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Civil society remains highly relevant in Palestine despite an escalation in tension

28 April 2023

EED spoke with a range of Palestinian partners about their role as members of civil society and independent media, the challenges they face, their reactions to the mass protests in Israel, and their continued relevance at this time of increased tensions.

Civil society remains highly relevant in Palestine despite an escalation in tension

EED spoke with a range of Palestinian partners about their role as members of civil society and independent media, the challenges they face, their reactions to the mass protests in Israel, and their continued relevance at this time of increased tensions.

Not a third Intifada?

While partners acknowledge a worrying increase in tensions, increased attacks against Palestinians, and a terrible loss of life since the election of the new Netanyahu-led government, most do not concur with analysts’ statements that these events could mark the beginning of a third Intifada.

Some partners like the Nazareth-based Blebel believe that the current political vacuum and lack of trust in Palestine make this unlikely. They believe that talk of an Intifada is more in Israel’s than in Palestinian interests, as it would, “shift the discourse from the turmoil of judicial overhaul to focus on the Palestinian ‘threat’ to Israel’s existence as a narrative to unite the Israeli public.” This is highly relevant in the context of the largely leaderless mass demonstrations in Israel.

Others disagree. Mirna Al Atrash of Radio Baladna believes that Palestinians have lost all hope as they see their dream of a sovereign state disappear with the constant expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. She believes that many fear a third Intifada or mass Palestinian uprising.

Helma Al Araj, Executive Director of the Ramallah-based Hurryat concurs. He believes that Palestinians are at a crucial point today, and they must defend themselves and protect their very existence, most particularly their right to self-determination. “What we are witnessing are successive mass uprisings and forewarnings of a third Intifada….The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is on the brink of explosion due to the Israeli occupation’s continued oppressive policies,” he says.

Continued relevant role for civil society

All partners agree that with the election of the new Israeli government, civil society and independent media face even more existential threats as civil space and media freedom shrink further. Blebel also refer to “the lack of political will of local and international decision makers to bring justice,” stating that this further “weakens civil society and strengthens destructive agendas.”

They are also in agreement about the overall role of civil society at this time. This includes, as Mohamad Al Jaja of Press House Gaza notes, “raising issues of human rights, freedoms, and Israeli violations against the Palestinian people at Arab, regional, and international levels, and pursuing legal action against Israel before the International Criminal Court.

Mirna Al Atrash of Radio Baladna adds to this list, noting too the role civil society must play in strengthening international Palestinian cohesion and unity, designing and leading local and international advocacy and reaching out to other social movements in Asia and Africa for solidarity actions with Palestinians. Blebel also mention the important role to be played in community building, exposing corruption, developing an educational framework and cultural activities and training future leaders.

Difficult environment for civil society

Partners admit that they are coming under pressure from all sides, both from the Israeli police and army and from the Palestinian authorities.

According to Helma Al Araj, the Israeli occupation means that civil society are constantly targeted with “persecution, closure, incitement”, and there are ongoing attempts to “stigmatise civil society with claims of terrorism, narrowing the space for civil society work...and inciting donors to stop their funding for civil society.”  

Minra Al Atrash reminds EED of the closure of Palestinian human rights organisations in 2022 that were designated as terrorist organisations despite widespread international condemnation. She sees this closure as a clear attempt to silence civil society, as these organisations were documenting human rights abuses in Palestine.

Similarly, Mohamad Al JaJa reminds EED that Palestinian journalists are also consistently targeted, despite being well identified as members of the press, and that this pressure is compounded by social media companies’ restriction of access to Palestinian content, thereby further reducing media freedom. Less than a year after Shireen Abu Akeh’s death by the Israeli military, journalists face constant charges of incitement to violence and terrorism.

Araj also notes restrictions placed on civil society by the Palestinian Authority, although he believes that this can be usually overcome through dialogue or public criticism, given the common interest between civil society and the government to serve Palestinian citizens.

Minra Al Atrash and Blebel are less convinced, with Aratrash noting that Palestinian Authority security forces “keep attacking voices who tackle the daily concerns of Palestinian residents…and attacking social media activists by Palestinian security forces for social media posts.” Blebel mention too the 2021 killing of activist Nizar Banat, and the lack of protection given to journalists who covered the ensuing protests.

No point in Palestinians taking part in Israeli protests

Partners all echo the opinions of analysts that there is little point in Palestinians taking part in protests against proposed reforms of the Israeli judicial system, noting that these courts have done little to improve the lot of Palestinians. They believe that Palestinians could very likely be further harmed by any participation in these protests.

As Al Araj puts it: “These protests, despite their importance, take place under the Israeli flag, and…[they] do not raise slogans calling for democracy and equality for the Palestinians inside Israel. These demonstrations call for democracy exclusively for the Israelis, and do not address the issue of the racist Israeli citizenship law, which considers Palestinians in Israel a minority without national rights.”

Changing view of the Palestinian Authority?

Some partners believe that there is a shift in civil society’s expectations of the Palestinian Authority. Sanaa Hammoud, founder and editor of Farai Maai - the Independent Arab Media Platform, notes as key factors the ongoing blatant security coordination with Israel, the division between leaders within the Authority, the lack of elections, and the widespread corruption.

Al Atrash states that the Palestinian Authority is viewed by civil society and society at large as passive, repressive and in a negative light. Araj goes further and blames the inefficiency of the Palestinian Authority on the shackles of the 1993 Oslo Accords and pressure o from the U.S. government to take measures that are unpopular with citizens.


This article reflects the views of the grantee featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Commission or any other European State or other contributors to EED.


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