The Palestinian struggle: Rising to the challenge

Haitham Ahmed , Thursday 17 May 2018

The Palestinian struggle is on the threshold of a mass movement unprecedented in scope, agree Palestinian analysts, as protests across the Occupied Territories continue, writes Haitham Ahmed from Gaza

Palestinian clashes with Israeli forces
A Palestinian woman holding her national flag looks at clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018, as Palestinians protest over the inauguration of the US embassy following its controversial move to Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)

The Palestinian people, in their fight for freedom, have demonstrated that the bullets fired by Israeli occupation forces will never force them to relinquish their right to their land, stress Palestinian political analysts.

Describing the battle over the move of the US embassy as one facet of the Palestinian struggle, they maintain that Israel and the US are collaborating to precipitate an open conflagration in order to destroy prospects of negotiations, a diplomatic solution and the vision for two states living side-by-side in peace.

Palestinian political analyst Omar Al-Ghoul argues that the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem will continue to meet resistance. Since Washington’s announcement, in December 2017, of its intention to move the embassy, “the grassroots and official protest movement against that move has remained unabated,” he said.

Meanwhile, “the March for Return in Gaza remains alive, in spite of the more than 100 civilians killed and the thousands of civilians wounded since the peaceful demonstrations began on 31 March.”

He observed that the peaceful grassroots movement could not bear fruit in only a month or two. “We’ve been fighting for our rights for 70 years, since 1948.

It’s been a century since the Balfour Declaration and 50 years since 1967.We shouldn’t think that the Palestinian struggle will reach its aims through the current Right of Return demonstrations,” he said, underscoring the need for an objective assessment of the balances of power and how to attain the short- and long-term goals of the Palestinian struggle accordingly.

He believes that, in spite of the ups and downs in the popular resistance, through its persistence it would ultimately generate new balances in the political process while affirming to world opinion that the Palestinian people will cling to their rights and principles and never allow the completion of the Israeli colonialist project.

On the attempts to break through the barbed wire barrier on the Gaza-Israeli border, Al-Ghoul underscored their symbolic nature. “The demonstrators succeeded in passing these barriers several times.

The point is to drive home the fact that Palestinian refugees will return sooner or later and that the Palestinian right of return is a fundamental historic and inalienable right upheld by international laws and conventions.”

In the opinion of political analyst Jihad Harb, the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem gave impetus to the grassroots protests. He anticipates that the numbers of participants in the Right of Return marches in Gaza will increase.

He also predicts some renewed lone wolf assaults and stabbing attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel proper as occurred in late 2015 and early 2016.

He added that Israel, of course, will respond with harsher repression and violence, especially in Jerusalem.

Harb also believes, like Al-Ghoul, that the protest movement, as a form of popular struggle, will continue and that it will take a long time to shift the power balances.

Nevertheless, the demonstrations still have the effect of making life awkward for Israel. “The longer they are sustained and the broader Palestinian participation, the more Israel will come under pressure, the longer the Palestinian cause will remain high on the agenda of the international community and the more the pressure will mount on the international community to act to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

With these dynamics in mind, the Palestinian leadership should work to systematise and supervise grassroots action so that it can be channelled to serve the Palestinian diplomatic drive, Harb said. “This is an opportunity that should not be wasted. This is the right time for the Palestinian administration to take advantage of it at the political level in international and regional forums.”

Political analyst Abdel-Majid Sweilam anticipates that the Palestinian people will respond to the US embassy move with a major mass uprising and that this uprising could mark a significant shift in the mode of Palestinian mass action to thwart Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” which Sweilam described as the “American plan to terminate the rights of the Palestinian people”.

The plan, he said, “began with the US’s announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now we’ve entered the next phase, which is the transfer of the embassy.”

The plan ultimately seeks to defeat the cause of Palestinian refugees by direct and indirect means. Perhaps the most salient means is Washington’s decision to slash funding for UNRWA which Sweilam described as highly provocative.

On top of this, US officials are now suggesting that Israeli settlement expansion is legal and that Israel is constructing settlements in its own land.

Sweilam finds the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s remarks to this effect all the more provocative as he himself lives in a settlement. “All this the Palestinian people read as part of the drive to eliminate their rights and they see Washington not just as Israel’s supporter but as its collaborator which is willing to use all its might and every available means to further the designs against Palestinian rights.”

He added that every time the US sanctions a country here and another there, for merely opposing the Trump plan or Israeli policies, or for supporting the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, the Palestinians grow increasingly convinced that they are the victims of a systematic and coordinated plan.

In view of the foregoing, Sweilam believes that the Palestinian struggle is on the threshold of a mass movement unprecedented in scope. “The period in which the Palestinian masses acted in certain seasons or on the basis of certain considerations is over,” he said, pointing to the US embassy move as the historic turning point that galvanised the major shift in the course of the Palestinian grassroots movement.

He also held that the protests are producing steady results on the ground, even if they have yet to be tangibly felt. “In all events, the Palestinian people have no other option.

Their hope, now, is that this uprising evolves into a phenomenon similar to the 1987 Intifada and that this peaceful democratic protest movement, whose demands are consistent with international law, forces itself as a political reality on the region and the world until ultimately we isolate that US policy and frustrate the plans to usurp the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Talal Okal relates that the Palestinians in Gaza had crossed the barbed wire barrier several times during the past weeks and that they are determined to cross it more. “They realise that Israel’s response will be brutal and that it will commit another massacre, such as that which occurred last Monday. Israel cannot change its nature, which is to commit crimes and massacres.”

Okal believes that the Israelis sense danger and that they broadcast this through their media. “They describe these days as ‘difficult’ and their Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaks of the ‘accomplishment’ — the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem — as ‘worth the price’. In other words, they expected massive Palestinian anger.

At the same time it should be stressed that all observers have confirmed the peaceful nature of this broad-based popular movement.” In the opinion of this analyst, Israel and the US are deliberately pushing the conflict to a brink in order to close off all avenues to negotiations, a peaceful solution and the two-state vision.

The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that 55 people have died and 2,771 were wounded in the Israeli occupation’s incursion in east Gaza on Monday. Of the wounded, 1,760 were moved to hospital and 1,011 were treated in the field.

The Palestinian leadership, following an emergency session chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas, decided to join a number of specialised international agencies and to bring the question of Israeli settlements to the International Criminal Court. In addition, a committee drawn from the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) executive and central boards was created to assess relations with Israel.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians staged a march near the US embassy headquarters.

It was timed to coincide with the inaugural ceremony. Israeli occupation police arrested 12 demonstrators and wounded many others in its attempt to disperse the demonstrators.

The Wadi Halwa Information Centre reported that hundreds of Palestinians from Jerusalem, Golan and inside Israel, as well as a number of Israeli leftwing activists and members of the Neturei Karta group, gathered around 100 metres from the US embassy premises and not far from a rally organised by Israelis carrying Israeli and US flags to cheer the inauguration of the embassy.

In the West Bank, many people were wounded with rubber bullets and dozens of others suffered from tear gas asphyxiation in violent clashes that erupted in various parts of the West Bank during marches to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba and to protest the move of the US embassy to Occupied Jerusalem.

In Ramallah, several young men were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas fired by Israeli occupation forces at participants in a protest march that began in central Ramallah and proceeded to the Qalandiya checkpoint that separates Ramallah from Jerusalem.

The protesters waved Palestinian flags, “keys of return” and posters in various languages affirming the right to return.

In Jericho, two youths were hit by live ammunition during clashes with Israeli occupation forces in the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp south of the city. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that they had been taken to the government hospital in Jericho.

To the northwest, in Nablus, dozens of people rallied in front of the French Institute to protest the decision of the institute’s director to organise activities celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. In Qalqilya, dozens of others suffered asphyxiation from a poisonous gas.

In the southern West Bank, in Al-Khalil/Hebron, dozens of protesters were hospitalised due to heavy tear gas inhalation when occupation forces attacked a protest march that had set off from Bab Al-Zawiya in central Al-Khalil.

The occupation forces had taken up positions on the rooftops and fired tear gas canisters onto the demonstrators.

The forces, fully armed, also stormed the public market causing further injuries and cases of tear gas asphyxiation. Most were treated on the spot.

The Higher March for Return Coordinating Committee has announced that the demonstrations will continue, especially on Fridays.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, Khaled Al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad movement leader, said: “We call for the continuation of the Marches for Return on a daily basis and on Fridays.

The anniversary of the occupation of Jerusalem will be a landmark in the history of the struggle for the restoration of our rights.” He blamed the US president and his administration for the bloodshed of dozens of Palestinian civilians at a time when US officials were trading smiles and pleasantries with officials from the occupation authority.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi appealed to the international community to intervene to bring a halt to the ongoing massacres that Israel perpetrates against the defenceless and besieged people in Gaza.

Osama Al-Qawamsi, spokesman for the Fatah Revolutionary Council, described Israeli actions as “the premeditated murder and maiming” of hundreds of people, including children and women, throughout the occupied territories.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, who earlier called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Israeli crimes, stated that Israel must be brought to account for its crimes and appealed to the international community to prevent the slaughter that Israel is perpetrating against the Palestinians with impunity and to provide international protection for the defenceless Palestinian people.

In like manner, official Palestinian government spokesman Youssef Al-Mahmoud called for “immediate and urgent international intervention to halt the appalling massacre being perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces against the heroic Palestinian people, especially in the southern provinces”.

PLO Executive Committee Secretary Saeb Erekat described the inaugural ceremony of the US Embassy in Occupied Jerusalem as a “celebration of the burial of the peace process and the two-state option”.

The Trump administration was bent on driving this region to violence, chaos and bloodshed, he said, adding that administration had reached “such a stage of political degeneration as to appoint as its ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who funded a terrorist organisation that is even on the US’s own terrorist list”.

Friedman had said that his country had fulfilled its promise to Israel and gave Israel the right that the US gives to every country to choose its capital city.

In the inaugural ceremony for the US Embassy premises in Jerusalem, he said that the move would not have happened “without the courage and vision of the US President Donald Trump”.

Referring to the 1995 law passed by Congress mandating the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem, he added: “We are putting it into effect today. We kept our promise.”

In a pre-recorded video message, Trump said that Jerusalem was “the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times”. In the same message he said that he was committed to “facilitating a lasting peace agreement” and reaffirmed that the US stood by Israel.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin headed the US delegation at the Jerusalem ceremony.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan also underscored the US’s commitment to its ally Israel and to building a better future.

The ceremonies for the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem took place against a backdrop of Palestinian fury and violent clashes between demonstrators and occupation forces in Gaza and many cities in the West Bank.

In the demonstration staged near the US embassy premises in Jerusalem, a participant said, “We — Arabs, Israelis and Americans — came here to protest Trump’s decision to move the embassy.

It is a decision that killed all hopes for the two-state solution.” He added: “Jerusalem should be the capital of two states,” meaning both Palestine and Israel.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Rising to the challenge 

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