Over the past decade, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, once at the forefront of international attention and a unifying force across the Arab world, appeared to be losing its grip on the global stage. The echoes of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings that shook the region in 2010 and 2011 still reverberate, and their unintended consequences have cast a shadow over the enduring struggle for Palestinian aspirations and their quest for self-determination. However, there are signs of a revitalized global solidarity for the Palestinian cause and the plight of the Palestinian people is once again gaining prominence.
On the 7th of October, an unprecedented war broke out between Hamas and Israel. Since the establishment of Hamas in 1987, this war has been the most violent clash1 in the conflict history between Hamas and Israel. According to the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, the number of casualties has reached more than 3,000 Palestinians over the last ten days, including 1,000 children and more than 10,000 injuries – most likely, this number will increase over the coming days. Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel has lifted about 1,400 Israelis killed and 200-250 hostages.
The Arab Spring fall-out
Over the years, the Palestinian cause has almost lost its momentum and predominance among the Arab world and arguably on the global agenda. The ‘Arab Spring’ uprising that swept several Arab countries in 2010 and 2011 negatively impacted the popular Arab support for the Palestinian movement and its continuing efforts for independence. The failure to attain a sustainable democratic regime in Egypt and Tunisia and the outbreak of civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya have negatively affected the solidarity with Palestinians.
Notably, public engagement in the Palestinian cause has been decaying in many of the MENA countries, and public opinion has diverted to internal political struggles and navigating the governance vacuum that occurred after the political turmoil following the Arab Spring. In some cases, like Egypt, the official and media narratives often accused the Palestinians, especially Hamas as an affiliated group to the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, of interfering in Egyptian politics and directly accusing Hamas of supporting armed groups in Northern Sinai.
On another front, the United States during the Donald Trump administration brokered a normalization deal between several Arab countries and Israel. Peace and normalization agreements were signed with Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain as part of the “Abraham Accords Declaration”. These normalization efforts have continued under the Joe Biden administration to the extent to which Saudi Arabia was close to reaching an agreement with Israel before the outbreak of the recent events. Although public opinion had been against the normalization agreements, the authoritarian nature of these regimes has left limited or no spaces for contestation. As a result, the Arab countries have been left with an ever-decaying interest and prioritization of the Palestinian cause.
Revival of solidarity
The latest attacks of Israel on the Gaza Strip have arguably brought the Palestinian cause to the forefront of Arab societies’ political discussion. As the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip escalated, growing public support and solidarity with the Palestinians have emerged. The collective punishment for the civilians in Gaza has left millions of Arabs devastated and ashamed of their government’s response to the inhumane attacks on the Palestinians trapped in the Strip and the Western double standards regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More than 6,000 rockets are fired by Israeli air forces, targeting several locations in the Gaza Strip, including UNRWA schools, hospitals, and border crossing, among other civilian targets.
Tens of thousands protested in the streets following Friday prayers in several Arab countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, and Yemen, all condemning the brutal attacks and inhumane conditions imposed on the Palestinians and the ongoing bombardment of Israeli air forces of civilians, including women and children, in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, online activists and civil society organizations, including the BDS movement, launched several social media campaigns to boycott Western brands supporting Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians in Gaza. The calls for boycotting have forced some of these brands to provide material and financial support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, particularly those franchised to Arab-owned companies such as ‘McDonalds’.
Moreover, there has been significant criticism of any public figure who did not publicly announce their stance against the aggressive attacks on the Palestinians. For instance, the Facebook page of the famous Egyptian Liverpool player, Mohamed Salah, has lost one million subscribers due to his silence amidst the conflict escalation. Later, the player announced his donation of one million USD to the Egyptian Red Crescent for humanitarian and relief support as part of the organization’s preparation to enter the Gaza Strip. Many other Arab countries have sent their humanitarian and relief convoys to El Arish airport, awaiting Egypt’s approval from the Israeli authorities to allow for a humanitarian corridor for these supplies to reach the Palestinian people.
Despite the unconditional support of Western leaders to Israel and the attempts to ban any emotional or symbolic support to Palestinians, thousands of people marched to the streets across several European capital cities including London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, and Melbourne to support the Palestinian people and condemn the aggressive war crimes committed by Israel. Nevertheless, several African leaders have shown their support to the Palestinian people, condemning the ongoing Israel attacks and its intention to enter the Gaza Strip. As the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, expressed “South Africa’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and its support for a peaceful solution”. Similarly, the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, vowed that Colombia should suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, and described the Israeli attacks on Gaza as a genocide.
Owing to the immense pain imposed on the Palestinian people in Gaza by this atrocious conflict, global sympathy for the Palestinian struggle for independence has intensified. Such increased support reassures Palestinians that their movement for independence is still important to many people throughout the world, particularly in the Arab world. It assures that there are no possibilities for long-term peace and stability in the Middle East unless Israel’s seven-decade long occupation of the Palestinian Territories comes to an end.