The fact that the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories has been sustained for so long is an indication of the sophistication and of the complexity of social and political organization that directs it. This article examines eight of series of bayanat (communiques) of the United Leadership of the Uprising. The bayanat surveyed here, number 6 to 13 in the series, date from early February to early April 1988.
The bayanat, which have come to play a central role in directing events, are issued at roughly weekly interval, printed on different presses each time, and distributed throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They are sophisticated political documents, containing a mixture of political analysis, review of recent developments, and detailed suggestions for action in the forthcoming days.
The political analysis looks at local, Arab, and international developments. Thus bayan 8 explicitly refers to “Jordan’s men” in the occupied territories, naming Elias Freij of Bethlehem and Rashed al-Shawwa of Gaza, and calls for their marginalization. Bayan 9 calls for a healing of the rift between Syria and the PLO, on the basis of joint struggle, mutual respect and independent decision-making. Arab speechifying and financial gestures are rejected, although Algeria’s call for an early Arab summit is welcomed. In bayan 10, the US is defined as the principal enemy, and the American so-called peace initiative is described sarcastically as “Shamir, disguised as Shultz, going from capital to capital”.
There is a definite development in the political phraseology, with a shift towards PLO style from bayan 10 onwards. Popular actions and initiatives are praised and supported. In bayan 12 a meeting of several hundred Ramallah merchants, who pledged themselves to non-payment of tax, is heralded as an example to follow; and in bayan 13 the people of Beita are praised after their confrontation with armed settlers. On the other hand, increasingly stem warnings are addressed to collaborators and those who disobey the instructions of the Popular Committees and the United Leadership.
There is constant reference to the damage inflicted upon the occupiers. Israeli estimates of losses to the Israeli economy are quoted, along with statistics on the numbers of troops tied up in trying to suppress the uprising, and on the proportion subsequently needing psychiatric counselling.
As will be seen below, the diversity of tactics employed has not remained static, but has constantly widened. This has been effected by several noticeable themes in the bayanat, reflecting the political acumen and experience of their authors.
First, there is emphasis on the popular nature of the organization of the uprising. Thus, bayan 9 notes that decisions were only taken after discussion. Communities are urged to form local Popular Committees, which are then asked to take responsibility for organizing relief funds and for the preservation of public order. Indeed, members of the public are advised to hand over all contributions, in cash or kind, to their local committees.
Second, there is great attention to detail. Specific reference is made to specific events, and specific appeals are addressed to specific sectors of the population. So, for example, landlords are asked to “come to an arrangement” with tenants who cannot pay rents due since the beginning of the uprising. In bayan 11, it is stressed that the occupation forces are trying to create chaos and that it is the duty of citizens to maintain self-discipline, because everyone is responsible for their actions. “The leadership puts decisions in your hands”, states bayan 10.
Third, there is a deep understanding of the power of information and disinformation. Several bayanat refer to the need for vigilance against Israeli attempts to spread rumours and divide the people. The public is warned that “everything published under the name of the Palestinian-Jordanian Coalition is the work of Israeli Intelligence”. The pro-Jordanian newspaper Al-Nahar is on a boycott list. The population is advised of the times at which the PLO radio station in Baghdad is to broadcast, and an appeal is made to the foreign media to ensure that they report events correctly.
Fourth, there is emphasis not only on unity within the occupied territories, but in the wider Palestinian community. Bayan 10 talks of “galvanizing” the people of the Triangle, Nazareth, the Negev, Galilee (all inside the Pre-1967 borders of lsrael) and the Palestinian diaspora, as well as those of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Solidarity strikes by Palestinians (and Lebanese) in south Lebanon are noted, as are solidarity gestures of the Druze in the Golan Heights. Such unity is reinforced by reference to historical events such as the 1948 battle of Kastel and the death of the Palestinian commander ‘Abd al-Qader Husaini, the Deir Yasin massacre, the 1968 battle of Karamah.
Fifth, words are chosen with great deliberation. Threats against collaborators are carefully graduated, and a clear distinction is made between appeals, requests, instructions and demands.
Growth in Authority and Confidence
The growth in the United Leadership’s authority and confidence is evident. Bayan 6, dated 3 February 1988, declares a two-day general strike, but otherwise only calls for a general continuation of demonstrations, attacks on troops and the blocking of transport to and from settlements. By the time bayan 13 is issued, 12 April, not only are particular dates set for particular types of action, but ‒ with the beginning of the Muslim fast month of Ramadan ‒ shop opening hours are changed from 8-11 AM to 2-5 PM, and one minute’s silence in memory of the martyrs is called for precisety 10 PM, 13 April.
Instructions issued to particular socio-economic groups have, in the meantime, become far more specific and there is a marked shift from purely negative attacks on the status quo to the construction of an alternative socio-economic system. All section of the population are requested to carry out particular functions, and their successes are recorded. Thus, in bayan 9 international Women’s Day (8 March) is declared a day for women’s demonstrations. Members of the professions are asked to organize conferences, and those with practical skills are urged to share their skills with peasants, in order to bolster the local economy. Lawyers and pharmacists are asked to lower their charges, and accountants to refuse to process tax demands and returns. Schoolteachers and pupils are urged to occupy and operate schools that have been closed by the military authorities.
Strategy Aimed at Increasing Autarky
The strength of the uprising is best illustrated by a strategy aimed at re-approaching a degree of national economic autonomy. Newspaper reports have concentrated on the strikes by migrant workers and the commercial strikes, yet there has been a significant move towards establishing popular control over aspects of local Palestinian industry and reaffirming a commitment to agricultural production for local consumption. Within industry, there has been an attempt to establish a social contract whereby workers should only strike on days declared as days of general strikes (bayan 9) and workshops should redouble output (bayanat 9 and 13). Tuesday, 5 April, for instance, is declared as a day of work at full capacity in order to provide relief to the needy. In return for the undiminished level of output, employers are told not to make workers redundant, withhold pay for strike days or reduce wages (bayan 13). Indeed, all industrial plants are asked to co-operate with the Popular Committees by providing employment for those who have resigned from jobs within the Israeli economy (bayan 12). There are also appeals to manufacturers and retailers to lower prices wherever possible.
Action in the agricultural sector is twofold. On the one hand, the purchase of Israeli produced food (as well as other Israeli products) is strongly discouraged. On the other hand, the necessity of becoming as self-sufficient as possible is underlined. Thus bayan 8 urges:
Go to the land and plant it. Many of our needs can be fulfilled by domestic production which will raise your income and your steadfastness. Grow plants at home, get hold of livestock. Vietnam beat the US not by guns alone but also by investment in its peasantry.
From early march, particular days are set aside as days of voluntary labour on the land, and developing vegetable gardens and allotments in towns. Such days are strike days, so the idea is not so much to bring into service those who are otherwise economically inactive, but rather to replace work in Israel by work for the Palestinian economy.
The bayanat of the uprising illustrate the strengths of the Palestinian challenge to the occupation. From the degree of popular adherence to the urgings and appeals contained in these documents, it is clear that they are the authentic voice of the masses. Their power, and that of their authors, lies not only in their ability to speak in the name of the PLO and (latterly) to reiterate its positions, but ‒ more crucially ‒ in their intimate connection with the stone-thrower and the striker, a connection embodied in the local Popular Committees through which the abilities, aspirations and initiatives of the people are channeled. Irrespective of the length of time for which the uprising can be maintained at its current pitch, analysis of the bayanat demonstrates that an organic link has been forged between political leaders, grass-root activists and the masses in the occupied territories.