with Ramallah matrons, teenagers with their grandmothers, 500 strong, through the streets of Ramallah in an impressive silent march. Looking down the side streets, we saw women running to join the procession, which was eventually dispersed by tear gas and rubber bullets when it reached the center of town. The women had decided that no stones would be thrown; the youths adhered to their direction during the march, another sign that this uprising rests on the self-organization of an entire society.

Today, March 9, no workers went to their jobs in Israel. The success of labor boycotts, including the total boycott in Gaza during the first month of the uprising, contrasts sharply with the failure of Palestinian nationalists in the early years of the occupation to stop the flow of Palestinian labor to Israel. It is another of the “reversals” that characterize the uprising.

These reversals are a partial answer to the important question “What can the uprising achieve?” Looking at an uncertain future, we can only say that the ground has decisively shifted. The uprising is not an “event” with an endpoint, but a new stage in the relations between occupier and occupied.

with Joost Hiltermann


[1] New York Times, December 20, 1987.
[2] Jerusalem Post, February 26, 1988.
[3] In his 1987 report, Benvenisti notes a “new trend in Palestinian resistance” in the ratio between “planned violent acts involving firearms, perpetrated by organized cells,” and spontaneous rock throwing and violent demonstrations, what he calls “terrorist/spontaneous” acts, from 1:11 between 1977-1984 to 1:18 in 1986-1987. Benvenisti fails to relate these to other forms of resistance, such as the sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and commercial strikes that characterized the “mini-uprising” of the spring of 1986, and the slow development of community-based mobilization and grassroots committees since about 1980.
[4] Although, interestingly, not its politics. “Official” statements, anyway, continue to stress an independent state, rather than the politics of return.
[5] Meron Benvenisti, The West Bank Data Base Project 1987 Report.
[6] Jerusalem Post, December 16, 1987.
[7] New York Times, January 1, 1988; Jerusalem Post, December 28, 1987.
[8] Jerusalem Post, December 25, 1987.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Jerusalem Post, January 20, 1988.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Jerusalem Post, February 18, 1988.
[13] Jerusalem Post, February 15, 1988.
[14] Jerusalem Post, February 19, 1988.

How to cite this article:

Lee OBrien, Marilyn Johnson "The West Bank Rises Up," Middle East Report 152 (May/June 1988).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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