From newspaper headlines to social media feeds, the intensification of violence in Israel-Palestine these past few weeks has been widely likened to the scenes that led to the events of May 2021, when a mass Palestinian uprising, a campaign of Israeli repression, and a vicious war consumed the land between the river and the sea.
The comparisons are tempting, and the core issues underlying that period certainly remain unchanged. But to interpret current developments through the prism of last May is not just premature — it clouds our understanding of what is happening on the ground today, and may even blind us to what Palestinians need in this moment.
The “Unity Intifada” was in many ways the outcome of a perfect storm, creating a rare synchronization of Israeli repression and Palestinian resistance that had not been seen on such a scale since the Second Intifada. Despite flashes of similar activities these past weeks, this large-scale synchronization has yet to transpire again. There are many explanations why, and ongoing developments — particularly in light of Israeli police brutality and provocations by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem — could still take a more severe turn. But there is one significant factor that is not garnering the attention it deserves: Palestinians have yet to recover from what happened last May.
Despite the defiant, popular outrage expressed on the streets and on social media, much of Palestinian society is still recuperating from the state and mob violence it experienced last year. This feeling is most acute in the Gaza Strip, where two million people were subjected to heavy Israeli bombardment over 11 days, and who remain stripped of the ability to reconstruct and rehabilitate under a choking, 15-year-long siege.
This exhaustion is also felt, to a very different degree, among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were targeted by an aggressive police campaign in the months after the uprising, and who are still reeling from the horror of armed Jewish mobs attacking Arab neighborhoods and residents. In the West Bank, too, the effort to channel the intifada’s energy against the Palestinian Authority, widely viewed as the occupation’s local enforcer, was violently suppressed by PA security forces and loyalist thugs.