Loss of Control and Reaction to Powerlessness

The main thrust of the Palestinian intifada has been a call for disengagement from Israeli control after conventional political pressures failed to bring about any change in the systematic annexation of the territories to Israel. Its main achievements, on the positive side, have been to place the Palestinian issue on the international agenda after the many years of neglect it suffered after the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Internally it gave the Palestinians a sense of empowerment which created a prelude to the Peace Negotiations of 1992, creating the possibility, for the first time since the war of 1948, of a territorial solution, and independence for the Palestinians.22 However, the intifada also brought profound social changes in the occupied territories which affected the nature of Palestinian society. Perhaps the two most significant features of these changes are (a) the mobilization of youth in organized and spontaneous activities against military occupation; and (b) the growth of politically defined Islamist movements. One consequence of the first development is the manner in which generational conflict has been re-defined, and the disruption of traditional normative behaviour towards elder members of the family by younger ones. The implication of these changes has been examined here in those attitude items of the survey that deal with age and gender conflicts (see for example "Men's opinions concerning western dress by age", in 'Social and Political Attitudes and Values'). The growth of religiously defined political and social norms during the intifada is intriguing because of the significant variation it has elicited in terms of regional, gender and educational differences. The prevalent notion that the intifada has led to a drastic growth of religious fundamentalism across the country is challenged by the data in this study (chapter 9). What is more likely to have happened is that the country is being polarized by secular and religious trends to an extent that has not been witnessed before.23

At the level of living standard - as opposed to style of living - the combined effect of the intifada and the Gulf War was devastating for people's daily life. Although at the political level these events brought into the open the question of the nature of structural relation between Israel and the occupied territories, they nevertheless accentuated conflicts in that relationship which were - until 1987 - dormant. The initial brunt of the war-time restrictions described here were felt by farmers, who had to market their crops;24 it was then extended to the rest of the population. Palestinians were also affected indirectly, as a result of the decline - and then cessation - of remittances coming from Kuwait and other Gulf countries, and directly from the effects of curfews and other military restrictions imposed by Israel.

The comprehensive curfew which was imposed at the beginning of 1991 began a prolonged process of control over the movement of the population which was still official policy two years later, at the beginning of 1993. It continues to affect hundreds of thousands of residents who are barred from entering Israel (i.e. the so-called Green Line) and the city of Jerusalem. Residents were also restricted from moving freely from one district to another. In effect, the current movement restrictions, in addition to excluding workers who do not hold permits from entering Israeli territories, have cut the occupied territories into three parts: Northern West Bank (Nablus, Ramallah, and Tulkarem districts), Southern West Bank (Hebron, Bethlehem), and the Gaza Strip. The city of Jerusalem divides the two first regions, and the pre-l967 borders divide the whole West Bank from Gaza.

Four measures of political control can be identified here as having a detrimental effect on the population's daily lives: two of them (administrative detentions and curfews) restrict the movement of the population; and the other two (land confiscation, and house demolitions) affect their conditions of habitat. In the period from December 9, l987, (signifying the beginning of the intifada and Israeli measures to curtail it) to the summer of 1992 (when this survey was conducted), 15,240 people were placed under administrative detention.25 Curfews during the same period confined the inhabitants of the occupied territories for prolonged periods to their homes (or at least to their village and town localities), drastically disrupting their access to work sites.26

The other two items directly connected with administrative measures undertaken by the Israeli authorities are land confiscation and house demolitions. For the five year period under review 359,806 dunums were confiscated and 2,193 housing units were destroyed (only about 35% of them for 'security' reasons).27 Thus the principal factor responsible for the disruption of building activity was directly related to the seemingly wilful restriction of available space for expansion, rather than to punishment for political activity, as is commonly believed.

For the purposes of our analysis in this survey these modes of control have two distinct impacts on the living conditions for Palestinians. Administrative detention and curfews affect people's sources of income (inability to commute to work in the case of the latter, and loss of income due to the incarceration of the breadwinner), as well as their general mobility. The latter has a negative influence on the traditional fabric of society and its cohesiveness since it affects social visits, recreational activity and ritual social duties (prayer, attendance of seasonal festivities, and pilgrimage).

Land confiscation and demolition of houses, on the other hand, directly affect the household's attachment to its community and the individual's security in his or her habitat. In a predominantly agrarian society (or even in an urban society with persisting agrarian values) such as the one under examination, property in terms of land and housing underlines the community's national identity. The continued confiscation of Palestinian land by the military authorities is seen not as a loss of real estate, but as the alienation of national patrimony. More significant is the current confinement of building permits by the Civil Administration to increasingly restricted areas within municipal boundaries and areas of authorized village councils, rendering about 65% of the total land area in the West Bank and Gaza out of bounds for both private and public construction.28 These restrictions have not only led to increasingly congested housing conditions and limitations on levels of privacy (affecting especially newly married couples), but has also constituted a detrimental impediment on the ability of whole communities to plan for their collective needs, and prohibited local councils from establishing masterplans for regional development.29

The overall impact of such measures is the prevalence of a sense of arbitrariness and uncertainty which permeates the tempo of daily life. At the individual level it creates a sense of powerlessness; at the family level, it obstructs the ability of households to chart a purposeful existence for their members; and at the community and national levels, it prevents systematic planning for the future.

While the authors of this survey were aware of these restrictions when they undertook the research, they did not plan the survey to be a 'demonstration of grievances'. Rather these grievances were derivative of conditions of daily existence which elsewhere might be 'normal'. The purpose of the study was to create an empirical foundation for the examination of the quality of social life, and to monitor (as has been done in similar studies elsewhere) the critical components of social and economic life as they appeared at one point in time.


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