As a Palestinian Christian, I’m often asked in reference to the Arab Spring: “With all that is happening, where is the ‘Palestinian Spring’? Why hasn’t the revolution bug bit the Palestinian people yet?”
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These questions are mostly asked by individuals who are not necessarily naïve of the situation or critical of the Palestinians, but are genuinely excited and inspired by what they see taking place in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia. They assume that if the Palestinians engage in a once-and-for-all popular, nonviolent revolution, then the Israeli occupation of Palestine will end and peace will prevail.
This anticipation of a quick “Palestinian Spring” comes in light of how the revolutions across the Middle East have come to be without expectation or prediction—as if they were a set of dominos placed one after the other. The main issue with the Palestinian resistance and independence movement is that, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, we are playing an entirely different game: not dominos, but more like chess. The problem with our particular chess match is that the pieces on both sides are different, and the way the game is played by the two parties is also different.
In traditional dictatorships, as exists in most Arab countries, ultimate power, and full control over all resources, lies in the hands of one person. The entire socio-political-economic system of the state hovers around the dictator, who holds the key to everything. When the population begins to break the barriers of fear and dependency on that one person—followed by the public sector, then the police and military—the entire system begins to collapse.
The Palestinian-Israeli situation, in my analogy, is more like a chess board that has on the Israeli side (in terms of the occupation mechanism of Palestine) numerous players with distinct powers. They work semi-independently but nonetheless support each other in executing a well-established and studied strategy of maintaining the occupation, controlling the Palestinian community, and, as important, distancing Israeli society from truly understanding the reality of life under occupation. There is not one single individual who holds it all together; thus, replacing a person will not cause the occupation to collapse. Rather, the structure of occupation must be addressed and transformed in its entirety.
On the Palestinian side of the chessboard, people are the same “color” of pieces (that is, they claim the same basic identity). But for numerous reasons, almost everything—every move, tactic, vision, strategy, and approach—is contested from within by everyone else. Everyone seems to want one thing alone: to sit where the king sits, even in its fragility and weakness in face of the other side.
Despite all this, I believe that the spark of a new Palestinian Spring is approaching. This will not be led by the back row of kings, queens, bishops, knights, and rooks, even though leaders are now being given the chance to end their disputes and move forward. When the time comes, the Palestinian Spring will be led by the growing number of those within the Palestinian population itself who are committed to nonviolence, those who are suffering on the front line.
The great majority of the Palestinian people now see the nonviolent approach as the only true path to ending the occupation and establishing a comprehensive and just peace between Palestine and Israel. The Palestinian Spring will not merely bring something down; its uniqueness will be in the way it proactively raises something anew.
Sami Awad is founder and executive director of the Holy Land Trust, based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, which works nonviolently to end the Israeli occupation.