Know More About Palestine
Wednesday March 2, 2011 2:14 PM (EST+7)

Modern Palestinian civil society first emerged in the 1970s, spurred by Israel’s criminalization of Palestinian nationalism. Israel’s frequent arrest and deportation of political leaders compelled non-factional student, women, and labor groups to organize at the grassroots level.  

In the early 1980s, these grassroots movements gained momentum with the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO. The PLO encouraged the growth of civil society institutions as alternatives to Israeli rule and means of building the foundations of a future Palestinian state.

Using tactics such as strikes, protests, and non-violent demonstrations, community-based groups encouraged mobilization of resistance that eventually culminated the first intifada (or uprising), which lasted from December 1987 to February 1991.

FIRST INTIFADA

During this uprising, Palestinians organized to resist Israelzzz*zs occupation, in place since 1967. Various political strains collaborated to support the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The concept of a two-state solution started to become a mainstream idea among Palestinians.

Such resistance, although not novel, succeeded in empowering even the most marginalized members of Palestinian society. The average citizen was able to actively contribute and voice opinion through grassroots methods such as distributing fliers or commercial strikes.

Popular committees assumed the daily responsibilities of life under military occupation: protecting towns and villages from Israeli incursions, providing medical relief to the injured and distributing basic amenities to those in need. Paradoxically, while empowering the PLO leadership in exile, the committees also challenged its authority and influence in the occupied territories.

Israel cracked down on these efforts, sometimes through brutal use of force. At the end of the four-year intifada, 787 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces, with over 100,000 Palestinians wounded, 350 Palestinian homes demolished, and 60,000 Palestinians arrested in the first three years of the uprising.

Israel’s violent reaction against a largely non-violent, popular uprising eventually caused an internal rift in the civil society movement. This led to divisions along factional lines. The main disagreement was over the issue of armed resistance - should it be used? If so, how and when? 

THE POST-OSLO DIVIDE

This tension became particularly marked as the Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which rejected the two-state solution, began to organize politically and formed social welfare programs.

As Israel entered into formal negotiations with the PLO, culminating in the 1993 Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, national politics and pressure from the international community directed the focus away from rights-based grassroots organizations.

The return of the PLO leadership in exile to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip splintered and weakened grassroots groups loyal to the PLO. With the encouragement of international donors, energies and funding were diverted into developing the future Palestinian government, largely controlled by Fateh.

At the same time, the Islamist group Hamas quietly strengthened its civil society organizations based on religious concepts of charity. Movements that had been united in the intifada, such as the labor movement and the movement for women’s rights, were split and weakened by their respective political and ideological affiliations.  

These divides were exacerbated after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections. Public employee strikes for wages under the Hamas government were convoluted by the Fateh-Hamas conflict. For instance, the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, a Fateh-controlled union (with two wings divided between local leaders and those who returned with the PLO) has since divided to form a second union, the Palestinian Teachers Union, which is Hamas-controlled.  

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