Since the violent arrest of Palestinian political opposition activist, Nizar Banat, by Palestinian security forces, and his subsequent death in late June, Palestinians have been taking to the streets, time and time again, demanding justice for Banat. In the latest mass demonstration in Ramallah, last Sunday, protesters read a communiqué where they affirm that “we are back in the streets in order to break the repression fist of the Palestinian Authority”. This “repression fist” has been trying to impose itself since protests began, through attempts of intimidation, which included violent mobs under the protection of Palestinian security forces, stealing cell-phones, arrests, lynching in the streets and even attacks against journalists while covering events. Protesters’ insistence to come back to the streets is basically an attempt to prevent this repression to have the last word, and thus become the rule.
This determination to peacefully protest seems to be the only counter-power to the Palestinian authority’s security doctrine. Although the civil society entities, especially human rights organizations, have condemned the tragic death of Nizar Banat, the event could of have ended with another series of reports and releases to be added to the pile of documents, accumulated over three decades, denouncing corruption and repression in the Palestinian official bodies, without any significant effect. A reality well-known by the international community, who has been funding programs of good-governance and democratic practice in Palestine for long years, with tens of millions of dollars, never challenging the structural reasons for the undemocratic nature of the Palestinian authority. A contradiction that is far from being a coincidence and that is directly linked to the larger context of the occupation.
Security under occupation
Since the so-called international community adopted the two-state solution as a doctrine for administrating the conflict, rather than solving it, the sponsors of this alleged “peace process” have never stopped imposing reform requirements on the Palestinian people. These reforms have taken two distinct and contradictory orientations. On the one hand, Palestinians are expected to deliver security and stability under occupation. That is to say: As little as possible of social conflictivity in addition to the suppression of all forms of resistance to the occupation, whether they are violent or non-violent. On the other hand, Palestinians are also supposed to have a well-functioning civil life under the rule of law, which doesn’t necessarily mean democracy. The funders of the Palestinian Authority, for instance, had no problem with cutting all funds to the Palestinian government in 2006, as a reaction to democratic elections which results they didn’t like.
This fund-cutting led to the Palestinian political division and the installing of two Palestinian governments, in Gaza and the West Bank, who monopolized powers in the hands of their executive bodies, with very little judicial independence and in the complete paralysis of the legislative branch. However, shortly after, the same funders, headed by the United States and the European Union, began to pour money into programs that promoted civil participation, rule of law, and individual rights and liberties. All this investment was primarily concentrated in the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip was further isolated and abandoned to the mercy of the Israeli blockade. Palestinian authorities were nevertheless expected, in both places, to grow more transparent and more delivering of security and stability, in order for their national reconciliation to be welcomed by the international community, and thus gain recognition as a state.
At the same time, more funds were directed towards the rebuilding of the Palestinian security forces based on a counter-insurgency security doctrine, particularly in the West Bank, in order for them to maintain security and stability. Simultaneously, the internal division was driving authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank to become more paranoid at each other, more reluctant to political change and as a result more repressive.
The contradiction in this logic is self-evident. Security, and subsequently stability, are simply impossible to achieve under direct occupation, as in the case of the West Bank, or under a violent and brutal siege, as in the case of the Gaza Strip. The external factors that generate insecurity are just far too strong to be overcome by internal reforms.
Palestinians in the West Bank are constantly subject to the violence of the occupation forces and settlers, who never stopped stealing their lands, destroying their crops, arbitrarily arresting them, looting their natural resources, demolishing their homes and properties and forcibly transferring them out of their land. In Gaza, Palestinians are subject to the lack of basic means of a dignified life, with the Israeli siege destroying their economy and drawning them into poverty and unemployment, lacking medicine and health-treatment, facing repeated destruction by bombings and unable to leave.
In such conditions, violence will inevitably emerge, either towards the outside, in the form of resistance to occupation, or internally, taking the form of social conflict. Especially as an ever-smaller elite of Palestinians has openly continued to profit from the status-quo, growing richer and more distant from the rest of the population. Security, therefore, has to be created artificially, which necessarily means more concentration of power, less accountability, and more repression. This explains the fact that most foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority has been directed to bureaucratic salary-payment, where the security apparatus takes the lion-share of a third of the national budget.
The donors’ ideal Palestine
This tendency to assist a supposed state-building project, walking in two contradictory directions, relies on the basic vision, adopted by the sponsors of the two-states solution, of what Palestine should look like: A people that is passive enough not to resist occupation, abiding by law and order in the confines of economically assisted ghettoes. There, they should have just enough of a fake citizenship sense to pay their bills, respect traffic-lights, never protest for their rights even when their salaries are delayed for an entire month, and take the legitimacy of big wealthy property under occupation for granted.
In short, the “donor community” has been trying to transform Palestinians into a “civilized” population, under the colonial criteria of civilization, ruled by an institutional legal system, well-integrated in the global capitalist system, all without challenging or even disturbing the one reality that prevents Palestine from becoming a viable country to begin with: The Israeli occupation. This attempt could only come at the expense of basic rights and liberties for Palestinians, necessarily resulting in the repression of dissent, leading to cases like the tragedy of Nizar Banat.
The Palestinian example that has to be buried
If Palestinians are going through an internal upheaval today, taking to the streets at the risk of being lynched, beaten-up, intimidated, arrested and tortured, only for demanding some justice and the little they have left of their freedom of expression, it is not because they are strangers to notions like the rule of law or democracy. Neither is it because they are inherently undemocratic or incapable of building a decent civil life.
On the contrary, Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip have been the only people in the Arab world to build a democratic, vibrant and diverse civil society before they even had any form of state, or political authority on their soil. They did just that from the mid-seventies, starting with the volunteer movement, and built-it up into creating functioning institutions all the way to the late-eighties, and they did it without any foreign assistance. But that Palestinian civil and democratic experience gave birth to the first Intifada, which presented a high example of mass, citizen resistance to colonial control and occupation, and that is exactly the kind of outcome that the sponsors of the two-state solution and of the Palestinian authority don’t want to see. An example that is incompatible with the requirements of the “peace process”, and therefore has to be buried in the past.
The reason why Palestinians are facing internal unrest today is that they have been forced into a political experiment, completely alien to their reality. One that demands them to become a modern state of law and order, all while accepting to give up forever to the basic right to self-determination, without which, no state-building can be possible.