This month, the al-Aqsa Intifada will be one year old. It was on September 28 that Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s opposition, walked into the Haram al-Sharif surrounded by Israeli soldiers, in an calculated insult to the Palestinians and a demonstration of Israel’s effective sovereignty over the Farthest Mosque. The following day, after juma prayers, Palestinians at the Haram protested against the invasion and six were martyred by Israeli fire. Clashes immediately spread throughout the West Bank and Ghazzah, with another 14 martyred the next day. On October 1, the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority agreed a ceasefire (the first of many) with no effect. October 2 saw the heaviest fighting thus far, with 19 Palestinians martyred, including 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah, whose slow and deliberate murder by Israeli machine-gun fire, as his father tried to shelter him behind a tiny water-barrel, was filmed by a television newsman and shown around the world.
The second Friday of the uprising (October 6) saw a further escalation of the protests, as Israeli troops entered the Haram yet again. By this time Israeli settlers were joining in the slaughter of Palestinians. At the same time, there were massive demonstrations in support of the intifada around the Muslim world, particularly in Muslim capitals. On October 7, Israeli prime minister Barak threatened to abandon the peace process if Arafat did not rein in the Palestinians within 48 hours. Arafat ordered his people to stop protesting, to no avail. By this time nearly 100 Palestinians had been martyred, and the first Israelis had also died.
The passing of time plays tricks on perceptions. It barely seems credible that the killing of Muhammad al-Durrah was nearly a year ago; or for that matter that barely a year ago it still seemed possible for the peace process to continue to its planned conclusion. The 11 months since then have seen little that was not foreshadowed in those first days of the intifada. The Israelis have continued to talk peace on the one hand, while taking hardest-line positions on the other. The West has continued to defend and support Israel, despite ample evidence of its crimes, while condemning the Palestinians. The Palestinians are as angry as ever at the zionists and the West, and determined not to be fall back into the habit of passive anger while their political leaders continue to make concession after concession. Yasser Arafat goes on trying to maintain his position as leader of the Palestinians while also being acceptable to the West, an increasingly difficult balance to maintain. Palestine’s Islamic movements have re-emerged as the community’s real leaders, reflecting the Palestinians’ determination to reclaim the whole of their land. Muslims around the world have largely maintained their outrage at the zionists’ atrocities and their support for the Palestinians. Muslim governments, with few exceptions, continue to pay lip-service to the Palestinian cause while actually continuing to toe the American line.
All this being so, the harsh reality is that, the sacrifices of so many Palestinians notwithstanding, the al-Aqsa Intifada has become just another unpleasant geopolitical reality of the Muslim world. In Kashmir, Chechnya, the Balkans, East Turkestan, Algeria, Sudan, Aceh, Central Asia, Mindanao and so many other places, Muslims are fighting and dying daily against aggressors and oppressors in struggles that have few prospects for meaningful progress and which have largely fallen out of Muslim consciousness. The struggle in Palestine is just one among many, albeit one that has a particular resonance because it is taking place in the heartland of Islam, over the occupation of Islam’s original qibla, the Haram al-Sharif itself. But let us be frank: that is not the only reason for its prominence; another is that our enemy in this case is the West’s favourite proxy, hence the prominence given to the Palestinian issue in the world’s media. Such is our weakness that many Muslims’ awareness of such issues is largely dependent on our enemies.
Almost a year after the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the truth is that no realistic, viable strategy has emerged for the liberation of the whole of Palestine, in the absence of an Islamic power capable of at least standing up to the West, if not of defeating it. The immediate objective of the movement in Palestine, like those elsewhere, cannot be to defeat the enemy but only to keep the struggle going until such time as the enemy can be defeated by the collective power of the Muslim Ummah.