Preparations for the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary are underway: Culture Minister Miri Regev is feuding with Knesset Speaker, Yuli Edelstein, over the question of who will speak at the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony. She is determined to include Netanyahu, and Edelstein, who by custom would be the principal speaker, is threatening to boycott the ceremony. As expected, the festivity in Israel is met with stiff Palestinian opposition. This time the Palestinians created a Facebook page called “The Great March of Return” to commemorate Nakba Day, or “Day of Catastrophe,” which coincides with Israel’s Independence Day. They are calling for one million Gazans to march to the fence that surrounds Gaza “in order to realize the Right of Return in accordance with UN Resolution 194.”
As early as February this year, the Al-Arabi Al- Jadid website reported disagreements among the organizers of the march, saying: “Some are afraid of the reaction of the occupation forces, who usually respond to any movement towards the border with heavy fire and killings.”
The writing was indeed on the wall. The Israeli side did not need much soul-searching to order the shooting of 15 Palestinians. The Palestinian side assumed this would be the price of the march. The question then, is what did the organizers wish to achieve in exchange? At the beginning of preparations for the march, a political benchmark was set. The protest targeted President Trump and his attempt to impose, with the help of Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian regime, the “deal of the century.”
The deal, which recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the possibility that Trump himself would participate in the inauguration of the American Embassy in Jerusalem on Israeli Independence Day, created a broad Palestinian consensus. They have ruled out the United States as an honest broker between themselves and the Israelis. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) lashed out against Ambassador David Friedman, calling him a ‘son of a dog’ and uttering a wish that Trump’s house be destroyed. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh also issued heated statements, and promised not to stop until the Al-Aqsa Mosque is liberated.
But the Palestinian consensus begins and ends with opposition to the “deal of the century.” On all other fronts, the conflict between the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza has only worsened. Just two weeks ago, Abu Mazen publicly accused Hamas of trying to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Security Chief Majed Faraj while they were visiting Gaza. He did not spare words and threatened a total boycott of Gaza, including a halt to payment of salaries and electricity bills if Hamas does not hand over the keys of Gaza to the PA.
“All or nothing,” Abu Mazen declared, referring to the fact that Hamas must surrender all weapons to his security forces. The “March of Return” finds Abu Mazen with his back to the wall, having lost all hope in Trump. Ismail Haniyeh also finds his back to the wall, administering a bankrupt Hamas regime that is unable to manage Gaza.
Hence the legitimate question – why did the initiators of the March of Return choose to focus on the demand to implement Resolution 194 and the Right of Return, rather than issues such as the basic human right to clean drinking water, electricity, health, freedom of movement and employment?
The answer is simple: While Israel, having imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, is responsible for the humanitarian disaster, it is not alone. The play has many directors: Abu Mazen himself is contributing to the siege on Gaza with his “all or nothing” policy; Egypt shuts down the Rafah crossing because it views Hamas as a hostile entity allied with the Muslim Brotherhood; and recently Trump stopped US funding for the United Nations Refugee Agency UNRWA. But the primary culprit who created the refugee problem is Israel. And when it marks its 70th anniversary, the focus shifts from the injustice of today to the injustice of yesteryear.
The tragedy of the Palestinian people is not limited to events that took place 70 years ago, however, but to what is happening now. Not only has Gaza been under brutal Israeli occupation for over 50 years, but life there has become impossible. Hamas puts down demonstrations protesting the lack of electricity and erosion of basic living conditions, while the PA in Ramallah stifles protest against corruption and its own policies. Israel proves time and time again that it will not hesitate to shoot Palestinians who approach the fence.
The urgent task facing the Palestinian people today is essentially political. The current leadership has arrived at a dead end. The long drawn-out negotiations that Abu Mazen conducted have only perpetuated the Occupation, and armed resistance has given Israel an opportunity to sow ruin on the people of Gaza. Instead of addressing these needs, the March of Return skips over them.
Gaza is facing a humanitarian disaster on a massive scale, and Israel hasn’t stopped discussing the matter. Factions inside and outside the Israeli government know that the situation is about to blow up, but they persist with the blockade, aiming guns and tanks at the residents. The situation is so grim that Gazans are willing to take ever-greater risks, scrambling across the fence into Israel to save themselves from hell. Recently, three civilians were caught carrying fake hand grenades in order to be arrested and imprisoned in Israel. Better an Israeli jail with three meals a day than starvation in the world’s largest outdoor prison.
Netanyahu’s policy is simple – do nothing. The killing of Gazans who take part in the march does not reflect a security need, but rather sends a clear political message: Israel does not intend to bear the burden of the siege on Gaza, and the residents must turn their plight against the Hamas regime. Netanyahu, in harmony with Abu Mazen’s “all or nothing” dictum says: “Surrender, and you receive. Don’t surrender, and you won’t receive.”
Palestinians expect that the media and world public opinion, or perhaps the UN, will come to their rescue, but the tragedy is that there is no one out there saving the world. Scenes emerging from Syria of massacres carried out daily by the Assad regime, with the help of the Russians and Iranians, have left the world numb. At the same time, the UN is paralyzed by a Russian veto or an American veto, in the case of Gaza. The Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan, was the only one to come out with a harsh condemnation of Israel, but Netanyahu’s response was not long in coming: Who are you to preach to us while your forces slaughter the Kurds in Syria?
Netanyahu and Erdogan are quarreling, but both are close to Putin. As opposed to the United States and the EU, Israel has refrained from condemning Russia in the wake of the poisoning of a Russian spy on British soil. In Middle East jargon, Netanyahu feels comfortable. The crimes he commits are dwarfed by the war crimes taking place in Syria or Yemen. Those who turn a blind eye to the crimes of Assad, Putin or Muhammad bin Salman are in no position to demand that Israel act differently.
One thing is clear. If Israel continues the Occupation and the slow strangulation of Gaza, it will, sooner or later, end up in the same place as its neighbors, and will increasingly resemble those regimes that see the use of force as the “be-all and end-all.” Putin, Trump, and General el-Sisi warmly embrace their friend and ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in turn, strives unrelentingly to perpetuate the Occupation, transforming Israel into an abhorrent apartheid state.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman