Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

The culture of resistance: the 1967 War in the context of the Palestinian struggle

The culture of resistance: the 1967 War in the context of the Palestinian struggle – Israeli-Arab war of 1967; Palestinian displacement by creation of Israel

Jamal R. Nassar

587771 INO What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. . . .

Albert Camus


While Palestinian resistance is generally seen as a reaction to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, its causes have deep roots at many levels. First, it is a response to Zionist colonization of Palestine. Second, it is driven by psychological motivation to recover lost rights. Third, and, perhaps most important, Palestinian resistance took root in the absence of meaningful peaceful channels for legitimate change. If Palestinians were given peaceful means for achieving justice, they would not likely have felt the need for revolutionary resistance.

It is, therefore, the unique circumstances that the Palestinian Arabs have faced which molded them into the culture of resistance through a variety of methods. The highlight of their resistance was the Intifada (uprising). But the Intifada was not a transitory phenomenon that sprang from nowhere. Rather, the Intifada represented the acceleration of an ongoing process of resistance. It, then, reflected continuity as it did innovation in the long struggle of the Palestinian Arabs in their quest for justice and independence.


The rise of Arab nationalism in Palestine paralleled its development among other Arabs. With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Allied forces in 1918, Arab expectations of independence and unity were high. After the 1918 armistice, the Arabs came to be aware of the conflicting Allied promises and felt a deep sense of betrayal.

The year 1917 marked a turning point in the history of Palestine. It witnessed the issuance of the Balfour Declaration and the beginning of British rule. In December 1917, General Allenby’s forces entered Jerusalem and set up a British military administration in Palestine. On the basis of previous British promises, the Arabs of Palestine welcomed Allenby as a liberator, hoping that they would soon attain independence within a larger Arab state. These hopes were soon dashed, as the British began working on a program to place Palestine under their mandate. Moreover, the Balfour Declaration, promising British support for the creation of a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine, was incorporated into the mandate resolution of the League of Nations in 1922.

Arab nationalism in Palestine rapidly took shape in response to British rule and Zionist plans for their homeland. By the 1930s, their resistance manifested itself in organized political and armed activities. During this decade, Palestinian Arabs witnessed the emergence of their earliest guerrilla groups. Also, a number of political parties were formed. These parties, regardless of loyalty or ideology, all advocated national independence and opposed political Zionism which aimed at creating a Jewish state in Palestine.

It was during the 1930s that the notion of popular armed struggle emerged in Palestine. One of the earliest such groups was the movement of Shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam. Qassam was able to mobilize a peasant following and train them in the use of arms. He advocated Arab unity and independence for Palestine. Qassam also vowed to wage armed struggle against the British and the Zionists. But before he could start his revolt, Qassam and a dozen of his followers were ambushed by the British. Instead of surrendering or escaping, Qassam fought on. He and some of his followers were killed in battle on 19 November 1935.

Qassam’s death made him a symbol of self-sacrifice and martyrdom and contributed to the spread of his ideals across the country. It was his followers who actually began the campaign of armed struggle and organized, with others, the famous Arab Revolt of 1936. That revolt represented the climax of Palestinian resistance during the mandate. It lasted until 1939 and was seen by the British as a major revolution to be suppressed. It is estimated that 5,000 Palestinians were brutally killed by British forces and Zionist militias during this period.(1) While the revolt officially ended in 1939, violence persisted.

As Europe was self-destructing during World War II, Palestine was feeling the ramifications of European atrocities. New waves of immigrants, legal and illegal, were arriving in the country to escape Nazi terror. The Zionist enterprise, moreover, gained further international support and was solidified in the face of Hitler’s plans for the Jews of Europe. In Palestine, Zionist violence grew to new heights and effectively divided the country into Jewish and Arab domains.

The violence continued unabated after the end of World War II. In 1947, the British Government announced, after many attempts at a solution, that “the mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken to the two communities have been shown to be irreconcilable.”(2) By this time, the conflict between Arabs and Zionists had truly become irreconcilable. Palestine’s Jewish population had reached 30 percent and had become a formidable force in the country.

It was at this juncture that the United Nations began to play an important part in the affairs of Palestine. The General Assembly delegated a special committee to travel to Palestine and investigate the situation. The report submitted by the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) incorporated two proposed plans: Partition and Federation. The majority of UNSCOP members favored the first plan to partition the country into two states, Jewish and Palestinian Arab. The minority of UNSCOP members favored a federal state in Palestine. To insure the passage of the majority plan, Zionist pressures were applied inside and outside the U. N. As president Truman of the United States confirmed, “So much lobbying and outside interference has been going on in this question [the partition plan] that it is almost impossible to get a fair-minded approach to the subject.”(3) Later Truman reminisced:

As the pressure mounted, I found it necessary to give instructions that I did not want to be approached by any more spokesman for the extreme Zionist cause.(4)

The Arabs of Palestine did not have the means to counteract the Zionist lobbying activities in the United States or other countries. In the U.S., politicians found it expedient to capitalize on Jewish concerns about the Nazi victims. The Arabs had no such appeal. Moreover, the Zionists had the necessary organizational infrastructures in the U.S. while the Arabs had none. In addition, many Americans viewed the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine as a fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Thus, on 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted the partition plan.

According to this plan, Palestine was to be divided into six parts-three of which (56 percent of the total area) were to become a Jewish state, and the other three (43 percent) were to become an Arab state. Jerusalem and environs were to fall under UN administration. This resolution meant that the Jewish state would include 498,000 Jews and 497,000 Arabs (excluding the nomadic inhabitants of the Negev), and the Arab state would include 725,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews.

The Palestinian leadership rejected the partition resolution. They argued that it violated the provisions of the UN Charter on self-determination. The Palestinian rejection also was based on demographic and legal ownership facts. In the proposed Jewish state, half the population was to be Palestinian-Arab while its Jewish population owned less than ten percent of its total land area.


The reaction to the partition resolution among the Palestinians resulted in a wave of protests, demonstrations and disturbances throughout Palestine. Soon after the adoption of the resolution, British forces began to withdraw from specific areas. Both Arabs and Zionists attempted to gain control of those areas leading to attacks on local inhabitants. As Edgar O’Ballance testified, “it was the Jewish policy to encourage the Arabs to quit their homes,” and “they ejected those who clung to their villages.”(5) Other Arabs, according to Sir John Bagot Glubb, were “encouraged to move by blows or by indecent acts.”(6) Ethnic purification was important to Zionist planners because of the demographic factors involved. Given that Jews were less than 30 percent of the population of all Palestine, and a mere 50 percent in their allocated Jewish state and given the high birth rate among the Arabs, it was imperative to rid their forthcoming state of as many Arabs as possible. Otherwise, the Jewish state would have an Arab majority in a very short time.

Confronted with the tragic situation in Palestine, the leading champion of partition, the United States, began to have second thoughts. Consequently, the U.S. submitted an alternative proposal to the UN Security Council on March 19, 1948. It proposed a temporary UN trusteeship over all of Palestine.

As the United Nations was reexamining the Question of Palestine, Zionist planners were busy establishing their authority on the land of Palestine. As Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, reminisced: “Our only chance now . . . was to create facts, to confront the world with these facts, and to build on their foundation.” Later, he was able to proclaim that “while the United Nations was debating trusteeship, the Jewish State was coming into being.”(7)

The manner in which the Jewish state “was coming into being” was not peaceful, rather, it was characterized by “violence and bloodshed,” as UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte put it.(8) The most frequently mentioned incident among the many contributing to a panic flight of the Palestinian inhabitants was the massacre of Deir Yassin. On 9 April 1948, 254 men, women and children in the village of Deir Yassin were massacred by Irgun attackers. The Irgun was a militant Zionist group led by Menachem Begin, who became Israel’s Prime Minister in 1977. Begin later justified the massacre in these terms: “The massacre was not only justified, but there would not have been a state of Israel without the victory at Deir Yassin.”(9) Such incidents contributed to a massive exodus of the Palestinian Arab population and opened the door for the creation of the Jewish state. Short of this Arab exodus, the Jewish state would have been demographically more Arab than Jewish.

The State of Israel was proclaimed in mid-May 1948. This newly born state incorporated not only the area specified to it in the partition resolution, but an enlarged area it had just occupied.

It was at this juncture that the Arabization of the Palestine conflict occurred. Prior to the establishment of Israel, volunteers and donations, besides diplomatic moves, characterized Arab involvement. But it was not until after the declaration of Israel and the mass exodus of Palestinians into neighboring Arab countries, that the Arab armies entered Palestine. But the Arab offensive was weak and lacked coordination and leadership. The Israelis, on the other hand, were better prepared in terms of unity, organization, leadership, and sophistication. Even their numbers exceeded those of the Arab armies. They soon were on the offensive and were able to push back the Arab forces. By the time the United Nations was able to arrange for armistice agreements, Israel had gained more territory (almost eighty percent of the land of former Palestine). Jordan took control of the remaining part of Palestine including the old city of Jerusalem with the exception of the Gaza district which went to Egyptian control.

Thus, a Jewish state was established in Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs were left without a state and for the majority of them, even without homes. Their country was transformed into a state for others. The loss of the land of the forefathers and their refugee status left the Palestinians in a perpetual state of shock. In their memories, 1948 stands as the year of al-nakba (the tragedy). Ever since, the notion of the return to the homeland became a Palestinian obsession.

Therefore, Palestinian political culture began to center on rejection: the rejection of their own disinheritance as well as the rejection of the status quo. It was in this context that Palestinian political culture became a culture of resistance and rebellion. Their resistance evolved through three distinct phases. Initially, the Palestinians resisted the existing Arab order. Their activists and intellectuals attempted to redirect the Arab system toward a more progressive and nationalist order. The failure of the new Arab order, as exemplified in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, led the Palestinians toward a more independent form of resistance. They began a campaign of armed struggle on their own. As limitations of armed struggle became clear in the 1980s, Palestinians moved in the direction of mass rebellion. By the early 1990s this rebellion was slowed substantially by the promise of a peace process. The failure of this process is likely to re-ignite the rebellion.

THE FIRST PHASE: 1948-1967

In the period immediately following their diaspora, Palestinian intellectuals believed that the remedy for their plight rested on Arab unity. Some discussed modernization as a prerequisite to unity. l As one author put it, Arab leaders “showed naivete in politics” and “weakness in diplomacy.”(11)

To bring about modernization and unity, many Palestinians felt that the first step would be to change the traditional leadership, whom they felt had betrayed their cause. In July 1951, a Palestinian Arab assassinated King Abdullah of Jordan in Jerusalem. The assassination was in reaction to the general feeling among many Palestinians that the King had betrayed the Palestinian cause. Also, most Palestinians hailed the overthrow of King Farouk of Egypt in 1952 and became the most enthusiastic supporters of Egypt’s revolutionary leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser.

Nasser championed the cause of Arab unity and in 1958, his country united with Syria for a brief period. It was also Egypt’s Nasser who called for an Arab summit in 1964 where the decision to establish a Palestinian organization was adopted. The early phase of the Palestine Liberation Organization under Ahmad Shukairy emphasized Arab joint efforts as it did the Arab character of Palestine.

In this phase, therefore, Palestinian political culture was shocked by what they called “the tragedy” and looked for its causes. The other, rather than the self, was viewed as the culprit. The weak Arab order became the focus of Palestinian detestation. Remedies to this weak order rested with the Arabs. Salvation, therefore, awaited the reordering of Arab political affairs. The hope for return to their homes and lands from which they were dispossessed became a dream as it was an obsession. In time, the mystique of return became the single most important characteristic of Palestinian political culture. More than a bit ironic, then, was the fact that just as Zionism was achieving its zenith, a “Palestinian Zionism” was being born. Just as early Zionists looked for outside powers to help them bring about their version of “The Return,” Palestinians at this early stage looked for help from the Arab governments. In time, especially after 1967, the Palestinians lost hope in being able to achieve their goals through the Arab states, and felt that their only recourse was self-reliance through revolutionary violence and guerrilla warfare. Thus, by the end of 1967, Palestinian political culture had entered its second phase.


The war of 1967 brought about a reawakening among the Palestinians. The Arabs, they learned, were unable to bring about their “Return”. The speedy and devastating defeat of the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan left most Palestinians in shock. In six days, Israel had quadrupled its size and came to occupy the remainder of Palestine (Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) as well as lands from neighboring Arab states (the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula). More than a third of the Palestinians were now faced with the enemy as their occupying master. During the earlier phase, Palestinian political culture was characterized by its emphasis on the lost homeland and the dream of “Return.” It was alienation from the homeland that gave the Palestinians their most powerful common cultural bond. Now, after the defeat of 1967, Palestinians began to combine their longing for the “Return” with emphasis on the maintenance of their identity. Thus, Palestinian nationalism began to replace the traditional Arab nationalism which had dominated Palestinian political culture prior to 1967.

This emphasis on identity was necessitated by the war and its consequences. The 1967 war was an Arab-Israeli war in which the Palestinian dimension was almost totally absent. Israel, for the first time, came to occupy lands from neighboring Arab states. These states now had a new priority regarding Israel: the liberation of lost lands. The UN Security Council Resolution addressing the war and the resolution of the conflict (242) advocated an exchange of occupied lands for peace. That resolution makes no mention of the Palestinian people except as refugees. Israeli leaders were boldly denying the existence of a Palestinian people as in the case of Mrs. Golda Meir’s infamous speech of 1969. In it, she said: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them.” The Israeli Prime Minister after 1967 proclaimed, “They did not exist.”(12) In addition, Israeli occupation authorities were busily strangling Palestinian expression in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Together, these activities prompted Palestinians everywhere to emphasize their own identity.

Emphasis on Palestinian national identity required alternative means for the liberation of the lost homeland. If dependence on the Arabs was no longer an avenue, then a different one had to be found. For a decade prior to 1967, small groups of Palestinians had already argued for guerrilla warfare as the means for the weak Palestinians to struggle against the strong Israelis. Their calls, however, were mere whispers and Palestinians everywhere continued to look toward the Arabs for solution. The shattering Arab defeat in 1967 radically affected Palestinian perceptions of the Arabs and helped create the political atmosphere in which guerrilla warfare became the preferred alternative means of liberation. Guerrilla warfare and armed struggle had already been successfully practiced in Algeria and were being waged in Vietnam and other places with some success. With such vivid examples of weak peoples resisting seemingly invincible enemies, the Palestinian masses turned rapidly in that direction.

The popularity of armed struggle was further reinforced after the Battle of Karameh in March 1968. On 21 March of that year, Israel launched a massive attack on the town of Karameh in Jordan. The objective of the Israeli incursion was to root out Palestinian commandos who had made Karameh into a major center for training and launching attacks against it. Although the commandos, assisted by Jordanian forces, were outnumbered and suffered heavy casualties, they inflicted severe losses on the Israeli forces and were able to force the invaders to retreat. Pictures in newspapers and on television screens of burnt out Israeli tanks and captured Israeli soldiers gave the commandos a major boost. Just months after Israel defeated the combined forces of Jordan, Syria and Egypt, a few armed commandos were able to inflict damage and “defeat” Israel in battle. Although hardly a military victory, the battle of Karameh was a major psychic victory for the notion of armed struggle. The ranks of the commandos swelled rapidly, and their popularity became enormous.

Soon after Karameh, Palestinian political culture became characterized by its admiration of the commandos, known in Arabic as Fedayeen (those who sacrifice themselves). Palestinian literature, art, songs and media made the Fedayeen into legendary heroes. Palestinian hopes became fixed on the commandos as if, in a miraculous way, they would be able to transform these hopes into reality. Consequently, the old pro-Arab leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was bumped in favor of commando leaders, and armed struggle replaced Arab military cooperation as the means of liberation in the PLO’s charter. But Palestinian armed struggle had its limitations. Based in sovereign Arab states, it soon became obvious that Palestinian guerrilla interests were not always compatible with the interests of their host states. In time, occasional clashes with Arab security forces gave way to full fledged civil wars in which Palestinian commandos were destined to lose.

With every clash and every civil war, Palestinian nationalism was strengthened even though the commandos usually lost. By the early 1980s, Palestinian commandos had been driven out of Jordan, faced fierce attacks by Lebanese army and militia units and confronted occasional Syrian onslaughts. Yet, their guerrilla incursions into Israel continued. It was these incursions that brought upon the commandos the wrath of the Israelis.

In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in order to drive the commandos out of the country. Palestinian steadfastness, patience and heroism were unable to reverse the inevitable. Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, its siege of Beirut and its devastating and constant shelling of Lebanon’s capital for about three months forced the Palestinians to accept an internationally brokered agreement. Accordingly, the commandos were dispersed into other Arab states and the PLO headquarters were moved to Tunis. These developments led some Palestinians to question the viability of armed struggle as the major agent of liberation. In time, it ushered in yet another mode of resistance and struggle. This new mode became dominant by the end of 1987 with the start of the third phase: the Intifada.


The Palestinian Intifada (uprising) was as much a result of Israeli behavior as it was of commando failures. The dimmed hopes of liberation by Fedayeen coming from neighboring countries did entice many Palestinians to search for alternative means. This affected especially Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation and having to endure its success and their resulting hardships.

While Israel’s victory over its Arab neighbors in 1967 provided it an opportunity to achieve a lasting peace in the area, Israel, instead, chose to establish its control over Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. Contrary to the principles of international law, Israel set out to Judaize the areas. Doing so required the suppression of normal channels of Palestinian political expression. In fact, it even required the suppression of the very identity of the Palestinian people. Therefore, it was natural for Israel’s leaders to deny the very existence of the Palestinian people. Golda Meir’s infamous statement after the 1967 war “They did not exist,” was followed by Menachem Begin’s warning at a Kibbutz in 1969:

My friend, take care. When you recognize the concept of “Palestine,” you demolish your right to live in Ein Hahoresh. If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You’re invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came.(13)

The 1967 victory, therefore, was not a victory over another people but a war to “liberate” Israel’s lands. Israeli government publications asserted that “in the course of the Six-Day War new territories to the north, center, and south of the former boundaries of the State of Israel were liberated.”(14) This attitude was strengthened with the assumption of the Likud Party to power in 1977. Menachem Begin, as Israel’s Prime Minister, was even more vehement in his rejection of alternative realities when he said: “The term West Bank means nothing. It is Judea-Samaria. It is Israeli !and belonging to the Jewish people.”(15)

If the land is Israeli, it follows that its Palestinian inhabitants must be denied their national identity or the right, thereof, to express such identity. When one surveys the political motivation and Israel’s strangulation of Palestinian political expression, one concludes that Israeli policies and practices do perpetuate the denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people and an expansionist design aimed at securing a monopoly over the whole of geographic Palestine.

Israel’s designed strangulation of Palestinian political expression reached the whole sphere of political and cultural life. At the political level, all modes of conventional political participation were blocked. Political parties were banned, elections were halted, and all forms of political activity were made illegal and punished severely. Cultural strangulation, on the other hand, was manifested in restrictions on freedom of expression, repression of education, suppression of literature and art, and the curtailment of symbolic national expression.

From the onset in 1967, Israel applied the British Mandatory Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 in order to appear to have the legal power to carry out its policy of securing sovereignty over the Occupied Territories and suppressing Palestinian national aspirations. The application of these regulations constituted a clear violation of international law prohibiting the occupier from making even temporary changes in the law or government of the occupied area.

Ironically, Jacov Shimshon Shapira, who later became Israel’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, had attacked these regulations as “uncivilized” in 1946. At that time Mr. Shapira said:

The system established in Palestine since the issue of the Defence Laws is unparalleled in any civilized country; there were no such laws even in Nazi Germany. It is our duty to tell the whole world that the Defense Law passed by the British mandatory government of Palestine destroys the very foundation of justice in this land.(16)

Justice, however, became less relevant to Mr. Shapira when, as Minister of Justice, the subjects were Palestinian Arabs. Consequently, Israeli suppression of Palestinian national, civil, and human rights go unquestioned by Israeli officials. In fact, there are very few provisions in the various international covenants on human and civil rights which Israel has not violated repeatedly in its treatment of the population of the Occupied Territories. The life of every Palestinian living under Israel’s occupation has, therefore, been touched and made more difficult. Such practices as carrying identity cards, displaying different-color license-plates, harassment at checkpoints, limitations on domestic and international travel, and a host of measures limiting personal and civil freedom have contributed to Israel’s attempts at ending Palestinian nationalist expression.

In spite of all such attempts at obstructing Palestinian political expression under occupation, the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories have given birth to alternative methods of expression. Today their message is clear. They want the fulfillment of their national aspirations to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Their message, in practice, is a message of resistance to Israeli plans and of steadfastness on their land. This message has come across loud and clear since 9 December 1987 when the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories began their longest and most sustained Intifada since Israel’s occupation began in 1967. This uprising represented an acceleration of an ongoing process of resistance. As such, it did not represent an interruption of an order as it did the culmination of an order. It represented a natural development. In reality, the uprising was the natural response to an unnatural occupation. Far away from the events, people reacted with surprise, or shock; but there is nothing surprising or shocking about the refusal of a new generation of Palestinians to inherit pain and powerlessness or an old generation to accept the denial of their very existence as a people.

The Palestinian uprising, as an extreme form of political expression, did not materialize in isolation from the existing political, social and economic forces that had been at work for two decades prior to its start. It was these forces that also gave the uprising its institutional framework and leadership.


Prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, political activity was controlled in both areas. Jordanian rule over the West Bank repressed any type of opposition. Political parties were banned, elections controlled, and the media censored or government run. In Gaza, Egypt allowed limited political activity only if it furthered Egypt’s political aims. Such limitations and control drove Palestinian activists underground.

When the Israelis began their military occupation of these two regions, they found not only extensively inhabited territories under their control, but also an underground Palestinian network of activists who began their opposition to the occupation almost the moment it started. The Palestine National Liberation Movement (Fateh) had been active for almost a decade prior to Israel’s rule of the West Bank and Gaza. The Arab Nationalist Movement and its National Front for the Liberation of Palestine (NFLP) had had their cadres implanted among the Palestinians since 1964. The NFLP was joined soon after the 1967 war by the Palestine Liberation Front and the Heroes of Return to form the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). There was also a small but active contingent of Communist Party activists operating underground. Also, in Gaza, politically organized Muslim Brotherhood members maintained their presence – somewhat inactive at the time. In the West Bank, a small but outspoken contingent of Ba’ath Party members also existed. By 1967, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine also found adherents among the Palestinians under occupation.

The Israeli challenge of wiping out this existing core of resistance was immediate but very difficult. In its attempt to do so, Israel used methods that, again, violated international law and the civil rights of the people. Demolition of houses, administrative detention, expulsion (deportation), censorship, town arrests, mass arrests and roundups, curfews, and torture were among the methods used to curb the challenge of the activists. But repression often led to more organized resistance. In this case, it did. The population at large, already opposed to the occupation, resented Israel’s methods and was more willing to cooperate with, and join, the activists. The prison rapidly became the distillery that produced the future leaders of the resistance. In the words of one Palestinian activist, “the prison is the Palestinian political academy.” Out of the prison graduated a large number of new and well disciplined activists who joined the major Palestinian resistance groups. Instead of weakening the resistance, Israel’s behavior – just like the behavior of other imperial and colonial powers in distant places – strengthened it.

In time, the major operating groups working under occupation became those affiliated with the PLO. By 1973, the new generation of prison graduates made their first serious attempt at creating a broad framework for united action in opposition to the occupation. Consequently, in August 1973, the Palestine National Front (PNF) was declared publicly as a broad coalition of political and social forces in the West Bank and Gaza. The PNF included representatives from Fateh, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Communist Party, labor unions, professional associations, student councils, women’s organizations and a host of independent intellectuals, merchants, landowners, and peasants. Leaders of the Islamic religious establishment were also represented.(17) The political program of the Front supported the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and advocated the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. (18)

Partly because the Front’s program advocated a West Bank-Gaza state, and it required all political forces in its ranks to abide by its directives, the PFLP did not join. Instead, the PFLP limited its participation to coordinating its activities with the PNF’s Central Committee. Being the second largest, and perhaps, the most disciplined force under occupation, the PFLP’s absence from the Front’s membership doomed it to eventual extinction. In time, the PNF became dominated by Communist Party cadres and ceased to represent the prevailing political and social forces under occupation. By 1977, the Front had totally vanished.

Also contributing to the Front’s demise, was the PLO’s victory in the 1976 municipal elections. Prior to 1976, the municipalities were run by an urban elite of professionals and businessmen who, with few exceptions, steered away from politics. Their concerns were traditional municipal affairs. In 1976, however, the municipal candidates included a large number of political activists with strong attachment to the PLO and its resistance groups. About three-quarters of all contested seats in those elections were won by pro-PLO candidates. Fourteen new mayors (out of 24) came from that group. If there was ever doubt about Palestinian political sentiments, the 1976 elections dispelled it. The PLO, in fact, was a campaign issue. The National Bloc candidates openly proclaimed their support of the PLO as the only legitimate representative of all the Palestinians.

Following his victory, the new Mayor of Hebron, Fahd Kawasme, said: “Why shouldn’t the people of the West Bank accept the PLO as our representative? The rest of the Arab world does. Most of the nations of the world do. Why should we be different?”(19) Other mayors and new municipal council members expressed similar sentiments.

Israeli officials were surprised and, of course, dismayed by the extent of the pro-PLO victory. The then Defence Minister, Shimon Peres, saw the results as “a national challenge with which we will now have to grapple.”(20) Zevulen Hammer, Minister of Social Welfare, concluded that the election results should be a reason for not returning the West Bank to Jordan because “it will pass immediately – in a matter of hours – into the hands of the PLO.”(21) The Mafdai Secretary General, Zvi Bernstein, felt that Israel had made a grave mistake by not canceling the elections because they “legalized the PLO claim that it represents the Arabs in the West Bank.”(22) Joseph Goell, of the Jerusalem Post, agreed with Mr. Bernstein when he wrote: “One clear result of last month’s municipal elections on the West Bank is the demonstration of unified support by the area’s leaders and population for the PLO.”(23)

Encouraged by their mandate from the people, the mayors became more outspoken in their opposition to the occupation and in their support of the PLO. But the election, in 1977, of the Likud’s Menachem Begin to Israel’s premiership, brought a new approach to Israel’s behavior. Several mayors were ousted from office, others were expelled from the country, and yet others faced attempts on their lives or were maimed. Under the Likud, the Occupied Territories were seen as inseparable from the historic “Land of Israel.” Land expropriation and settlement activities were intensified. Such actions deepened anti-Israeli sentiments and required a new coalition among the activist resistance groups. Thus, the National Guidance Committee (NGC) was born on 1 October 1978.

The NGC was created in response to Likud policies and was provided with the immediate task of leading the opposition to the Camp David Accords (signed in September 1978). The Committee included eight mayors, three journalists, a representative of women’s groups, another of welfare societies, student-body presidents, representatives of labor unions, the business community, professional associations, lawyers’ union, the dentists’ union, and it even had representatives on a regional basis such as Dr. Haidar Abd al-Shafi and Zuhair al-Rayis from Gaza.(24)

The Committee worked hard for the rejection of the Camp David Accords. It issued statements, sent out petitions, and called for strikes and demonstrations. Members of the Committee argued, as did most Palestinians, that the autonomy plan proposed by the Accords would only perpetuate Israel’s occupation and bestow legitimacy upon it. Given Israel’s interpretation of autonomy, the NGC’s argument had merit. Menachem Begin left no doubt that his government would claim the right of sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza. His definition of autonomy did not amount to more than creating an Israeli Bantustan in the Occupied Territories. Security, land and water resources, according to Begin, would remain under Israel’s control indefinitely.(25)

The NGC was able to mobilize the Palestinian public. In time, the Israeli government began to hold the NGC responsible for the political turmoil and the demonstrations and strikes. in March, 1983, the Committee was outlawed and many of its members were put either in jail or under town arrest. Within a few months afterwards, eight mayors, most of whom came from the ranks of the NGC, were deposed by the Israeli authorities and no new elections were held. In fact, since the 1976 PLO mandate in municipal elections, Israel has allowed no more municipal elections anywhere in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli action in March of 1983 was in keeping with the policy initiated with their invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982. That invasion was designed not only to arrest PLO activities in Lebanon, but also to crush its support in the West Bank and Gaza. In line with that policy, Israel imposed new restrictions and wide-ranging coercive measures that included the closure of West Bank universities for extensive periods of time, increase in censorship of the Palestinian press, the banning of a number of newspapers, and a host of curfews imposed, in some cases, for several weeks on several West Bank communities. Israel also made an attempt at creating pro-Israeli Palestinian armed squads to spread terror among the population. Called Village Leagues, they were also designed to provide Israel with a Palestinian negotiating partner.

Israeli designs, however, failed. The Leagues attracted the criminals and the collaborators and failed to produce a viable force for the Israeli occupation authorities. Few in number, and discredited among their people, the Village Leagues soon withered away. The pro-PLO nationalist forces, now working with the aid of a host of student, women’s, and professional organizations, were setting the stage for a popular mass revolt.

When the revolt came, however, it started spontaneously. The forces behind it had been preparing the stage for it since Israel’s occupation began. If the political forces at work gave the Intifada its organizational and political content, the Israeli behavior over the previous twenty years gave it its very birth and made its outbreak inevitable.(26)

Within days of the start of the 9 December 1987 Intifada, the pro-PLO nationalist forces formed a joint command known as the Unified National Command for the Uprising (UNCU) and was joined in Gaza by the new Islamic Jihad. Their leaflets, distributed clandestinely every other week or so, directed the masses and the support groups and put forth their message and demands. The use of leaflets, which had often been employed by politicians, became the most powerful form of written political expression of the Palestinians under occupation. For Palestinians, the leaflet was transformed into a sort of a biweekly constitution. Signed by the UNCU/PLO, it told people when to go to work and when to strike, when to demonstrate, break curfews, go to schools, visit families of those killed or imprisoned, and a host of other activities. The leaflets also directed the support groups and the masses to organize neighborhood committees for education, welfare, health, agriculture, and to guard their neighborhoods. The mass support the leadership received made the Palestinian Intifada a remarkable phenomenon in the history of the Palestinians and foiled Israel’s attempts at crushing it.

The leaflets continuously asserted Palestinian demands to end the occupation and their right to self-determination. The link between the Palestinians under occupation and the PLO was emphasized in every leaflet and by the fact that the leaflets themselves were signed by the UNCU of the PLO. The so-called Jordanian alternative, whereby Israel would negotiate the future of the territories with Jordan, was also condemned in the leaflets. The Palestinians clearly wanted nothing less than their independence. The Jordanian king subsequently declared the death of the Jordanian option when he severed Jordan’s administrative ties with the West Bank. By that time, however, a new administration was in place. Popular committees were already running the new and clandestine apparatus of the Palestinians under occupation. As reported by John Kifner of The New York Times on 15 May 1988, “the Palestinians [had cut] themselves off from Israeli institutions and regulations.”(27)

By then, the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories were, at the instructions of the UNCU, building self-sufficiency. Popular committees ran towns, villages, and refugee camps. Schools sprung up in homes, churches and mosques. Yards and vacant lots were being cultivated. Potential blood donors were classified by blood type to prepare for emergencies. Make shift clinics were created in camps, neighborhoods, and villages. Water wells were tested and treated as emergency water resources in case of Israeli cut-off of the water supply. Landlords were forgiving rent payments. Security patrols with whistles and flashlights were set up to watch out for attacks by Israeli settlers and the army. Food supplies were also stored in almost every neighborhood. In sum, the Intifada was a clear manifestation of a social revolution that involved the entire Palestinian body politic.(28)

The Israelis were caught by surprise, and their leaders predicted the end of the Intifada in a matter of days. Defense Minister Rabin even refused to interrupt a visit to the United States at the start of the Intifada while assuring reporters that the uprising would die out in a matter of days. But the Intifada intensified as did Israel’s repression. Consequently, Israel became polarized between those who argued for expulsion of the Palestinians and those who advocated the end of the occupation. But almost all Israelis, as evidenced by the statements of their leaders and the media, came to the conclusion that a return to the pre-Intifada status-quo was impossible. Thus, as a form of political expression, the Intifada sent the Palestinian message to Israel, as it did to the world.

The Intifada had the immediate effect of redrawing the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. With Israel’s inability to put an early end to it, the Intifada gave the Palestinians a new sense of empowerment. Especially in the aftermath of its forced departure from Lebanon, the Palestinian leadership could now engage the Israelis in negotiations from a position of perceived power rather than defeat.

The Intifada also forced the Israelis to rethink their position on the occupation itself. During the early years of the Intifada, Israel found itself occupying the West Bank and Gaza but unable to rule there. Soldiers had to be dispatched in large numbers and became entangled with an unarmed civilian population that had lost the element of fear. Pictures of Israeli armed soldiers shooting at Palestinian teenagers were not comforting to many Israelis. Economically, the occupied areas also turned into a liability and emotionally Israel found itself drained. In a short time, the occupation became a major issue polarizing Israel’s society as it did its body politique.(29) Consequently, Israel became more serious about finding alternatives to its occupation of the areas.

Equally important to both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, was the rise of the Islamic movement under the banners of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.(30) While both of these groups existed in some form prior to the Intifada, the uprising gave them new life and many recruits. The leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Tunis feared their new-found popularity and saw them as competitors for Palestinian leadership. The Israeli leaders, on the other hand, initially attempted to use these groups to further divide the Palestinians under its occupation. Within a year, however, Israeli leaders became alarmed at the pace of growth of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as they went about their daring attacks on Israelis. In time, they came to the realization that such groups posed a greater danger to their security than did the PLO. In fact, the activities of such Islamic revivalist groups made the PLO leadership look moderate to many Israelis. As such, both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships found in Hamas and the Islamic Jihad a new common enemy that needed to be controlled. Thus, both Israel and the PLO sought alternatives to the status quo.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990 and the subsequent war to liberate Kuwait gave the PLO yet another incentive to join an American sponsored peace process. That war and its consequences contributed to the movement toward the peace process in many ways. First, the PLO found itself isolated from its financial benefactors in the Gulf and weakened diplomatically in its global relations. While the position of the PLO actually did not support the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, its opposition to the international campaign to end that occupation was perceived in many circles as supportive of Iraq.(31) With the loss of Gulf funds, diplomatic setbacks and with more than 300,000 Kuwaiti Palestinians becoming dispossessed, the PLO became less able to help sustain the Intifada and began to look for alternatives. The peace process was such an alternative.

The Second Gulf War had a serious impact upon Israel as well. The war, in which Israel did not openly participate, destroyed the Israeli sense of security through defensible borders. For the first time in the history of Arab-Israeli relations, Arab missiles rocked Tel Aviv shattering the myth that the West Bank provided Israel with a deep defensible border. That long held Israeli argument for buffer zones came into question as Iraqi scud missiles crossed over Jordanian and West Bank territories to hit targets deep inside Israel. Moreover, the fear that lraqi missiles could have carried chemical and biological agents and the psychic impact of the distribution of gas masks to every Israeli, made many Israelis aware that security is better provided through peace negotiations than the occupation of buffer zones.

A third ramification of that war had to do with the United States. The U.S. effort to dislodge Iraq out of Kuwait was carried out under the respectable banner of international law and the enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Such a position, however, had the effect of exposing a U.S. double standard. The Israeli occupation of Arab lands violated the same set of international laws and elicited, over the years, many UN Security Council resolutions. The American policy had consistently protected Israel from international sanctions and provided it with military and economic support in order “to ensure Israeli military superiority over any combination of Arab states.”(32) In order to maintain an Arab alliance against Iraq, the U.S., consequently promised to tackle the issue of Israeli occupation soon after the liberation of Kuwait. Coupled with the demise of the Soviet Union soon after the war, the U.S. commitment to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict became vital.


It was not long after the war with Iraq was over that the U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, began his shuttles in the region to find a framework for an Arab-Israeli peace process. The Arab position demanded an international conference in order to negotiate. The Israelis, on the other hand, insisted on bilateral negotiations. A combination of both was Mr. Baker’s compromise. A ceremonial international conference kicked off the long process of bilateral and multilateral negotiations. That conference took place in Madrid, Spain from 30 October to I November 1991. Bilateral negotiations started soon afterwards. Four sets of bilateral negotiations took place. Multilateral negotiations also began soon after in five working groups.

Bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at achieving agreement on a five-year interim self-rule on the West Bank and Gaza. That agreement was eventually reached in 1993. Israeli-Jordanian negotiations aimed at a peace treaty between the two countries. The treaty was signed in 1994. Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese bilateral negotiations are still to materialize.

Multilateral negotiations are also proceeding with slow progress. The five working groups of multilateral talks are discussing issues of water resources, the environment, arms control and regional security, refugees, and regional economic development. Of the five, the regional economic development group, perhaps, has achieved the greatest progress.

Of all the elements of the process, the Palestinian-Israeli bilateral negotiations are most significant. Anyone familiar with the region understands that regional peaceful coexistence depends on a solution to the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Oslo accords, the celebration of signatures at the White House and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Israeli and Palestinian leaders “have all contributed to the creation of the myth that there is peace in the Middle East and that the Palestinian problem is over.”(33) The fact is that only an interim agreement was reached and final settlement negotiations have a long way to go.

The interim agreement created a Palestinian Authority that rules either directly or jointly with Israel over the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli settlements there, as well as land areas outside of towns and villages, remain under Israel’s control. A Palestinian Council of eighty-eight members was elected to oversee the Palestinians there. This arrangement would end when the two parties reach a permanent settlement on or before the end of the five-year interim phase.

A number of indicators point to the demise of any potential hope for the successful completion of the negotiations in the Palestinian-Israeli track of the peace process. From delays of implementation to expansion of settlements, to a host of constant Israeli violations of the Oslo accords all point to a designed attempt at crippling the process. Even the American architects of the current process and its predecessor, the Camp David Accords, have reached this conclusion. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor at the time of Camp David, put it bluntly when he told viewers of Public Television News Hour on 27 September 1996 that the Israeli opening of a tunnel in Jerusalem aimed to “destabilize the Arafat authority, undermine the Palestinian authority to the extent that it exists, and then create an altogether different situation than that envisaged by the Oslo agreements.”(34) James Baker, Secretary of State at the time of the Madrid Conference, did not disagree with Mr. Brzezinski but simply questioned Israel’s commitment to pursuing the peace process.

Peace is not only a process, it is an ideal, an end in itself. Israel has, from the start, emphasized the process and refused to commit to the ideal. The result has been a formula for a staggered process of negotiations that allowed for deception and, perhaps, aimed at turning its early phase into its final one. With the election of Prime Minister Netanyahu, nationalistic and religious chauvinistic elements in Israel came to be the procreators of the process as well as its procrastinators. Israel’s current leaders see their objectives met with the early phase. To many among them, the current status is the final settlement. What they need now is peace, meaning Israeli security. Israeli security, to them, involves keeping control over the politically explosive West Bank. Anyone doubting this should read Benjamin Netanyahu’s book, A Place Among the Nations, where he forcefully argues for keeping the West Bank at virtually all cost.(35) The Likud’s campaign platform in the latest election leads one to the same conclusion. Israel will continue to maintain sovereignty over the Occupied Territories and the present interim self-rule would somehow become the final status for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and his coalition partners need to face up to reality. The Palestinians will not continue to live under Israel’s rule indefinitely. Those who accepted the Oslo process did so as a transitional step toward ending Israel’s occupation and its encroaching settlements on their lands. Today, the Occupied Territories are a ticking time-bomb. Either Israel stops the expansion of settlements and moves rapidly into negotiations that aim at ending the occupation, or it will face a new, and perhaps more uproarious, cycle of Palestinian resistance.

Resistance is simply the natural reaction to Israel’s unnatural occupation. There should be no surprise in Israel or elsewhere in the world when the next wave of Palestinian resistance explodes. There should be nothing surprising about the refusal of this generation to inherit pain and powerlessness, or an older generation to resist subjugation and oppression.

Simply put, the Palestinian-Israeli track of the peace process is at a dead-end and the result is a new form of “village league” running the domestic affairs of Palestinians on a small part of the Occupied Territories. Palestinian cities have effectively been turned into reservations under siege. If this is the state the Palestinians were aspiring to achieve, it is no more than what a colleague at Birzeit University calls “the Swiss Cheese State” made up of many empty holes with the cheese under the control of Israel.

Palestinian defenders of the process argue, and reasonably so, that there have been some gains. But interim gains cannot be mistaken for peace or a final settlement. The time may come when the Palestinian Authority will declare the obvious: “the peace process is on its death bed,” and begin an alternative campaign for the liberation of the occupied homeland. Never should Palestinian negotiators believe, as some of them do, that “Palestinian backs are to the wall.” Palestinians have options. One of those is the option of withdrawal from this dead-end process and the start of an alternative campaign to re-isolate Israel thereby reversing its economic and diplomatic gains. If Israel wishes to continue to impose a system of apartheid on the Palestinians, then it should very well be dealt with as an apartheid state.


1. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, “Introduction: On Achieving Independence,” in Jamal R. Nassar and Roger Heacock, eds., Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York: Praeger, 1991, p.8.

2. Great Britain, Foreign Office, The Political History of Palestine under British Administration: Memorandum to UNSCOP. Jerusalem: Government Printing Office, 1947, p.27.

3. Quoted in John Snetsinger, Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1974, p. 75.

4. Harry S. Truman, Memoirs.’ Trial and Hope. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956, p. 160.

5. Edgar O’Ballance, The Arab-Israeli War, 1948. New York: Praegar, 1957, p. 64.

6. Sir John Baggot Glubb, A Soldier With the Arabs. New York: Harper and Row, 1957, p. 251.

7. Quoted in Fayez A. Sayegh, A Palestinian View. Amman: General Union of Palestine Students, 1970, p. 4.

8. UN Document A/648, p. 5.

9. Menachem Begin, The Revolt: Story of the Irgun. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951, p. 164.

10. Qunstantin Zureiq, The Meaning of Disaster. Beirut: Khayyat Press, 1956.

11. Odeh P. Odeh, Masra’ Falastin (The Death of Palestine). Jerusalem: Sandukah Brothers, 1950, p. 30.

12. The Sunday Times, London, 15 June 1969.

13. Yehodot Aharonot, October 17, 1967; also quoted in Arie Bober, ed. The Other Israel. New York: Doubleday, 1972, p. 77.

14. Elfisha Efrat, Judea and Samaria: Guidelines for Regional and Physical Planning. Jerusalem: Ministry of Interior, Planning Department, 1970, p. 1.

15. L’Express, 23-29 May, 1977, p. 55. Also quoted in” The Institute of Palestine Studies,” Who is Menachem Begin? Beirut, 1977, p.60.

16. Quoted in Felicia Langer, “Israeli Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” in James J. Zogby, ed., Perspectives on Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews (Wilmette, Illinois: Medina Press, 1977), p. 61.

17. Ann Mosely Lesch, Political Perceptions of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Special Study No. 3. Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1980.

18. Emile Sahliyeh, In Search of Leadership: West Bank Politics Since 1967. Washington, DC: The Brooking Institution, 1988, pp. 53-54.

19. The New York Times. 15 April 1976, p.3.

20. Ibid., 14 April 1976, p. 1.

21. Ibid.

22. British Broadcasting Company, 15 April 1976. Cited in SWASIA. Vol. III, No. 16 (April 23, 1976), p. 3.

23. Joseph Goell, “A Different Breed,” Jerusalem Post, 7 May 1976.

24. Discussion of the National Guidance Committee is based on the author’s interviews with some of its members including his own brother, Hani Nassar, who was a member of the NGC. For further information on the NGC, see Sahliyeh, In Search of Leadership, pp. 69-86.

25. For Begin’s plan, see The Jerusalem Post, 29 December 1977.

26. Discussion of the Intifada (uprising) is based on the author’s own experiences for its first nine months where he was serving as a Senior Fulbright Professor at Birzeit University from August 1987 through August 1988.

27. The New York Times, 15 May 1988, p. A1.

28. Jim Lederman, “Dateline West Bank: Interpreting the Intifada,” Foreign Policy, No. 72 (Fall 1988), p.230.

29. See Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, The Palestinian Uprising-Israel’s Third Front (New York: Simon and Schuster, 199), and Don Peretz, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising (Boulder, Colo.,: Westview Press, 1990).

30. See Ziad Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994).

31. For an excellent discussion of the Palestinian position on the conflict over Kuwait see Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, “Non-Alignment and Commitment in the Gulf Conflicts: Palestine’s Policy,” Arab Studies Quarterly Vol. 13, Nos. 1-2. (Winter/Spring 1991), pp. 53-64.

32. Muhammad Hallaj, “U.S. Gulf Policy: Going the Extra Mile for War,” Arab Studies Quarterly Vol. 13, Nos. 1-2 (Winter/Spring, 1991), p.6.

33. Daphna Golan, “Separation, Normalization and Occupation,” Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. II, No.2, (1995), p.99.

34. Public Broadcasting Service, “The News Hour,” September 27, 1996.

35. Benyamin Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Jamal R. Nassar is a professor of political science at Illinois State University, Normal. He was the editor of the Arab Studies Quarterly from 1990 through 1994. Currently he is a referee for the journal and serves on its Advisory Board of Editors.

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