Israel is continuing to look for ways to end the March of Return in Gaza because it fears that this could drag it into a war that will deplete its energy and attract international opprobrium.
Despite the military balance of power in its favour, Israel fears peaceful Palestinian actions that could uncover Tel Aviv’s actions to the world.
It fears that this civilian struggle, like the First Intifada in the 1980s, will revive the Palestinian cause and highlight the siege imposed on Gaza over the past 11 years that has turned it into the largest prison in the world.
According to Atef Abu Zeid, a spokesman for the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Gaza, Israel has been using excessive force to deter peaceful protesters from moving towards the border during the March of Return.
Targeting journalists was meant to prevent them broadcasting the truth, he said, though this would not deter the Palestinian people who are sure of the justice of their cause.
Abu Zeid said that while the fathers may die, their children do not forget, and this strikes fear into the hearts of Israeli soldiers. There is a psychological war afoot on both sides, he said, which is why Israeli public figures have gone to the border to boost morale.
The Palestinians are marching to press their demands, and the Israelis’ confidence has reached historic lows, with 50 per cent of Israeli recruits considering leaving the army.
Retired Palestinian general Wassef Erekat said that occupation soldiers had told the Israeli media that they “preferred months in northern Palestine to two weeks on the border with the Gaza Strip”.
“This is nothing new, as it signals the resilience of the Gaza Strip,” Erekat said. He said that some Israelis had tried to dodge military service, meaning confidence in the army is declining along with its compliance with international law.
Farhan Alqam, an expert on Israeli affairs, said that Israel’s wars against the Gaza Strip had shown the serious failures in its army, despite its advanced weapons, in the face of locally made Palestinian weapons in the hands of resistance groups.
“The Israeli soldiers do not believe in the feasibility of the battles they are fighting or in their objectives,” he said. There have been reports of suicide and the need for psychiatric help among Israeli soldiers.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked the UN Security Council to “conduct an independent and transparent investigation” of Israeli crimes against the March of Return.
“The recent violence in Gaza killed and injured many people for no reason. I urge all the parties to avoid any action that could result in more victims and any action that could endanger civilians.
These tragedies confirm the urgency of relaunching the peace process in parallel with peace and security within recognised borders,” Guterres said.
Discussing the 29th Arab Summit held on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, analyst Talal Okal said that the designation of the summit as the “Jerusalem Summit” and Saudi Arabia’s new financial commitments to Palestine did not match the sums Israel spends on the Judaification of Jerusalem.
The Arab world faces new challenges with US President Donald Trump in the White House because he is blindly biased towards Israel and against the rights of Palestinians, Okal said.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas are continuing their quarrel as the Palestinian National Council (PNC) prepares to meet on 30 April in an attempt to unify the parties.
Hani Masri, director of the Masarat Centre, a think tank, said that for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas all that is preventing Hamas from participating is its control of the Gaza Strip.
Intense efforts must be made to prioritise an end to divisions and find agreements to compromise on all sides.
Masri added that there were other reasons preventing Hamas and Islamic Jihad from joining the PNC, since they would need to agree to the PLO’s platform that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
The requirement by the International Quartet group to recognise Israel and accept the Oslo Accords also prevents Hamas and Islamic Jihad from participating, he said.
Masri said that the collapse of the so-called “peace process” and the Trump administration’s throwing its weight behind Israel’s agenda by removing Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, settlements, borders and sovereignty from the negotiating table all undermine the conditions needed for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the PNC.
This was also true because of plans to sanction the Palestinian Authority, reduce US aid to the UN agency UNWRA working in the Palestinian territories, downgrade the PLO office in Washington, and relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem.
These developments made it more important than ever for Palestinian differences to be overcome, he said.
Meanwhile, the Gaza March will continue, perhaps moving towards a new Intifada in the territories due to the deplorable economic conditions in the Gaza Strip and the explosive social conditions within it, Masri said.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly