A History of Resistance: Palestine
For generations, thousands of Palestinians have resisted the illegal occupation they live under through protests.
From weekly marches in the West Bank, to hunger strikes in Israeli prisons, we take a look at the history of Palestinian resistance and solidarity movements.
Content warning: racism, occupation
General and worker strikes
In 1936, historic Palestine had been under a British mandate for nearly 20 years.
To protest against this colonial rule, Palestinians went on a general strike from April of that year.
The Middle East Eye reported that there were multiple factors contributing to Palestinian’s striking:
“The socio-economic impact of British policies on Palestinians - many of whom found themselves evicted from their villages by landlords, their agricultural production heavily taxed, while those who moved to urban centres found themselves living in poverty in shanty towns - also led to growing anger among Palestinians, setting the stage for the 1936 strike.”
The strike lasted six months and was the catalyst for the three year-long Great Palestinian Revolt, ending in 1939.
This history of Palestine’s resistance through strikes exists today, including protests against the occupation as well as Palestinian governments like the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers went on strike in May 2021, organised against “the ongoing Israeli military offensive on Gaza”.
Across East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, people stopped working for the day. The reported cost to Israel’s economy, according to one of the many organisations involved in the strike, was $40 million.
In August 2022, Palestinians in the West Bank went on strike against the decision to pay their salaries via bank transfers. According to Reuters, most of the workers don’t have bank accounts and fear that they will lose money to hidden fees profited by the PA.
On top of living under occupation, the relationship between Palestinian people, the PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) is fraught. Palestinian’s have spoken out for many years about the corruption of both groups.
This is present in what 55-year-old construction worker, Bassim Al-Waheidi, said to Reuters: "We reject having our salaries transferred to Palestinian Authority banks because we are afraid of the future and there is a crisis of trust."
Since 1969, thousands of Palestinians have gone on hunger strikes in Israeli prisons.
The first collective prison hunger strike was in 1969. In two different prisons, Ramle and Kfar Yona, Palestinians protested against the living conditions they faced.
These strikes were just the beginning of the fight for the rights of Palestinians in prison.
Throughout the decades, the movement has changed its calls as the occupation continues. The TWT World reports:
“Up until the 1990s, most strikes by Palestinian detainees demanded better conditions”, they stated. “From the 1990s onwards, individual and collective strikes have been largely against indefinite detention without charge.”
Over 50 years later, this legacy of resistance carries on.
In January 2022, Hisham Abu Hawash ended his 141-day hunger strike after winning the fight to end his indefinite detention. He started the strike with a group of 17 other Palestinian people.
He was released shortly after his strike, but was arrested in a night raid by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in September.
That same month, 1,200 Palestinian people launched a mass hunger strike across Israeli prisons. And ten years prior, another group of 1,200 people went on hunger strike in prisons.
Refusal to serve in the army
Military conscription has been mandatory for Jewish Israelis since 1948. Refusing to enlist in the IDF is a punishable offence - and many who’ve resisted have ended up serving prison sentences.
“All Jewish and Druze Israeli citizens over 18 are expected to report for duty in the army; Israel's 20 per cent Arab population is exempt,” states the Middle East Monitor.
Throughout the decades, this form of solidarity protest has gained significant momentum among young people.
In 2003, “over 1,200 Israelis of military age declared that they would refuse to take part in the IDF’s illegal actions against the Palestinians.”
And collective action against joining the IDF continues to this day. In 2021, 60 high school students declared their refusal to enlist into the military.
There are also grassroots groups who support people who have objected to joining the IDF. The Refuser are one of those, and have worked with over a thousand people.
There is also a building resistance to the occupation amongst ex-IDF soldiers who are calling for an end to the occupation..
Breaking the Silence is an organisation of “veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military”. Since 2000, they have been publishing statements of ex-soldiers who have served in the IDF, raising worldwide awareness of the abuse that Palestinians face.
Protests and marches
From March 2018 to December 2019, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip protested for their right to return to their ancestral homes. Dubbed the Great March of Return, they were also protesting for an end to the 14-year-long siege on Gaza.
Every Friday, Palestinians demonstrated at the Gaza border, while facing constant violence from Israel’s Defence Force (IDF).
The campaign for justice and a right to return is echoed throughout the history of Palestinian resistance.
In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. This is now referred to as Nakba (catastrophe), causing generations of people to be displaced who are still denied the right to return.
As part of what some have described as an ongoing Nakba, there are many other tactics that are used to deny human rights.
One of these ways is carrying out evictions, where Palestinians homes are demolished or settlers move in. But villages across the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been standing up against it.
Palestinians from Kufr Qaddoum in the West Bank have held weekly protests for over ten years, pledging their fight “until land is returned.” Other neighbouring villages have held similar demonstrations, too.
Sheikh Jarrah, a village in East Jerusalem, caught worldwide media attention in 2021 when Palestinian activist, Muna al-kurd, confronting a settler about stealing her family’s home.
What was happening in Sheikh Jarrah - and the military attacks on Gaza at the same time - sparked a worldwide movement of people joining the fight for Palestine’s liberation.
Boycott Divest and Sanction movement
Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) is a Palestinian-led campaign, calling for the “boycott, divestment and economic sanctions against Israel.”
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, over 170 Palestine organisations launched the campaign in 2005.
As stated by BDS, the three parts of their movement are:
- Boycotts involve withdrawing support from Israel's apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.
- Divestment campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.
- Sanctions campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel's membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA.
Nearly two decades on, BDS has become a global movement with people across the world standing in solidarity with Palestinians.
Workers have refused to dock ships transporting goods from Israel, while thousands of Musicians have called to boycott music venues. These are just some of the many acts of resistance people worldwide
There have been countries who have come out in support of the BDS movement, like Sweden, who also recognise the state of Palestine. Ireland passed a bill in 2019 to ban goods made on settlements.
What you can do to support Palestinian resistance
Learn more about the occupation
Follow and support Palestinian organisations and activists
Follow action groups in the UK
This piece was written by a community member who wishes to remain anonymous for travel reasons.