Near Qalandia checkpoint, four Palestinian youth uncover their faces as they get into an orange service taxi heading back to Ramallah. Omar, 18, wipes his dirtied palms and says "look, it has to get ugly, really ugly, before it can start to get better." His friend Osama, 19, looks at him and says in jest "dude, let's be real, a stone isn't going to liberate it." Omar confidently retorts, "no one said we're trying to liberate it with the stone, rather send a message that for every action there will be a reaction. This is a reaction to Israeli aggression, no one said we're liberating it."
As the young boys get off at their stop, they look at me and one of them says "go write that in your report. It's not just analysts that have something to say. Let them keep using their words, the stone is talking for us."
What is happening on the ground transcends the images of youth in masked faces hurling stones being shared across the digital world. These are not soldiers, nor are they depressed youth with nothing to lose. They have everything to lose, from loved ones to aspirations and dreams that continue to be hindered by an unjust system of oppression. It is for the very love of life that resistance arises, to preserve what remains of hope and dignity.
The current Palestinian reaction is both inevitable and episodic. It is not a random eruption, rather a continuity of previous actions by Palestinians in reaction to the systematic oppression perpetuated by the Israeli state. From the failure of negotiations, to the growth of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to the treatment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as second and third class citizens, to the creation of an open air prison in Gaza, the list of whys and wherefores seem never ending.
Despite the evident demands of the youth -- an end to occupation -- most observers are focusing on the effects of the occupation such as this new wave of protests, trying to conjure up the most applicable labels or ways of deescalating the situation, without truly delving into the root causes and contextualizing the current unrest in the region.
As aforementioned, it appears that the fixation seems to be on what to label the latest cycle of violence. Is it a third intifada? Thirteen-year-old Ahmad shrugs off the question as medics treat him for teargas inhalation near Beit Eil, where he was part of confrontations with Israeli forces. "I honestly don't care what the hell you call it. Third intifada, 50th intifada, it doesn't matter."
Gasping for air, he continues: "What matters is I am here. I am doing something as you all spew your rhetoric trying to impress one another in your analysis. I'm done with the occupation." What needs to be weighed is not the symptoms manifesting in the form of escalating violence, but what the root causes are.
Adjacent to the meaningless debate on whether this is a third intifada or not, analysts and diplomats have entered the old discourse revolving around resistance, urging Palestinians to use a peaceful approach. What is left unmentioned however is the fact that Palestinians have tried to utilize peaceful means and are still are. Ranging from the unarmed weekly demonstrations at Palestinian villages, to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. These actions received little support from those uplifting peaceful means, and were still being met with the same violent and repressive measures from Israel.
There is also an apparent disparity between reaction to the native struggle and the violence from the oppressed. In this case, Palestinian violence versus Israeli violence. For instance while some Israelis deem the BDS movement as an anti-Semitic and a prejudice movement, recent polls have shown that 61% of Israelis support the boycott of "Israeli Arabs" which the Israeli government is yet to comment on as being anti-Semitic or racist. On the contrary, on October 8 after the unlawful shooting of a Palestinian woman near Afula police station, anti-Arab protests were organized by Israeli communities across Israel.
On the same day Netanyahu released a press release applauding the reaction of the some Israelis, saying "in recent days and hours I have seen displays of heroism by soldiers, police and -no less- by civilians. I see this in Jerusalem, Kiryat Gat, Hebron, Petah Tikvah, Tel Aviv and now in Afula."
While many are eager to condemn Palestinian violence, they seem to ignore the violence perpetuated by Israeli forces because most crimes are enacted in the form of a recognized institution: the army. The Palestinian people do not have an army and the only armed groups serve the Palestinian Authority which is complicit in the Israeli occupation through security coordination at the expense of Palestinians.
It is noteworthy to mention that the only context the international community discusses Palestinian resistance is when Israeli lives are in the picture. This is when we witness discourse urging Palestinians to "deescalate the violence" and to revert to "peaceful means." It's as if they believe the resistance exists in a vacuum, completely decontextualized and isolated from the occupation and its long history. Such an approach only proves to serve the perpetuation of the state of play whilst neglecting those suffering the direct consequences of the Israeli occupation: the Palestinians.
With a potential conviction of up to 20 years in Israeli prison for throwing stones it should not come as a surprise that Palestinians are now converting to the usage of knives, screw drivers whatever they can get their hands on. Either way they will suffer grave consequences, the way many see it is that at least now, they are once more putting the cause back on the map. Just as Gaza is only discussed when Hamas fires rockets back, or the West Bank when youth are on the streets. What is being done is essentially the removal of the muffle from the mouths of Palestinians. It turns the situation from a silent occupation to a noisy one.
Palestinian youth are not only protesting against the Israeli forces' aggression, but they are also highlighting the failure of global as well as national leaders to provide a real solution, one that does not pawn off the dignity and will of the Palestinian people.
As confrontations near Beit El continue well into the late evening, some Palestinian youth take a break. Amjad, 22, sits on the sidewalk and points to burning tires in the distance "You see that blazing tire over there?" mulling over that for a second he continues "yeah. We are that blazing tire."