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The living spirit of Sumud: Palestinians' form of resistance and steadfastness continues to grow stronger Open in fullscreen

Yousef Alhelou

The living spirit of Sumud: Palestinians' form of resistance and steadfastness continues to grow stronger

Palestinians continue to demand the right to return to their homeland [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 October, 2019

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There is no denying that despair and frustration is high among Palestinians living under decades of Israeli occupation, but many still have hope as they continue their fight decades on.
Existence is resistance. This is one of the terms used to describe Palestinians who continue to be steadfast in defying all tough and severe Israeli attempts and policies designed to drive them out of their own land.

Sumud is the Arabic meaning of resilience, which was first used to describe such acts following the 1967 war, known among Palestinians as the Naksa, which led to the annexation and occupation of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

Despite the ongoing 70 years of colonisation and occupation during which atrocities, massacres, expulsion, dispossession, ethnic cleansing and genocidal wars were committed, Palestinian refugees have not given up on their right of return. 

Palestinians or "Arabs" as some Israeli officials prefer to call them, did not vanish or relinquish their national identity or rights.

Some describe Palestinians as survivors, who managed to maintain their national identity for four generations so far and keep the spirit of resistance alive.

"Buying time" and "maintaining the status quo" has been Israel's strategy to create despair and hopelessness among Palestinians in order to weaken Palestinians' Sumud – their morale – nor has it changed their concepts when it comes to the meaning of resistance and slogans of liberating occupied Palestine and ending the Israeli military occupation.

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Academics define the concept of Sumud as a socio-political ethical concept and refer to ways of surviving in the context of the military occupation, colonisation and hegemony.

The first Intifada – the first popular uprising which started in 1987 until the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 – saw the use of a number of factors, which boosted the Sumud, such as employing the use of patriotic songs, poetry, poster art, folk dancing, graffiti, praising acts of resistance, general strikes, demonstrations, as well as street gatherings during eulogy festivals and weddings.

Fedaeyyeen – the Arabic meaning of freedom fighters, was associated with the term Sumud. Mutaradeen – the Arabic meaning of wanted Palestinians by Israel – wore the white and black Kufeyyah to hide their identity. All of that was a real demonstration of exercising Sumud.

In addition, different forms of digital media today, especially social media has helped Palestinians preserve their narrative and keep the spirit of revolution, rebellion and resistance alive. Above all, their faith in their just cause has always been a powerful driver in the struggle.

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The symbol associated with the concept of Sumud as a political strategy and the Palestinian sense of rootedness in their land is the olive tree. A famous picture of an old women clinging to an olive tree in an attempt to prevent it being uprooted by Israeli bulldozers has become a primary symbol and sign of Sumud.

Noam Chomsky, in his book The Fateful Triangle, mentioned Sumud in one of the chapters, referring to how Palestinians chose to stay in their land as if they were prisoners even if the circumstances are unbearable because if they leave then they might not be allowed to come back by their jailers – the Israelis.

The self-consciousness for those Palestinians inside the occupied territories who face house demolitions and evictions is evident.

Take for example the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in the southern Nagav region which was demolished for the 147th time by Israeli forces arguing that these villages lack building permits. Also, the residents of the village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank defied an eviction order by the Israeli high court last year. This is the case and awaited fate of at least 40 small scattered villages across the West Bank.

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Israelis destroy and Palestinians rebuild. Palestinians have, sadly, become accustomed to endure such suffering. This defiance is an act of Sumud and a way of life.

The unbearable conditions in Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli siege, subjected to travel restrictions and three devastating wars since 2006, is another example of Palestinian resistance. The daily raids and arrest campaigns throughout occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem are aimed at breaking the Palestinian people's Sumud. Thousands of residential houses and properties are destroyed or bulldozed, including many belonging to families whose sons carried out reprisal operations or resistance acts against Israeli occupation forces.

Such collective measures aim to push Palestinians to leave and relinquish their property, to abandon the spirit of defiance and migrate to look for a better life and future. But again Palestinians rebuild as if they rise from the ashes. 

No doubt that some Palestinians are fed up with their living conditions in light of these harsh circumstances under the rule of both the geographically separated and divided Palestinian rival parties, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. But one thing is clear, the vast majority do not think of migrating because they know there is nothing like home. This is called the living sprit of Sumud.

In an unprecedented move by Israel last August, a senior Israeli official stated that his country was ready to cover the costs of helping Palestinians in Gaza immigrate and would consider allowing the use of an Israeli airfield near the impoverished Strip for their departures to new host countries.

Many things have changed in the past decade. Many Arab countries have publicly announced their normalisation ties with Israel; some have even severed their financial support to the Palestinians. 

The Trump administration's decision about two years ago to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and sever its financial support to UNRWA, the UN agency that caters for Palestinian refugees scattered in refugee camps, was another blackmailing attempt to bring Palestinians to surrender.

There is no denying that the despair and frustration is high among Palestinians living under decades of military occupation, but there is still hope.

Sumud is the anti-thesis of submission, subjection and injustice, and as long as the battle of self-conscious continues, Palestinians are not going to vanish.


Yousef Alhelou is a Palestinian journalist and political analyst from Gaza, based in London. He is a United Nations fellow and alumni, and served as a Reuters journalist fellow at the University of Oxford.

Follow him on Twitter: @YousefAlhelou

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