On Friday, 30 March, Ministry of Health officials in Gaza reported that 16 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,500 wounded when Israeli occupation forces moved to crush a Palestinian protest.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians had turned out to take part in the Great March for Return. When the Israeli army moved to suppress it young protesters set fire to tyres and pelted Israeli armoured vehicles with stones and empty bottles.
Occupation soldiers responded with a barrage of live fire and tear gas. Israeli tanks moved in and dozens of snipers took up stations on earthen barricades as a drone dropped tear gas canisters on the demonstrators.
The violent attack on a peaceful demonstration happened as Israel and the US are working to impose a new de facto reality, greasing the path for the so-called “deal of the century” with which they hope to bury the Palestinian right of return, recognised by the UN and all its agencies.
Every year, in both the occupied territories and the diaspora Palestinians hold marches on 30 March — “Land Day” — to reaffirm their right to return regardless of the violence the occupation authorities unleash against them in an attempt to force them to relinquish the right.
According to some analysts, there is a belief among many Palestinians that the marches, due to last until the commemoration of the Nakba on 15 May, will put paid to the supposed “deal of the century”, or at least force it to be deferred and modified.
Political analyst Tayseer Muheisan warns such thinking is optimistic.
“We cannot expect the right of return marches will put an end to the ‘deal of the century’,” he says. “What they have done is focus international attention back on the Palestinian cause and exposed the excessive force used by the occupation authorities against peaceful demonstrators.”
After noting the march in Gaza was held to commemorate Palestinian Land Day and one of its goals was to break the blockade of Gaza, he argues it delivered “the message that Palestinians will never forget their right to this land, they will never accept an alternative homeland, and they are determined to remain on their land regardless of the price they are forced to pay.”
The march also contained a message for Palestinian leaders, says Muheisan.
“They must put an end to infighting, discord and rifts and confront the enemy together. It is a message that has been amplified now the Palestinian people have shown their solidarity on the ground. The young, the elderly, women, Hamas supporters, Fatah supporters, independents and members of all Palestinian factions came together. The mass gathering on the borders sent a message to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and Gaza as much as it sent a message to the world.”
In a joint statement Palestinian factions said “the Palestinian people’s great march at the border of Gaza affirms our people’s dedication to their land and their right to return” and condemned the occupation’s “war crimes” which resulted in huge numbers of dead and wounded.
Political analyst Riham Awad told Al-Ahram Weekly that the “March for Return” signalled to the world in general, and to Israel and the US in particular, that the right to return, enshrined in international laws, conventions and resolutions, is inalienable and unbound by any statute of limitations.
“This march gave a voice to the Palestinian people, especially those in Gaza, and what they said is no matter how brutal the Israeli blockade and the human and economic suffering it causes we will not relinquish our legitimate rights,” said Awad.
“The so-called ‘deal of the century’ will not be pushed through easily.”
Awad is among those who believe the US may now put that deal on hold while it reassesses how it deals with the Palestinian people. But, she cautions, “it is not the March for Return that will delay the ‘deal of the century’.”
“It will be held up by the crisis of confidence between the US administration and the Palestinian Authority. The delay will last until Washington feels that the climate is right and US-Palestinian relations improve.”
Political scientist Adel Samara believes the occupation authorities were taken by surprise by the size of the turnout for the demonstration “which led to them mobilising the army and committing a massacre against our people that left dozens dead and wounded”.
In Samara’s opinion the occupation authorities’ anxieties stem from the realisation that the Palestinian people still insist on their right to return to their land as defined by the 1948 UN partition agreement, and not just to territory occupied in 1967, something which “threatens the very existence of the occupation entity”.
“The occupation will suppress all grassroots movements by force because it fears them, and fears the possibility of their expansion. It has no other means at its disposal but recourse to violence, murder and terrorism and now it has discovered that they don’t work. The marches continued and as the violence against them escalated participation in them grew.”
“This is how the occupation always works, using violence, weapons and murder as tools. The only way to respond, to deter the occupiers from persisting with their crimes against our people, is through forceful resistance. The occupation fears a repetition of what happened in the previous intifadas. It knows how great a loss it sustained in the first intifada.”
Samara warns Palestinian officials against trying to exploit the grassroots uprising as a bartering card in pursuit of an illusory negotiating process.
“Like all of us they must channel the achievements of these popular actions along their proper course, especially given the Arab’s abandonment of the Palestinian cause.”
On Tuesday permanent representatives of the Cairo-based Arab League held an emergency session to discuss the recent Israeli violence along the border with Gaza.
“We meet today as the Israeli occupation authorities use weapons against unarmed people which has led to the death of 17 and the injury of 1,500 others,” Said Abu Ali, assistant Arab League secretary-general, said in his opening remarks. Abu Ali went on to hold Israel “entirely responsible” for the deaths and injuries.
Meanwhile, the Security Council convened an emergency session at the request of Kuwait to discuss demands for an independent investigation into Friday’s violence.
The American delegation obstructed the adoption of a statement condemning Israel’s actions.
The UK joined Washington and rejected the statement on the grounds that it was “unbalanced”.
Walter Miller, a member of the US delegation to the UN, went several steps further. He complained of “bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence and endanger innocent lives”, parroting the propaganda Israel began to circulate on the eve of the demonstrations as it prepared the ground to blame its violent attack on the march on Hamas.
Yet this did not prevent Miller expressing “extreme sorrow” for the victims.His tears certainly seem to have blinded him to the Israeli tanks, armed snipers and security forces on alert along the border with Gaza and in the West Bank who clearly had orders to shoot first and ask questions later as Palestinian civilians poured out, as they do at this time every year, to take part in peaceful marches in support of their internationally recognised rights.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly