Intifada: a Palestinian uprising. National committees organizing popular resistance; boycotts and tax revolts against the occupier; mass demonstrations calling for an end to the occupation; a violent crackdown by the occupation forces — and an official Palestinian leadership caught off guard.
This may sound like a description of the first intifada of 1987-1991 but it’s also how the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt against British occupation operated. Mazin Qumsiyeh’s new book on the long history of Palestinian popular struggle, Popular Resistance in Palestine: a History of Hope and Empowerment is great for drawing out such parallels.
Qumsiyeh traces this vibrant history even further than the British Mandate, back to the days of Ottoman rule and uprisings against both the Turkish empire and the Egyptian occupation of the 1830s (36). Even readers familiar with the Great Revolt of the 1930s will find much to enlighten them here.
Qumsiyeh recounts the successes and failures, before the British occupation of Palestine in 1917, of Palestinian campaigns to resist dispossession of fellahin (peasant farmers) by Zionist land colonization organizations and militias (working in cooperation with the Ottoman state) (39-47).
A zoologist from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Qumsiyeh is also an activist, and takes a refreshingly practical approach to history. One of the book’s main strengths is that Qumsiyeh has a measured take on the issue of nonviolence verses violence. As he explains early on, he generally prefers the term “popular resistance” to “nonviolence” — mainly because that’s the term generally used in Palestine for this form of resistance (muqawama shabiya) (11).