The Palestinian Popular Committees are facing a contradiction: They won the attention of the world, but failed to spark a mass movement against the occupation.
The idea of setting up a protest tent village in E-1 gained momentum over the past few weeks among members of the Palestinian Popular Committees – the same committees that for 10 years have been organizing weekly demonstrations in the West Bank against the Israeli occupation in general, and against the separation fence and settlements in particular.
The popular committees realized they were facing an internal contradiction: On the one hand, they had won the admiration and attention of the world, and their protests had contributed to the partial success of the legal battles that were, and still are, being waged by several villages against the route of the separation fence.
On the other hand, they had not succeeded in broadening their arena of activity and confrontations with the security forces beyond these villages, nor had they succeeded in sparking the establishment of a Palestinian mass movement against the occupation – even though, in terms of the people’s outrage and frustration, the time seemed ripe.
Israel Defense Forces gunfire has killed 26 Palestinians at the weekly demonstrations, 11 of them minors. Dozens of activists have been arrested. And yet a few, very vocal elements, especially in Ramallah, often belittle the activists and their methods – because the committees promote unarmed resistance, because the Palestinian Authority supports them (though there are those who feel this to be a stifling bear hug ), and because they have caught the attention of Western diplomats.
The desire to resolve this contradiction and fashion the tools for a popular uprising obligated the committees to devise actions that would fire the imagination of more young people. The actions, they decided, would have to relate to news events – like the construction plans for E-1 – so that the media would be interested. From both these perspectives, the Palestinian “outpost” was successful.
The plan to erect the tent village was kept secret; in fact, as a diversionary tactic, it was announced on Facebook, among other channels, that the activists were planning to set up a study and activity camp in Jericho on January 10-11. A few Palestinian businessmen who were in on the plan contributed funds to buy the tents and cover other expenses.
But because of the ongoing storm last week, there was no choice but to tell those who had registered for the “camp” what the real plan was, to ascertain how many would actually participate. On Thursday, despite the snow, nearly 300 people came to a meeting in Ramallah. Mohammed Khatib, a member of the popular committees from Bil’in, said that about half of those who came to the meeting were new – people who had never taken part in protest activities before. He’s convinced that if not for the weather, 1,000 people would have showed up.
The participants agreed to set up the tent camp on a plot that aerial photographs showed was private land whose owners had agreed to the protest. Afterward it emerged that in 2006, Israel had declared part of the land “state land.”
Some 200 activists spent 48 hours in the 20 tents, until a force of some 500 policemen dismantled the “village” early on Sunday morning. Contrary to the Israel Police announcement that the evacuation was nonviolent, camp organizers reported that 20 people had been hit with clubs, and six of them required hospitalization for bruises to the face and bleeding.
Meanwhile, Elias Khoury, the Lebanese author of the book “Bab A-Shams” (“Gate of the Sun” ), about the life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the founding of the State of Israel, gave the activists his blessing on his Facebook page and expressed his appreciation for their naming the tent village after his book.
This is not the first time that the popular committees have held a protest that went beyond village borders and the route of the security fence. For example, two months ago they organized the blocking of roads and of the entrances to settlements as part of Palestinian Youth Week, which, though successfully executed, was almost immediately erased from memory by the assassination of Ahmed Jabari in Gaza and the ensuing Operation Pillar of Defense. A month before that, they organized a demonstration against the purchase of settlement products in the Rami Levy supermarket east of Ramallah.
But here the committees come up against another contradiction: One-off protests interest the media and public for a few hours, and then are forgotten. Only continuous activity can develop the tools for a mass resistance movement.
For now, however, the Palestinian public, as frustrated and outraged as it may be, isn’t drawn to continuous activity and in any case doubts its ability to struggle and the ultimate effectiveness of mass resistance.