What’s Happening to Palestinian Society

Zakaria al Qaq, Ph.D. and Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.


The effects of the past 19 months of intifada and the last three weeks of war on Palestinian society have been dramatic and have made an indelible mark whose impact will be felt for many years to come. Palestinian society has lost its hope and its faith that peace is a possibility. Palestinian society is wreathing with anger, hatred, and yearning for revenge. Each and every Palestinian feels that s/he has a personal account to be settled with Israel, not only a collective account. Palestinians believe that death – martyrdom, is a desirable option that is being considered or supported more widely than ever before.

Palestinians live with a sense that time is on their side.  Time is perhaps one of the few assets that they have in large supply. Palestinians express that they have a surplus of time.  They have been struggling for 120 years, another 10, 20, or even 50 years is not unthinkable. They are strengthened in this belief by having a sense that they have a surplus of ideology fostered by a deep attraction to religious association that provides them with strength that overcomes their general feeling of individual and collective weakness.  God provides strength. God consoles their souls and has become their “super power” alliance in a world that they believe is against them. God gives meaning to their lives and provides a road map to lead them to their final destination.

Palestinians feel that they have a surplus of history and heritage fostered by the ethos of Islamic history – the Prophet Mohamed and figures such as Salah al Din. Their anger embellished by stories of massacres and brutal death encourages a deep willingness and desire to extract as high a price as possible on the enemy. Palestinian society in general wants Israel and Israelis to feel the pain that they are feeling. They want Israel and Israelis to pay the price for the war they feel Israel inflicted upon them.

Palestinians have lost their faith in political regimes.  They don’t believe that anyone or any regime has the power, the political will or the determination to come to their rescue.  This includes the Arab regimes as well.  They see the demonstrations and popular support around the world for their struggle as a sign that those Arab regimes are isolated from their own people.  They are ineffective and do not represent the popular will of their own people.

Palestinians now identify with Arafat more than ever before as a result of Israel’s attempt to isolate him, yet the struggle of the people is not focused on Arafat or other Palestinian leaders and public figures.  They have moved from a focus on personalities to a wider agenda centering on their own situation and the situation of the people.  They are now looking at events and outcomes – such as Jenin, Nablus, the refugee camps, etc.

Palestinians have lost their faith in political processes and initiatives.  They see a history of agreements and initiatives that have failed and have only worsened their situation.  They don’t believe in regional or international conferences.  They don’t have faith in UN Resolutions.  They see that that the entire world could not even send one Red Cross Ambulance into Jenin to rescue even one single life. Bush, Powell, Prince Abdallah, King Abdallah, President Mubarak, all of them and others can do nothing to help the Palestinians.

Palestinians are left with a sense that there is no hope in this life. Death – martyrdom -  is a real option and provides hope because death brings with it redemption through heroism. Palestinian society is suffering from deep trauma that will impact their lives and outlooks for a longtime to come.  Palestinians console themselves through the construction of a mutual aid and social support system based on telling and retelling the stories of the tragedies and the suffering. This provides them with strength and builds their sense and belief that in time, no matter how long it takes, the surplus of time, religion, history and the construction of their narratives of suffering will bring about a squaring of the accounts.