A general strike in May 2021 became the most unified, coordinated act of resistance by Palestinians for decades. It took place inside Israel’s borders and the areas under military occupation.
The Unity Intifada smashed the idea that the struggle for freedom for Palestine is confined to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. This battle was also waged inside Israel itself. What really shook Israeli politicians—more than the economic impact of the strike—was its political significance.
To the surprise of Israel’s ruling class—and even to some Palestinians—the call for a general strike came from those inside Israel. Israeli newspapers warned that Israel was heading for “civil war” with Palestinians in its own borders.
The Israeli state works hard to claim that Palestinians living within its borders have equal rights to Jewish Israelis. It even tries to give them a non-Palestinian identity—Israeli Arabs. In reality, Israel has always driven the Palestinians who live there into impoverished ghettos to marginalise them.
That repression intensified in the lead up to the Unity Intifada. As Ramadan began Israel, began a drive to keep Palestinians out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.
Its border police attacked not just the Palestinians living under military occupation, but also those with Israeli citizenship. Israel also attempted to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah—a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
Armed groups of Israelis organised coordinated attacks on Palestinian areas, while cops stood by. The violence not only exposed Israel’s racism, but caused years of simmering resentment among its Palestinian citizens to boil over. It wasn’t long until a grassroots revolt exploded.
People protested in their thousands across the West Bank, battling Israeli soldiers. And Palestinians who work inside Israel answered the general strike call. Shopkeepers shut their businesses in Gaza. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan ran to Israel’s borders waving Palestinian flags and demanded they be allowed to return home.
Palestinian activist Bisan Abu Eisheh told Socialist Worker at the time that the revolt was “a general rage that exploded all of a sudden”. The uprising was a blow against Israel’s tactic of trying to separate the Palestinians across the occupied territories. Israeli laws, separation walls and checkpoints are designed purposefully to keep Palestinians apart from each other.
In the West Bank Palestinians are even separated from each other. And those living in Gaza have been under an effective siege that has lasted 17 years. The Unity Intifada cut through divides between different sections of Palestinian society that Israel has tried to establish for over 70 years.
But it took revenge for this. Israeli air strikes murdered hundreds of Palestinians across Gaza, and more people were killed and kidnapped in the West Bank. Israel launched a campaign of mass arrests of Palestinians living in its borders. It designated six Palestinian civil society organisations as “terrorist” organisations and made them illegal.
And in the months that followed the Unity Intifada, the Palestine Authority collaborated with Israel to play an important part in trying to crush resistance. There will be some who say that the resistance in 2021 had no lasting impact and that it only led to the Israeli state raining down more repression on Palestinians.
But the seeds of the revolt can still be seen. Throughout 2022 new armed resistance groups, especially in cities like Nablus and Jenin, battled the Israeli army. And while strikes by Palestinians alone aren’t enough to tear Israel down, the Unity Intifada remains an important inspiration and source of hope for a liberated Palestine.
Look to the working class for liberation