www ISR
For ISR updates, send us your Email Address

Back to home page

ISR Issue 52, March–April 2007


Intifada from the inside

Ramzy Baroud
The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle
Photographs by Mahfouz Abu Turk and Mathew Cassel
Pluto Press, 2006
240 pages $27


THE SECOND Palestinian Intifada is a collection of impassioned essays by Ramzy Baroud. Most of the pieces—which have appeared widely, from Japan to Bangladesh to the Middle East and the U.S.—were originally written as parts of Baroud’s courageous and persistent analysis of contemporary events in the Palestinian arena.

Baroud’s work stems from a desire to provide an independent Palestinian voice to explain unfolding events, when too often that narrative is altogether ignored, or immediately juxtaposed to a pro-Zionist opinion to give it adequate “balance.” His writings belong to a genre of new Palestinian writers and activists who attempted to address an English audience during the Al Aqsa Intifada, in an effort to arm that audience with arguments in defense of Palestinian rights.

Baroud’s own experience growing up in a Gaza refugee camp provides him with a historical context and framework that makes his analysis less susceptible to the pitfalls that sympathetic foreigners have often demonstrated when attempting to explain events in the complicated Palestinian arena. It includes a sense of understanding for the historical plight of the Palestinian people, lesser-known Israeli massacres, the smothering and systematic nature of life beneath occupation, and the active resistance that Palestinians have waged to try and advance their cause.

Because most of the book is a chronology of the Intifada itself—from its outbreak in September 2000 to the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the subsequent election of Hamas in January 2006—this book is significant for its attempt to collect a primary (though by no means comprehensive) history of these years into a short, coherent volume. More than a chronicle of Israeli brutality, the essays show how the brutality was repeatedly sanitized and served to English audiences within the racist, dehumanizing framework of the U.S “war against terror.”

Despite its significance as a history, Baroud’s account does suffer from deficiencies that result from the book’s scope and approach. Because each piece is largely oriented around explaining a particular event, there is a tendency for the narrative to lose the broader picture. Though the book’s foreword and introductions, written by Kathleen and Bill Christianson, and Jennifer Lowenstein respectively do a good job of attempting to make up for this deficiency, there is greater need for a holistic assessment of the Intifada and Israel’s repression of it.

A broader view would relieve the impression that Baroud’s accounts sometimes create—of a repetitive chronology of repression and victimization—and add to understanding Israel’s repression of the Intifada as an extension of its historic policies to dispossess the Palestinians from their land and to destroy their national movement. More specifically, it would allow the reader to understand how Israel was seeking specific goals in provoking the Intifada to begin with—that it was a conscious decision determined in conjunction with the U.S. administration to torpedo the mis-named “peace process,” blame its failure on permanent Palestinian “intransigence,” and allow Israel to unilaterally assert its vision for its own “solution.”

This solution sees the erecting of an apartheid regime as a transitional step on the path to fully destroying the Palestinian national movement, and if necessary, expelling the Palestinian people. This became possible only after Israel had already achieved what it needed from the Palestinian leadership through the Oslo process: recognition of the Jewish state, renunciation of Palestinian resistance as terrorism, and the erection of an autonomy regime (the Palestinian Authority) to administer Palestinian affairs—thereby absolving Israel from this “burden” and obscuring the fact that it was still occupying and dispossessing Palestinians.

Also missing is a real account of the U.S. imperial role, or of why Israel is consistently supported by the U.S. as well as the European Union. This failure to characterize the interests of the major outside powers allows Baroud to fall back upon a line of argumentation that decries the flouting of international law and UN resolutions.

Here Baroud is not alone, as the PLO leadership, from the early 1970s, saw this approach—which included the tactically fateful acceptance of the state of Israel, and by extension the racist ideology of Zionism—as the way forward to realizing Palestinian rights. This approach, however, trapped the national movement for thirty years, as it rooted Palestinian national rights in a framework of UN resolutions and International Humanitarian Law that predictably failed to actualize Palestinian rights.

The UN, after all, played a pivotal role in the dispossession of Palestinians to begin with, and its consistent failure to uphold Palestinian national rights since 1948 is a result of its profoundly undemocratic structure—not an unfortunate byproduct of a fundamentally altruistic institution. The world’s most powerful countries use the UN to extend their domination. Most of them essentially support the existence of Israel in Palestine as a bulwark against Arab nationalism or other movements of self-determination that seek to question the lingering imperial divisions of the region.

This is important to point out, not because all UN resolutions are useless, but because the attention on the UN shifts the focus away from the real forces for Palestinian liberation—the Palestinian people and the Arab and Western working classes. For many around the world, the Palestinian cause has long embodied and symbolized the revolutionary potential that average people possess. The Al Aqsa Intifada is a reminder of this potential, and Baroud’s account serves as a poignant and important chronicle.

Back to top