Iz al-Din Qassam Militia Fighters (above) and a gun turrret
along the new Israeli wall in the West Bank (below).
At a Crossroads: Palestine in Transition
In the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death, how will Palestinians
organize themselves? Loren Lybarger, Religious Studies—with
an emphasis in Islam—addressed the question of Palestinian
political identity at the Anthropology Forum on Nov. 18.
To put the situation in context, Lybarger presented a short history
of key events, from the Palestinian point of view, from the Arab-Israeli
War of 1948 to the present. The war dispossessed thousands of Palestinians
of their land and made more than a quarter million refugees. Each
key event left its mark in a changed identity and a reformed and
evolved strategy of resistance, Lybarger said.
Arafat, with other university students, founded Fatah, in 1959.
“Fatah” means “victory” in Arabic.
The aftermath of the War of 1967 saw the beginning of the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank (Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East
Jerusalem). Palestinians responded by reorganizing their national
resistance. Fatah took control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO) in 1968–1969 and began launching cross-border raids
against Israel. Israel retaliated, launching in 1982 the unilateral
invasion of Lebanon to remove PLO bases there. The Israelis succeeded
in this goal, but close to 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, the
majority of them civilians, were killed in the process.
First Intifada (or “shaking off”), from 1987 until 1993,
was a Palestinian popular uprising against Israel in the West Bank
and Gaza areas. At first a spontaneous outburst sparked by the killing
of four Palestinians by an Israeli truck driver in the Gaza Strip,
the Intifada quickly developed into a well-organized rebellion led
by PLO-associated resistance movements. Once the violence started,
each incident provoked a counter reaction, creating an interlocking
spiral. Accumulated frustrations of the Palestinians, largely the
result of Israel’s occupation policies and the failures of
the PLO to achieve statehood for its people, were vented against
the Israelis, Lybarger explained. Israeli repression ultimately
succeeded in fragmenting the Intifada. The rise of the Islamic resistance
movement, initially encouraged by the Israeli intelligence agencies
as an opposition movement to the PLO, was an important result of
the first uprising.
The Oslo Peace Process lasted from 1993 until 2000. The “Declar-ation
of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” was
signed on Sept. 13, 1993 by representatives of the State of Israel
and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended the ceremony
with an uneasy handshake.
The Oslo Accords committed both parties to a range of obligations,
but violations began almost immediately. The interim agreements
were intended to build trust between the parties as preparation
for negotiations on a final settlement. Instead, it was a time in
which Israel doubled the number of Jewish-only settlements in the
West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem and continually delayed
or refused to meet agreed-upon deadlines for the transfer of territory
to the newly established Palestinian National Authority, Lybarger
As Palestinian frustrations grew, radical groups engaged in terroristic
violence. The Oslo process came to a “crashing end,”
said Lybarger, after the ill-fated Camp David negotiations and the
pro-vocative visit by current Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon
to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif Temple Mount on Sept. 28, 2000.
Lybarger stressed that there are major social and political divisions
among Palestinians, including refugees versus village and town elites,
the old guard versus the new guard, secular-nationalists versus
Islamists, hardliners versus pragmatists, Muslims versus Chris-tians.
Lybarger offered various scenarios of possible outcomes depending
on internal PLO dynamics, the role Hamas plays, and the PLO’s
willingness to adopt Hamas’s rejection of Oslo. Marwan Barghouthi,
imprisoned by the Israelis since April 2002, represents the new
guard and has just announced, according to the New York Times (12/02/04),
that he will enter the elections for a new Palestinian Nation Authority
—Kathleen McPartland with Loren Lybarger