Following decades of resisting a settler-colonial regime that practices occupation and apartheid, Palestinians are rising up – against not only the illegal settlements of East Jerusalem and the West Bank but against the core of the Israeli colonial project. What started as a protest against the displacement of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a small neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, has turned into a series of nationwide uprisings across Occupied Palestine.
For years, narratives sympathetic to Palestine have relied on Palestinians as victims. But central to supporting Palestinian existence is supporting Palestinian resistance. This is the untold story of the Palestinian uprising unfolding on the world stage.
15 May 2021 marked the 73 year anniversary of al-Nakba (the Catastrophe) of 1948, where almost a million Palestinians were dispossessed and displaced from their land by the violent creation of the Israeli state. But this May, rather than commemorating a Nakba of the past, Palestinians, through the inter-generational activism of the resilient families of Sheikh Jarrah, including the el-Kurd family, are focussing on the ongoing Nakba of today.
Sheikh Jarrah is home to 28 families who have already been displaced in the Nakba of 1948. These families are fighting a present-day battle to keep their homes, which Israeli settlers seek to colonise the neighbourhood as part of the state’s plan to Judaise Jerusalem. Emboldened by the backing of the state, armed settlers have terrorised the families of Sheikh Jarrah with rubber bullets, live ammunition, skunk water and sound bombs. The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have set up cement barricades and military checkpoints, barring Palestinians from entering the neighbourhood while armed settlers roam its streets.
Israeli propaganda has attempted to paint this story as an anomaly: either as a complex legal case of “evictions” or as a case of far-right settler organisations that are separate from the state. But how does one separate the state apparatus from those who are tasked with (and compensated for) settling its frontier? How does one dispute that a state, which refuses to confirm its borders, is in fact dependent upon those willing to expand its frontier?
If we understand Israel as a settler colony, it becomes abundantly clear that there exists no separation between the Israeli state apparatus and the settlers upon which the state both relies on and protects. The Zionist settler movement violently birthed the Israeli state and colluded with early Zionist militias (who later became the IOF) to displace indigenous Palestinians. To this day, Israeli settlers are integral to the state and collude with it to colonise both the external and internal frontiers.
In this way, the story of Sheikh Jarrah is the story of every Palestinian neighbourhood. All of Israel was once Sheikh Jarrah: Palestinian neighbourhoods displaced and the people dispossessed by the settler-colonial state. And what’s more, in the Israeli imagination, and in its government’s plans for annexation, all of Palestine will soon be Sheikh Jarrah.
While the Israeli narrative has attempted to isolate the attack on Sheikh Jarrah, the Palestinian people see within it all of our stories of displacement and dispossession.
Amidst the repression and resistance in Sheikh Jarrah, the IOF attacked and desecrated al-Aqsa Mosque, injuring 460 Palestinian worshippers. These events in Jerusalem opened the door for Palestinians across the globe to rise up and resist the violent military apparatus of the Israeli occupation, and Israeli settler-colonialism of the past, present and future.
Gaza is an open-air prison.
The isolated Gaza Strip rose to the defence of al-Aqsa. Under blockade since 2007, Israel controls access to Gaza’s air, sea, and land – dictating what enters and what leaves. Yet the Palestinians of Gaza are one with the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and those at al-Aqsa. For much like settlers cannot be separated from the state, the colonised people cannot be separated from one another.
In an ongoing assault on Gaza which began on 10 May, Israel has so far killed 212 Palestinians, including 59 children. Media agencies, hospitals, residential buildings and refugee camps have been targeted and destroyed by Israel, with thousands of Palestinians injured.
The Western media apparatus immediately characterised Gaza’s resistance as an initiation of violence, and Israel’s actions as ‘self-defence’. This characterisation is consistent with the settler-colonial state’s monopoly on violence which deems the violence of the state as legitimate, and the resistance to the state as illegitimate.
This framing intentionally ignores the systemic violence of the blockade which has turned Gaza into an open-air prison. It ignores the ways in which colonialism is inherently violent. In the words of anti-colonial psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, colonisation “is the bringer of violence into the home and mind of the native,” and this violence is the “natural state of colonial rule”.
By suggesting that Gaza is initiating illegitimate violence, Israel and its supporters deny Palestinians the right to defend themselves against a 73 year-long settler-colonial project; one which practices apartheid, occupation and blockade.
Crucial to being in solidarity with Palestine is understanding that Palestinians live under a structure of permanent state-sanctioned violence and are not only legally permitted to resist, but must resist in order to exist. Where oppression lives, resistance must thrive.
Lydd has been liberated.
And resistance has and continues to thrive in the uprisings across Israel (hereafter referred to as Occupied Palestine ‘48). The resistance against settler colonialism in Sheikh Jarrah and Gaza opened the door to a revolt which began on 12 May in Lod (hereafter Lydd) – a city in Occupied Palestine ’48 with a 30% Palestinian Population.
The birthplace of Palestinian revolutionary George Habash, Lydd’s Palestinian residents have been fighting colonisation from within. Much like other Palestinian communities in Occupied Palestine ‘48, Lydd has been the intentional target of underdevelopment, gentrification and police violence – all of which are part of the continued process of displacement and dispossession.
Palestinian cities in Occupied Palestine ‘48 are the target of Israel’s mixed city policy, which encourages Jewish Israelis to buy property in the hearts of Palestinian neighbourhoods, eroding the Palestinian character of these spaces and further displacing their residents.
Garin Torani, a countrywide religious organisation that opens yeshivas in Palestinian neighbourhoods, sees these cities as an “internal frontier waiting to be settled.” In the words of Sami Abu Shehadeh, head of Yaffa’s Popular Committee Against Home Demolitions: “in their vision, this [Palestinian] neighbourhood does not exist in the next 10 years.” Both inside and outside Occupied Palestine ‘48, the Palestinian space is a frontier to be conquered through a coordinated effort between settlers and the state.
Thus, the Palestinians of Occupied Palestine ‘48 are rising up not only in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza and Sheikh Jarrah but also for themselves – in resistance to a colonial project of which they are perpetual targets. They have shattered the liberal Zionist illusion of Israel as post-colonial. They have burned police stations and police cars across Lydd, Yaffa, Ramle, Akka, Haifa, and even in the Bedouin towns, rebelling against the militarised police of the settler-colonial state.
Through the uprisings of Occupied Palestine ‘48, the Palestinian people are united as one, despite the borders that have attempted to divide them. This month, the Palestinians of Lydd drove out Israeli police, announcing that the city had been liberated. In response, the mayor claimed that the state had lost control over the city and called a state of emergency – the first in 66 years. To suppress this revolt, the state called in the border police, a unit of the military, affirming that the external and internal repressive arms of the Israeli state cannot be disentangled.
In the days that followed, Israeli mobs and settlers marked and burned Palestinian homes. They continue to lynch Palestinians in the streets and are colluding with police who have made hundreds of arrests. Much like the settlers, the lynch mobs are not fringe elements of the state but represent its internal frontier.
Amidst this uprising, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have rushed the Israeli border, demanding to return to Palestine. Meanwhile, Palestinian youth across the globe who have never stepped foot in the motherland have mobilised hundreds of thousands in rallies within our cities. A document, titled ‘The Dignity and Hope Manifesto’ has been released calling for a “Unity Intifada” to reunite Palestinian society, political will and struggle.
But just as it is important to note who is part of this uprising, it is also important to note who is missing: the comprador bourgeoisie. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and political elites are nowhere to be found, perhaps because the collective demands of this uprising are rooted in a long history of radical national liberation. Palestinians are rising up against not only the coloniser but against the Palestinian comprador class that participates in security coordination with the Israeli state. The demands of national liberation rightfully threaten the role of the comprador bourgeoisie as agents of the settler colony.
Palestinians are an indigenous people, displaced and scattered across the globe in refugee camps and in exile. Yet in this moment, we are defying the colonial borders that divide us and rising up as one body and one nation. Palestinians are leading an anti-colonial struggle, rooted in national liberation and a right to return to their homeland. This struggle has been happening for 73 years and will not subside until settler colonialism is overthrown.
Yara Shoufani is an organiser with the Palestinian Youth Movement. She holds a master’s in political science, with a research focus on colonisation and gentrification in Occupied Palestine.