A Predicted Tragedy

The last time that the Palestinians staged a collective uprising in anger and frustration was in 2000. Why is there a new wave of violence now?

Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the West Bank barrier. Photo: CC BY 2.0

The Palestinians have been betrayed by everyone: by their own leaders, by Israel, and by the international community. Their sense of hopelessness has bred the recent uncoordinated knife attacks. The fundamental problem – one that is spoken of all too seldom by diplomats and politicians – is Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

In 2014, I wrote that any new Palestinian uprising would be chaotic, ineffective, and characterized by violent acts perpetrated by individuals. I was not alone, other analysts made the same prediction. Sometimes it is sad to be proved correct, but my point is that the wave of knife attacks against Israelis is not in the least surprising. The escalation we are seeing now is just as easy to understand as it would be to do something about – if there were the will to tackle it.

The fundamental reason why Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere have begun to perpetrate uncoordinated attacks on Jews is quite simply that the Palestinians are a whole people who since 1967 have lived under occupation, without individual rights or the right to self-government, and who for 40 years have watched their own territory vanish as a result of Israel’s colonialist settlement policy. This in itself would be an intolerable situation for any people, and there is no light on the horizon. In East Jerusalem in particular, the Palestinians feel themselves trapped like animals in an ever-narrowing cage. Their frustration is tangible, especially when one talks to young people.

The last time that the Palestinians staged a collective uprising in anger and frustration was in 2000. Why is there a new wave of violence now?

The reason is that the feeling of having been universally betrayed is now absolute among average Palestinians. Let us examine the guilty parties one by one.

The Palestinian political elite – the leaders of Fatah and Hamas – have neither the means nor the will to intervene constructively. “Constructively” in this context would mean joining in a united front to oppose the Israeli occupation, and ensuring that resistance to the occupation manifested itself in legitimate forms, for example without attacks on Israeli civilians. For many years now, the leaders of Hamas and Fatah have opted for short-sighted strategies and attempts to make political capital from each other’s blunders rather than working together, as the overwhelming majority of Palestinians desperately want them to do. The result is that both organizations have little legitimacy among grass-roots Palestinians, and accordingly little control over those Palestinians’ actions.

Even if the Palestinian leaders were to succeed in uniting, this would not be enough. It is Israel that has power over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, despite the Palestinian quasi-governments that exist in both areas. The Israeli government has the means, but not the will, to end the whole vicious cycle of oppression and violence. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are occupied and blockaded, in contravention of UN resolutions. UN resolutions and world opinion quite clearly indicate the solution: self-government for the Palestinians and an acceptable solution to the refugee problem, either through allowing the refugees to return to their homes and/or providing them with compensation. Israel is a society, however, which is becoming ever more right-wing, and which seems to accept that it is in the course of creating an apartheid state. Racism is spreading: in 2014, Ayelet Shaked, who is currently the Israeli Minister of Justice, posted a quote on Facebook that described Palestinians as “little snakes” and called for mass killings. Shaked suffered no political consequences as a result.

In view of Israel’s lack of will to give the Palestinians what they are entitled to under international law, the international community, headed by the United States and the European Union, must exert pressure on the Israelis to relax their grip. Once again there is a lack of will rather than a lack of means. Instead of addressing the fundamental problem – illegal occupation and settlement – international diplomats have chosen to adopt a blinkered attitude. They continue to operate according to the thinking underlying the Oslo Peace Process: a bilateral solution that would result in two states. This solution has become completely unrealistic, but nonetheless international society continues to pour money into the so-called Palestinian state. The subtitle of Anne Le More’s book about international aid to the Palestinians is pertinent: “political guilt, and wasted money”. The effect of the international aid is quite simply to allow Israel to continue its occupation, while international society, including Norway, foots the bill. All Palestinians understand this. All react with disappointment and anger.

And sometimes the last straw is reached. That is what has happened now, and will happen again. The reason why Jerusalem is currently the focal point has nothing little to do with its value as a religious symbol. There are far more concrete reasons. Firstly, Jerusalem is a city where there are floating boundaries between Palestinians and Israelis, as a result of Israel’s ambition one day to control the entire city. And secondly, Palestinians in Jerusalem feel especially isolated: they have no contact with their own leaders on the West Bank, and Israel’s policy of colonization is tearing the whole basis of their existence from under their feet. Young people see no future. Grass-roots organizations I spoke to last spring had their hands full trying to help young people see any meaning in their lives at all.

Of course Hamas and other actors are ready to score cheap political points and pour fuel onto the flames, but this must not take our focus from the basic reason why individual Palestinians are attacking Israelis with knives: they are desperate, hopeless and frustrated, and Israel and the Israelis are the obvious targets for their frustration. As third-party facilitators and donors, Norway and other countries bear a share of the blame for the fact that this situation continues, but there is no sign from either Norway or other countries of any new thinking. This means that the tragedy will only continue. And always, as cannot be said too often, with much greater losses for the Palestinians than for the Israelis.


  • This text was published in Norwegian at NRK Ytring 20 October 2015: ‘En varslet tragedie
  • Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext
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