The Third Intifada

(Intifada: popular uprising. Contrary to what many people think an intifada does not have to be violent)

Of course I’m not only in Palestine to teach, but also to see something of this beautiful country and to get some sights in. One of my daytrips led to Tulkarem, a genuine Palestinian city in de North West of the West Bank close to the Israeli border. One of my students arranged a meeting for me with her friend Mohammed who lives in Tulkarem. Hospitality in Palestine is so great that even the friend of a friend will treat you like a friend of his own. After a trip in a service taxi on a boiling hot day I arrived in Tulkarem. Mohammed collected me at the bus station in the biggest Mercedes I’ve ever seen, but also the oldest because it was about to fall apart. I stepped into the car and Mohammed told me that we were first going to visit Al Khadouri University.

It may sound strange to visit a university on a day trip, but Palestinians are proud of their educational institutions. Palestinian education is of high standard and Palestine has the highest rate of (highly) educated persons in the Arab world. The reason for this is that education is their only weapon against unemployment which is caused by the long lasting occupation of their country. Mohammed took me to the office of the public relations officer. Not having made any appointment I was expecting to be sent away, but much to my surprise we were welcomed very kindly. I was offered a chair and received lots of information about Al Khadouri University. It turned out that this meeting was just introductory, because after a while the public relations officer said to Mohammed and me: “come, I’ll show you around now”. He showed us some of the faculties and he was proudly telling about the history of the university. The institution started as an agricultural college financed by a gift of the Jewish Iraqi philanthropist Sir Ellis Khadouri in 1930. The college became a university in 2007 and nowadays the university has many international contacts. We went outside and he showed us how close the Apartheid Wall was built to the university. He explained to me that they were working and building very hard to establish the biggest and the best university in Palestine. 

It was very interesting, but while walking over the campus I couldn’t refrain from wondering why, just why he was spending so much of his time on me. I understood it as soon as he told me that education as well as the development of the university was such an important weapon against the occupation. “I hope that you tell everybody in your country about the positive way in which we are fighting for a better future by education”, the public relations officer said.

This – almost VIP – approach of a foreigner is not exceptional in Palestine and isn’t limited to universities. Palestine is teaming with cultural organisations and all kinds of other NGOs (an NGO is a Non-Governmental Organisation like Greenpeace and Amnesty International for example). There are Palestinian NGOs for peace, security, reconciliation, education, human rights, cultural heritage, research, etc. etc. If I would have to mention every Palestinian NGO the list would just be too long. And every NGO has an office and every office has a little hall with chairs and an overhead projector where NGO-staff can give presentations about their work to groups of tourists and other visitors from abroad. International volunteers, like me, are always welcome to volunteer with them.

The Palestinian NGOs focus on foreign visitors, because these NGOs know that they can only alter public opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Palestinian cause by reaching the international community, and foreign visitors are their arms to the rest of the world.
Unfortunately the (international) press doesn’t focus at all on the enormous effort of the NGOs in support of freedom through nonviolent resistance. Too often it continues to hang Palestinians on a reputation of being a violent people.  This reputation was intensified during the second Intifada when groups of Palestinians responded to the Israeli occupation with armed resistance. This armed resistance didn’t bring Palestine the freedom it hoped for. Now, Palestinians no longer use stones or weapons, but NGOs to teach the international community about their nonviolent struggle for freedom. Non violent resistance already existed in the eighties and most of the NGOs already existed before the second Intifada, but the NGOs couldn’t do much because the number of tourists and other visitors dropped to a minimum during the second Intifada. Now, the appeal of Palestinians to these NGOs to reach the international community seems bigger than ever before.

A colleague of mine in Bethlehem once said: “the first Intifada (second half of the eighties) was the Intifada of throwing stones and the second Intifada (2000 to 2005) was the Intifada of armed resistance”. I said: “and the third Intifada?” “There is no third Intifada”, he replied. “According to me there is”, I said, “it’s the Intifada of the NGOs”.  The instruments of these NGOs are: lectures, theatre, dance and film (about the Palestinian situation, history and cultural heritage), justice tourism and peaceful demonstrations. The concept of a “third Intifada” is not new, but is mainly used to describe the non violent demonstrations in some villages against the construction of  the “Apartheid Wall”. The peaceful work and effort of Palestinian NGOs is so overwhelming to me that – according t0 me – their work is part of the third Intifada as well.

I almost forget to tell that Mohammed took me to “the Gishuri plant” in Tulkarem. This chemical plant produces fertilizer. Mohammed explained to me that the factory was first built near Tel Aviv (Israel), but was later moved to the borderline between Israel and Tulkarem because of complaints of the (Israeli) citizens of Tel Aviv.

I can see a thin layer of white dust covering the leaves of a nearby palm tree. The dust must have been released by the plant. “When the winds blows into the direction of Israel, production stops”, said Mohammed, “the plant only operates when the wind is in our direction”. “Ever since the plant is here, the number of people in Tulkarem with cancer and lung disease rapidly increases”, he explains, “we try to get as much attention for this problem as possible because the plant feels like a time bomb for us, but the world doesn’t seem to care”.

But I do Mohammed, so here’s your story.

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