In his Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus defines the absurd as the chasm that is manifested in the confrontation between two highly unequal things or elements, such as the attempt of a person armed with a sword to fight a group of machine guns. He further emphasizes that the absurdity stems from the confrontation between the two elements, not from their intrinsic properties. Defined this way, the absurd aptly describes the “Deal of the Century” that US President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented to the Palestinians from the White House on 28 January 2020. The absurdity resides in what the deal asks the Palestinians to give up, or what the deal licenses Israel to take away, compared to what the Palestinians consider to be their rights. It is also absurd in the staggering power gap between the two sides of the confrontation, Palestine versus Israel and the United States, a sword versus machine guns.
What matters about the absurd, according to Camus, is not its presence but its consequences. Camus himself is interested in the large question of the metaphysical absurd, which he locates in the abyss between the radical desire of humans for meaning and the cold and utter silence they are met with from the universe. The world is not irrational, he says, it is unreasonable. In the face of the absurd, the French thinker arguably claims that the only crucial existential question that faces humans becomes suicide; any palliative, like Søren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” posited to mitigate this reality is but escapism. Humans must confront the absurd head-on and accept their crushing fate. Camus says, as in tragedy, this is what Sisyphus recognized as he stood up on top of the mountain watching the rock roll down. He realized then that he was meant to continue the senseless labor of pushing it up the mountain again, and again. By his acceptance, Sisyphus thus demonstrated that we can live with such an overwhelming destiny, knowing that there is no triumph in the end. We are our fate; we cannot escape it.
It is not difficult to see that the Deal of the Century is not irrational; it is unreasonable, dictated by the rationality of power which assumes it can goad the course of history. It asks the Palestinians basically to consent to having no sovereignty, no army, and no control of international ports and borders; to abandoning the right of return for the refugees; and to begging Israel to join international organizations—all while giving up more than eighty-five percent of their historic land, and living in non-contiguous territory gated by the walls of the Israeli security apparatus. Or in the blunt words of Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, the head of the Israeli mission to the United Nations, to “surrender.” Palestinians are, thus, left with no choice now but to confront the question of committing national suicide, of “not to be” as a nation.
The Palestinians, whether as public opinion or as two weak entities that lead them, the Palestinian Authority from Ramallah and Hamas from Gaza, have not accepted this offer to surrender, to commit national suicide. And yet, the response has been far from adequate. The President of the Palestinian Authority Mohammad Abbas’s improvisations and play on words, like describing the deal as the slap of the century, belittles the absurdity of the plan, asking us for national suicide. And his feeble presentation at the UN Security Council on 11 February 2020 is a far cry from the scorn of Sisyphus for the gods, his hatred of death and passion for life and freedom.
Still, this is the response only to the absurdity of the terms deal itself, not to the absurdity of the power gap between the Ramallah and Gaza’s authorities, on the one hand, and that of the United States and Israel. Abbas presented no plan or vision of how to resist the two powers—not at the United Nations, not at the subsequent meeting of the Arab League that was convened to debate the deal, nor anywhere else since then. Yet, Palestinian history of the last one hundred years is an illustrious archive of pushing up the rock vertically against gravity (the work of resistance is always oppositional against power) and watching it roll back.
Moving from the metaphorical to the analytical, resistance however defined is always against power: where there is resistance there is power, to invert Michel Foucault’s famous dictum. It includes at least two core elements, opposition to power by an actor, and action. Beyond this, researchers have devised various schema and typologies around what they consider to be crucial aspects of resistance such as whether it is public or disguised, civil or violent, seeking material gains or social status, or directed against ideology; whether individual or collective, demand-making or not, social movement or everyday non-movement; whether intended or unwitting, recognized by power and observers or not; whether power itself is coercive, manipulative, or discursively hegemonic. Other aspects that have been considered include spatial and temporal variation; relations among the actors themselves and between them and representatives and structures of power; and whether one form of resistance generates others.
All these types and considerations of resistance are to be found in the historical record of Palestinian resistance. The people of Palestine resisted peacefully (overwhelmingly so), and violently; publicly and in disguise; spectacularly (like plane hijacking) and subtly; individually and collectively: in villages, Bedouin encampments, towns, cities, refugee camps, courts, and prisons, and school and college campuses; inside Palestine and outside; at checkpoints and international ports; by themselves and with international supporters; against land seizure and house demolition; against uprooting their orchards and trees; in funerals, memorials, and celebrations; in short and long mobilizations; discursively in books, newspapers, films, poetry, and fiction; in posters hung on the walls of their public buildings and in murals on the Segregation Wall; by participation and boycotts, especially the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS); in material space and cyberspace. They have learned from others and others were inspired by them; they won and lost; they have multiplied and survived as a people.
I will focus here on three forms of resistance, each fleshes out different elements of what resistance is and what it involves: prisoner’s resistance, especially hunger strikes and siring children while in prison through in vitro fertilization (IVF); commemorations, especially Land Day and the struggle to prevent land grabs; and the major popular uprisings of 1936 and 1987.
Prisoners: Political Bodies in Rebellion
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are, in a sense, all prisoners , living within big and smaller cages. Gaza is under conclusive siege from land, air, and sea. Palestinians in the West Bank face four hundred checkpoints, a segregation wall that also isolates their own communities from one another, relentless patrolling and surveillance; they are overshadowed by mountaintop settlements and aggressive settlers, and subject to the law of Military Orders implemented by military personnel. Even those with Israeli citizenship were under military rule between 1948 and 1967, and are still largely living in a state of spatial segregation from their Jewish counterparts; the recently enacted national law codifies the superior status of the Jews in the state, which itself is defined in the law as Jewish.
But here we consider the smaller, micro-jails. Imprisonment is a biopolitical act that targets the body, confines it for long or short periods within a single, walled or barbed-wired space, often in tiny cells. It controls the body’s spatial presence and movement at all times and decides on the timing and types of its food rations. The prison administration decides whom the prisoner can see and when and for how long, as well as on permissible reading materials and access to information. Members of the intelligence agencies torture the prisoners and keep them under constant surveillance, interrogation, and manipulation. The government itself even tries to pressure the Palestinian Authority not to dispense the monetary allowances to the families of the prisoners—Foucault’s Panopticon run amok.
It is estimated that more than 800,000 Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, men, women, and children have been through Israeli jails, a high proportion of the small population by any standards. In February 2020 the number exceeded 5,000 prisoners, including 541 serving life sentences, 180 children, 430 detainees (imprisoned without charges), and 7 members of the elected Legislative Council. There is barely a family that has not seen at least one of its members incarcerated. Palestinians view their prisoners as captives, abducted or captured in a state of conflict. As a result, the prisoners have gained a central affective place in Palestinian consciousness, as well as a moral/ political authority. Part of the influence of the prisoners stems from their stubborn resistance.
Despite the ban on reading material, prisoners have found ways to smuggle books, especially to continue their education. They continue to organize themselves along the partisan lines of the political organizations and parties. They perform provocative acts—everyday, public and disguised resistance, like slowing down when ordered by the guards to move fast or vice-versa; gathering where they are not allowed to; loitering in the bathroom and toilets while the jailers wait outside. Those detained without trials boycott the military courts where they never win anyway, and others go on strikes to stop the jail authorities from using jammers and to get them to have more public phones in prisons. Too many restrictions and regulations open the door for many counter-tactics and strategies; the space that was meant to control the body of the prisoners becomes a space for the body to reassert itself; the Panopticon is reversed and, perhaps ironically, the jailers themselves are rendered, for a moment, hostage to prisoners’ actions.
Two of the most conspicuous and radical forms of resistance are hunger strikes and siring children despite the ban on conjugal visitations. The prisoner is an exemplar of Giorgio Agamben’s notion of bare life, one that is included under the authority of the state but excluded from the law; or, a form of life stripped of its political significance, and which may be subject to unlimited violation that is not viewed as a crime. This is the status that prisoners try to alter, even if partially and temporarily, through their resistance. In the case of the hunger strikes, some happen on a large scale to win various demands for improvements in the quality of life and adequate medical care, but the most prominent ones are those prolonged strikes that occasionally end in the death of the inmate or release, as in the case of Ahmad Ghanim who went last year on hunger strike for 102 days to protest his detention. By refusing to eat, the prisoner wrests the sovereignty over his body from the state, even at the pain of death. That is why the state sometimes tries to reaffirm its authority by forced feeding, which is prohibited under international conventions. The death of the prisoner, on the other hand, is an indictment of the state which has assumed charge of the body. And because the Palestinians incarcerated by Israel are political prisoners, the news of their endurance, if not heroism, perforates the prison walls and reverberates throughout Palestinian society and beyond; it becomes a rallying cry for acts of resistance outside.
The same logic operates in a newly conceived form of resistance, the smuggling of prisoners’ semen and deploying it for in vitro fertilization. In all, fifty children of prisoners were born through this method, including twins. The smuggling of the semen undermines the tight inspection system at the gates, but it is particularly infuriating for the Israeli state which looks upon Palestinians racially as a demographic problem. The latest manifestation of this outlook is inscribed in one of the items of the deal which calls for the inclusion of a small strip in the Galilee known as the Triangle under Israeli sovereignty, in order to incorporate its three hundred thousand Palestinian inhabitants in the areas under Palestinian autonomy. Apart from being acts through which prisoners assert authority over their bodies, the hunger strikes with a potential for self-annihilation, or the smuggling of semen and begetting children, have further political implications. They constitute a fight for the political cause from within the space of their confinement that also fuels further acts of resistance by Palestinian compatriots beyond the walls.
Land Day: the Multiplier Effect
National commemorations serve more than one goal: as a reminder of the significance of an event, a person, a place, or an object; as a mortar for cementing national bonds; and, in the case of Palestine, as a catalyst for mobilization and resistance. Their significance, meaning, forms, and performances change over time. Apart from the commemorations of the political factions (Fateh, Hamas, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others), the Palestinian calendar is marked by dates of wider national significance, Balfour Declaration (2 November), UN Partition Plan (29 November), Nakba (15 May), June War (6 June), Prisoners (17 April), Memorial Day (17 January), and Land Day (30 March). A quick glance at these commemorations reveals that most are linked to loss of land, human life, or freedom.
Land Day itself was named after a day of protests in 1976 by Palestinians in Israel that included a general strike and rallies held against the confiscation of five thousand acres of Palestinian land by the Israeli state in the Galilee. The land seizure comprised a fraction of a plan to Judaize this region, or turn it into a majority Jewish area, and of an ongoing massive land grab that commenced after the establishment of the state in 1948. Palestinians observed the protests from the north to the south of the country, and the Israeli army and police responded brutally killing six peaceful demonstrators, wounding and arresting hundreds of others. It marked the first such major show of dissent by the Arab community in Israel, and proved to be a turning point in its political and cultural evolution. Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and refugee camps in Lebanon and in other places in the diaspora rallied in solidarity and as a display of unity.
Since then, 30 March has become an annual memorialization day with wide-ranging forms of commemorations and affirmations of belonging and steadfastness. For example, according to the website Arab.48’s archive, the events in 2018 included the usual assemblies throughout the country, including the “march of return” on the Gaza border, visits to villages destroyed by Israel after 1948 (more than five hundred), lectures, artwork, calls for unification of the national leadership, new memorials for those killed in the original protests and other events:
And in March we send roots in the land
and the land spreads inside us
[Mahmoud Darwish, my translation]
Still, resistance related to land is not confined to this day as Israel relentlessly seizes it for settlement and other purposes. The Bedouin village of al-A’raqib in the Negev (“Naqab” in Arabic), where Israel has been trying to hem in the Palestinian Bedouins and take away their land, was destroyed and rebuilt more than 175 times, according to the last count, by the inhabitants and backers from other parts of the country and abroad. The destruction Khan al-Ahmar, a hamlet east of Jerusalem is on hold because of wide solidarity and the presence of activists. The villages of al-Nabi Salih and Bi’lin have witnessed weekly protests and international solidarity for years. Israel and its settlers not only confiscate land, but they also fell trees, especially olive trees, eight hundred thousand of them so far. They menace the farmers during harvest time to the point now where international campaigns are organized to bring people to provide a shield and help during harvest time. Early in 2013 a large number of activists built a village of tents near Jerusalem on land earmarked for Israeli settlements and named it Bab al-Shams, “Gate of the Sun,” after the eponymous title of a novel by Lebanese writer Elisa Khoury. It was destroyed with an order from Israel’s Supreme Court (Palestinians have never won a land case in Israeli courts). One of the latest forms of protest is called, “onward toward land” to prevent its takeover by settlers, as happened in early March of this year in the village of Jabal al-Najmah (or “Mountain of the Star”) near Nablus. All of the said acts evidence Land Day as a generative observance occasion, a commemoration with a multiplier effect; the last two types of action in Bab al-Shams and Jabal al-Najmah could be scaled up to challenge Israeli threats of bringing the Jordan Valley and other areas under its sovereignty, as sanctioned by the deal.
Uprisings: the Street in Command
Apart from the discrete forms of resistance in place and in time, Palestinian struggle has assumed the form of periodic, sustained, and nationally inclusive popular uprisings, exemplified by the 1936-1939 Great Revolt and the 1987-1991 first intifada. In between them came what we might call the armed-struggle moment led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1967 to 1982, the year it was forced out of Lebanon by the invading Israeli army. The achievement of this period was not military but political. Palestinian identity was transformed from one of refugees to that of revolutionaries, and the Palestinians won international recognition as a people and a nation. In Lebanon itself, the movement halted the abuse and humiliation that was visited on the refugees in the camps by the state and its security and intelligence apparatus. In the immediate aftermath of the Arab defeat of 1967, the confrontations between the Palestinian guerrillas and the Israeli military were well-publicized and lifted the morale in the entire region. Within the PLO, the Palestinians found an institutionalized space to debate and negotiate their national goals and their strategies.
The PLO period constituted a rebirth of the Palestinian national movement after the hiatus following the Nakba in 1948. It had its precedent, although in an entirely different context, the 1936-1939 Great Revolt against the British colonial power and the Zionist settlement project. The revolt involved a military aspect, but advanced mainly as a civil form of resistance, including a six-month general strike. A grassroots uprising, it was organized and led mostly by the peasantry, who comprised the majority of the population, and their urban allies. It sought to create a state system from below by demanding the closure of municipal governments, establishing popular committees to run the daily affairs, and setting up its own courts. It demanded cessation of land sales to Jews by the big absentee landlords, which left the tenants vulnerable to eviction, and from Britain to substantially reduce Jewish immigration, which the imperial power consented to temporarily. The revolt almost drove Britain out of the country, despite all the repressive measures it inflicted and the twenty thousand troops it had dispatched to this small place, and the allied Jewish militias. The rest is history.
Nearly fifty years later a similar uprising, the intifada, took place, which saw the mobilization of the entire Palestinian society for nearly four years, 1987-1991. It involved massive and coherent organization and participation by all sectors of society. A general strike was declared and popular committees were formed; women were central players and raised gender-related issues and made demands on their own society as well. One of the distinguishing features was the participation of the young hurling stones at Israeli soldiers, earning the uprising the sobriquet “intifada of stones.” Stones versus heavily armed soldiers, surely qualifies as an absurd situation in the sense defined by Camus. However, unlike the rock of Sisyphus, the youth employed the stones as an instrument of resistance, not a weight to be rammed up. The uprising won the Palestinian struggle and rights further legitimacy in the world. And, as mentioned by many, this intifada and the subsequent one that was more militarized boosted the spirit of resistance among Arab citizens in general against their authoritarian regimes. We know what happened in 1991 and afterward—the Gulf War, the isolation of the PLO because Chairman Yasser Arafat sided with Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, and eventually Oslo in 1993.
A surfeit of comparisons and contrasts could be drawn between the two uprisings with respect to prevailing social and economic conditions, class structure, social composition of the participants, level of linkages and entanglements with the Jewish adversary, conditions in the surrounding Arab countries, and international political configurations. What concerns us presently relates to some of the themes of resistance delineated in the essay.
The two uprisings were the culminations of cumulative acts of resistance in the prior periods, including every day, discursive, boycotts, and strikes. These were performed in tandem with organizational build-up that would lead and carry out the tasks of the resistance during the Great Revolt and intifada. The official leaders—Amin al-Husseini in the years before and after the former and Yasser Arafat of the latter—looked warily at the uprisings and the possibility of being replaced by their leaders, but were compelled to join in, even if they reverted to their prior practices of negotiating with the powers that be and participating in ending the uprisings. Abbas, who succeeded Arafat, has stuck to a futile path of negotiations and security coordination with Israel, and trust in US mediation that cost Palestinians further loss of territory, and dulled the motivation, and stymied the development of structures, and of resistance.
If history proffers a guide, we might see Palestinians look with scorn at what power in Washington and Tel Aviv has concocted for them, and do what previous generations did: seize the reins from their ailing, unimaginative leadership that has become more of an Israeli than a Palestinian asset, and go their way. There are many among them who are veterans of the arts of resistance. Israel may have reached a peak of economic, military, and diplomatic strength, but this masks its Achilles heel: racism and the exclusionary vision of the land, which now thoroughly permeates its entire political life and informs its alliances with populist right-wing regimes around the globe. We can see this vulnerability, even in the United States, the main pillar of support for Israel, where for the first time a leading candidate in the race of the US Democratic presidential primaries, the Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders, describes Netanyahu as racist and the foremost Israel lobby, AIPAC, as providing a forum for hate speech. How the Palestinians factor Israel’s racist character into their political aims and resistance strategies and what sort of political processes and structures they fashion to arrive at these decisions—these are but some of the most salient questions they confront at this moment.
[The Arabic version of this article can be found in Al Ahram’s Democracy Review 78, 22 April 2020 ألأهرام—مجلة الديمقراطية.]
 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, trans. Justin O’Brien (New York: Vintage Books, 1955) 20-23.
 Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, various pages. See also, Ronald Aronson, “Albert Camus,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/
 Danny Danon, “What is Wrong with Palestinian Surrender?” New York Times, 24 June 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/opinion/palestinian-peace-bahrain-conference.html
 James Scott, Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of Resistance (New Haven: Yale-University Press, 1985); and James Scott, The Art of Domination and Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale-University Press, 1990).
 Asef Bayat, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010).
 Jocelyn A. Hollander and Rachel L. Einwohner. “Conceptualizing Resistance,” in Sociological Forum 19, no. 4 (2004): 533-554.
 John Scott, Power (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press in Association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2001).
 Anna Johansson and Stellan Vinthagen, “Dimensions of Everyday Resistance: An Analytical Framework,” Critical Sociology 42 (2014); Mbuso Nkosi, “Doing Research Otherwise: Critical Essays on ‘The Land Question’, Farmworkers and Resistance in South Africa,” (PhD diss., University of the Witwatersrand, 2018); Mona Lilaj et al, “How resistance encourages resistance: theorizing the nexus between power, ‘Organized Resistance’ and ‘Everyday Resistance’” Journal of Political Power 10, no. 1 (2017): 40-54
 For details about many aspects of Palestinian prisoners’ lives, see https://www.addameer.org/.
 Sharif Elmusa, “In Their Hunger Palestinian Strikers Are Acquiring Names,” Egypt Independent, 12 May 2012. Accessed: http://www.americantaskforce.org/daily_news_article/2012/05/12/1336795200_2.
 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkley: University of California Press, 1984): 91-131.
 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
 Ewa W. Ziarek, “Bare Life on Striking: Biopolitics of Race and Gender,” South Atlantic Quarterly 107, no.1 (2008): 89-105.
 Hamza Abu Eltarabesh, “Conceiving a new form of resistance,” Electronic Intifada, 11 April 2019,
 See, for example, Laleh Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2007).
 “Land Day: An Event’s Biography” (in Arabic), Arab48.com, March 30, 2019, Time: 10:18.
 Noor Ibrahim, “Olive Groves in the West Bank Have Become a Battleground. That's Why Volunteers Come From Around the World to Help at Harvest Time,” Time, 1 November 2019, https://time.com/5714146/olive-harvest-west-bank.
 See, for example,” Bab al-Shams,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bab_al-Shams
 Jihad Barakar, “Marching Toward Jabal al-Najma,” Al-Araby, 2 March 2020 (in Arabic). https://www.alaraby.uk/ politics/2020/3/2
 Yazid Sayigh, “Armed Struggle and State Formation,” Journal of Palestine Studies26, no. 4 (1997): 17-32.
 Charles Anderson, “State Formation from Below and the Great Revolt in Palestine” Journal of Palestine Studies 47, no. 1 (2017): 39-55; and Ted Swedenburg, “The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936-9),” The Israel/ Palestine Question (1st edition), ed. in Ilan Pappe (Routledge, 1999) 145-167.
 Joost Hiltermann, “The Women’s Movement During the Uprising,” Journal of Palestine Studies 20, no. 3 (1991): 48-57.
 Adil Manna’, “Between Balfour and Trump a String Plaited with Colonial and Messianic Interests” Arab48, 8 February 2020 (in Arabic). Arab48.com; Kenneth Stein, “The Intifada and 1936-39 Uprising: A Comparison,” Journal of Palestine Studies 19, no. 4 (1991): 64-85.