Bab al-Shams: Political Palestinianism Turns to Zionists for Inspiration

Political palestinianism* may be the most extensive and successful public relations campaign the world has ever seen. Yet the movement was recently compelled to set its traditional methods aside and adopt tactics that have long been the hallmark of the Zionist enterprise.

The Zionist strategy of creating “facts on the ground” in the face of regional and international debate was systematically implemented during the Arab revolt of the 1930’s. “Tower and Stockade” installments were swiftly erected, often overnight, with the goals of populating privately owned Jewish land, creating a contiguous Jewish presence in regions that would ultimately determine the contours of an encroaching partition plan, and defending Jewish communities from Arab attacks. The pre-fab communities proliferated due to the tenacity of their Zionist engineers and the legal loophole which prevented the British Mandate from dismantling any structure that was covered with a roof.

Though Ottoman law, once enforced by the British, has since been replaced by Israeli legislation, Zionists have remained steadfast in their facts-on-the-ground policy. Ever since the 1967 Six Day War, outposts, communities and cities have been established on lands with disputed international legal status. Facts-on-the-ground tactics were unmoved by public opinion and international condemnations. Its proponents assumed that the reality of thriving Israeli communities would ultimately prove incontrovertible, and they proceeded accordingly.

But Zionist standard operating procedure has had its fair share of failures. Israel was tragically slow on the uptake when it came to confronting the public relations war that currently surrounds it on all sides. Elementary Israeli logic, which insisted that history, reality and facts will effortlessly trump even the most sophisticated adversarial PR campaigns, does not hold water in a post-modern age. With political palestinianism in full swing and international pressure tightly aligned with its narrative, Israeli governments often resort to expelling Jews from their homes and dismantling communities established on contested lands. The unilateral 2005 destruction of the Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip was not the first such instance. Nor was it the last.

Oddly Familiar

Something oddly familiar happened on Friday, January 11, 2013. Scores of settlers began amassing on the slopes of the controversial E-1 area, following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel would establish facts on the ground by building homes upon that strategically significant strip of land. The settlers stated clearly that they received permission to move there from the land’s rightful owner, that they were nationalistically motivated, and that they planned to stay in the new settlement forever. They proudly carried flags as they walked on foot to populate the barren hill. But these activists were different than those who traditionally carry the settler label. Their flags were not blue and white, and they did not bear the Star-of-David. Their actions were not in accordance with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy, but in its defiance. These were representatives of political palestinianism, the first settlers of their kind.

Hanan Ashrawi, one of political palestinianism’s leading spokeswomen, referred to the recent move to erect the Arab settlement of Bab al-Shams in E-1 as “highly creative”. “Creative” is indeed an accurate depiction of political palestinianism’s public relations tactics. “Highly creative” clearly refers to their novel, revolutionary adoption of a tactic previously singular to the Zionist movement.

But if political palestinianism is so effective, why has the movement turned to the seemingly antiquated tactics of Israel’s Zionists for inspiration?

Political palestinianism has made unparalleled strides through all forms of media. Today the Palestinian People and the State of Palestine are alive and well in the hearts and minds of academics, diplomats, journalists and anyone who has a Twitter account. The only problem is that these entities simply do not exist when it comes to old-school facts-on-the-ground reality.

When all is said and done, political palestinianism has effectively exhausted its PR potential. Its leadership understands that no more can be gained by galvanizing a Palestinian narrative. That’s already been done. They cannot make any advances by saying they have a state. As many times as it’s been said, the state still doesn’t exist. Indeed, President Abbas’s inability to declare an internationally recognized state, coupled with his incessant pleas for financial aid from Arab nations in the hopes that it might buy time for an ailing Palestinian economy, suggest that dreams of a sustainable Palestinian state are all but lost. Unless…

Desperation as a Motivator

Desperation is a powerful motivator. When violence, diplomacy, treaties and economic development all fail it’s time to put theory and rhetoric aside and learn a lesson in reality, from the Zionists.

Time will tell if political palestinianism’s new tactics will bear fruit. They’ve now officially executed their first attempts at applying Zionist methodology by erecting a settlement. If the ensuing eviction of the temporary tent dwellers is any indication, these Arab settlers may be more like their Zionist forerunners than they would ever publicly admit. But from behind closed doors and atop the Judean hills, the success of the Zionist movement is precisely what these new settlers dream to achieve.


*Political palestinianism refers to the collective diplomatic, media, NGO  and economic efforts to define a Palestinian narrative and advance the cause of a Palestinian state. It does not refer to Palestinians as a people, nor to their personal and communal aspirations.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.