Jan 21 2013

Young Palestinian Activists Seize Initiative at Bab Al-Shams

Published by at 1:07 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

While so-called leaders of the Palestinian resistance from Fatah and Hamas were traveling to Egypt to hold talks in five star hotels, another group of Palestinians were actually doing work worthy of the words “liberation and resistance.”

In an organized and disciplined manner, nearly 150 Palestinian youths along with some international solidarity supporters set up a Palestinian tent village and gave it the name Bab al-Shams — the Gate of the Sun.  Cooperating with owners of Palestinian lands in areas south of Ramallah and East of Jerusalem, these new young revolutionaries did more to push the Palestinian political agenda than the well-paid fat cats that were loitering in Cairo hotels.

Bab al-Shams, the name of a novel about hope in spite of the catastrophe by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, provided the new villagers with a name to their adventure that quickly became a Palestinian household name.

What the young, creative, disciplined and unaffiliated young Palestinians did put to shame the decades old revolutionaries. It was nonviolent, brought in focus the Israeli attempts to settle the E1 area and showed that people power can make a difference.

The success in media and among the Palestinian public was not lost on PLO activists. A number of executive committee members of the PLO attempted to visit the newly established village only to be stopped by the Israeli army that also came late to the newly established Palestinian location.

What embarrassed the PLO leaders was the fact that these young unaffiliated men and women were able to do what their leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has been calling on his followers to do: popular nonviolent struggle.

Even though the residents of Bab al-Shams had carried legal actions to prevent the Israelis from destroying their new village, the Israeli army went ahead regardless, in defiance of an order by Israel’s High Court to wait until Wednesday to carry out action.

But the Israelis were now playing on Palestinian turf. What they failed to understand was that Palestine would win irrespective of what the Israelis did.  On social media, the hashtag #babalshams was trending Friday in the top ten twitter feeds around the world. The message was clear, as one of the campers said in a tweet, this is a Palestinian village on Palestinian land being established by Palestinians. Overnight, tens of supporters braved the winter weather and the Israeli army and joined the protesters. Live streaming images were sent around the world using smart phones. By the time the Israeli army had come with its power and might in the dawn hours of Sunday, the world had already established who the victims and occupiers were.

But the issue was no longer Bab al-Shams. The issue was the many Bab al-Shamses that might develop in the future. The Palestinian media that followed the Bab al-Shams story from the beginning, despite the prevention of journalists from Palestine TV from entering the village, gave wall-to-wall coverage. On the morning of Israeli violence against the villagers, Voice of Palestine reported a statement by a Fatah leader in Ramallah stating that his movement is considering setting up tens of new villages in areas threatened by Israeli settlement activities. The quick response refreshed the famous Wikileaks slogan: Courage is contagious.

The violent methods used by the Israeli army to destroy the newly created Palestinian village were not lost on some from the pro-peace camp in Israel and abroad. Ori Nir, spokesman for the US Friends of Peace Now, tweeted a simple and obvious question: If the Israeli government can quickly and efficiently remove a Palestinian outpost, “How about the 100 illegal Jewish outposts?”

About ten Palestinians were injured in the Israeli violence which followed the removal of the media cameras present. Palestinians were rounded up into a bus, and taken along a route that went through parts of East Jerusalem. A number of Palestinians commented during the bus ride that they were able to see parts of East Jerusalem that they have not seen for years due to Israel’s wall banning Palestinians without permits from entering Jerusalem.

This creativity, discipline and resilience show clearly the courage of a new Palestinian generation that is committed to fighting the Israeli occupiers using nonviolent tools. If this courage virus does spread, the Israeli predictions of a third intifada might come true, though it will be much different — and more effective — than they expect.

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