Fruits of a Revolt: A New Mideast?
Tenth anniversary of Palestinian intifadah highlights troubles in building civil society.
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — Hussan Khader remembers one of the first shots fired in the intifadah.
When the Palestinian uprising broke out 10 years ago, he was leading a fight against Israeli soldiers in his native Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus, and took a bullet in the right leg.
Then 25 and a well-known leader of the largest youth movement, he was jailed and later deported to south Lebanon.
Years later he would work his way back home and gain a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council, of which he is the youngest member. Now he can savor the achievements the Palestinian uprising brought him - his return in 1994, a privileged position, and perhaps some taste of peace.
But the other youths Mr. Khader led in the protests - foot soldiers in a war that would be fought primarily with stones and Molotov cocktails - have not all fared as well. While Khader has a VIP card that allows him to pass through Israeli checkpoints with ease, many of his comrades have not seen their lot improve.
Some are without work or eke out a living, some died, and some are still in Israeli prisons.
It is with this ambivalence over the rebellion's fruits that Palestinians have been approaching the 10th anniversary of the intifadah - literally meaning "shaking off" in Arabic - which started Dec. 9, 1987.
More than 20 years after Israel had seized control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a car accident in Gaza provided the spark that unleashed pent-up anger over the occupation.
Disproving expectations that hostilities would quickly run their course, the strength and tenacity of the uprising surprised Israeli officials. It also caught Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat off guard, because he hadn't orchestrated the street battles and saw his power threatened by an emerging grass-roots leadership.
This week, as academics gather to discuss the many dimensions of the intifadah's impact, most other Palestinians are letting the event pass without a great deal of fanfare.
Some feel that at a time when the peace process has long been mired, there is little to celebrate. Others who don't believe in reconciliation with Israel - or who think their struggle must continue until they have an independent Palestinian state - say there is no point commemorating something that to them is still ongoing.
Palestinians like Councilman Khader say the power struggles and violence of the intifadah left a dubious legacy that encumbers the building of the democratic civil society for which they fought.
And political sources suggest that official festivities marking the intifadah have been kept to a minimum by Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority because the tougher push by the United States of late to move the peace process forward has raised hopes that progress could be around the corner. Any outbreak of hostilities would only frustrate a breakthrough.
Israel's strategy toward the intifadah evolved from former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's iron-fist policy to a weariness that eventually brought a readiness to make peace and end the violence.
Pictures of a largely unarmed civilian population pitted against Israeli soldiers damaged Israel's image abroad, especially in the eyes of a key backer, the US.
Today, Khader does not glorify the intifadah, because he feels it eventually had a corrupting influence on Palestinian life. "The wrong things floated to the surface of the intifadah and it sunk all the good things." By the later years of the uprising, more Palestinians were being killed by fellow Palestinians for alleged "collaboration" with Israel than were being killed by Israeli troops.
Control was usurped by older leaders living abroad, who Khader thinks felt threatened by the young generation of leaders from the Palestinian street. "They have their symbols that they got from other Arab dictators, and we have our own. We see Israeli democracy every day, and we think we have a good chance to develop our own," he says.
Now, Khader has become a firebrand on the council, criticizing Arafat for thwarting attempts at democratization. Today a father of three, he sports a leather jacket that contrasts with the suits and ties or traditional Arab headdress and robes that most of the council members wear.
Other young Palestinian leaders suggest they are still trying to absorb the transition from national uprising to nation-building.
"The intifadah is the most important event for our generation," says Marwan Barghouthi, who directed the local intifadah leadership from Jordan and is now the secretary-general for Arafat's Fatah Party in the West Bank.
"We have lots of experience with underground movements and passing through checkpoints with false identity cards," he says. "Now we are members of the legislative council and we have to fight by democracy."