SEVENTY YEARS SINCE THE NAQBA PALESTINIANS HAVE ATTEMPTED VARIOUS WAYS TO RECLAIM THEIR LAND AND THEIR IDENTITY INCLUDING ARMED STRUGGLES AND PEACEFUL RESISTANCE, ALL OF WHICH HAVE FAILED
On May 15th, Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of the Naqba, the catastrophe of eviction from their homes, villages, towns and urban neighbourhoods in the land called Palestine for 25 centuries. They have not forgotten or forgiven the Israelis and their sponsors for inflicting on an entire people dispossession, occupation, exile, constant conlict and deprivation of their human and political rights.
Since the Naqba Palestinians have adopted a number of strategies to reclaim their land, their existence, and their identity as a people. Armed struggle, uprisings and peaceful resistance have failed them. They have tried coexistence but soon found the Israelis unwilling to live side by side either with Palestinians as individuals or with a Palestinian state.
On March 30th, Palestinian activists and civil society groups in Gaza launched a novel campaign, dubbed the Great March of Return, a mass movement calling for Palestinians to return to the places their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents inhabited before Israel’s 1948-49 war of establishment. Palestinian youths have planted tent cities along the fence Israel has erected around the narrow Gaza strip, and staged demonstrations every Friday.
The Israeli barrier pens in its residents, obstructing their freedom of movement, and makes them dependent on Israel for nearly everything: food, electricity, building material, medicines, clothing, seeds and fertilisers, and raw materials for manufacturing. Gazans call their crowded, impoverished, polluted fenced-in territory the “largest open prison in the world.” Which it is.
Gazans participating in the Great March of Return are desperate and are prepared to die and suffer terrible wounds to escape the fate Israel has imposed on them.
Israel has responded to the Great March of Return with customary, disproportionate violence. During the initial march of some 30-35,000 Gazans, 20 were killed and 1,400 wounded from live ire, plastic coated bullets or tear gas. During subsequent Fridays the numbers of slain and wounded Palestinians fell as Israel came under international pressure to curb its snipers, who did the most damage to life and limb with soft-and hollowpoint bullets designed to inflict extensive damage to tissue and bone. Although during World War II expanding munitions — “dumdum” bullets — were banned, they are commonly used these days by militaries — and US civilian shooters — across the world.
Amnesty International has called on global governments to impose a total arms embargo on Israel, arguing that “the world has watched in horror as Israeli snipers and other soldiers, in full protective gear and behind the fence, have attacked Palestinian protesters...despite wide international condemnation, the Israeli army has not reversed its illegal orders to shoot unarmed protesters.
“The time for symbolic statements of condemnation is now over.” Failure to halt the
delivery of military equipment to Israel “will continue to fuel serious human rights abuses against thousands of men, women and children suffering the consequences of life under Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza.” Strong words which have, so far, been ignored by Israel’s powerful friends and allies.
Although Israel always overreacts with overwhelming military force whenever it is opposed by Palestinians, the Great March of Return, taking place on the date on the Western calendar the Israeli state was proclaimed, is a particularly meaningful challenge. The key word is “return.” The Palestinian use of this word deprives Israelis of legitimacy because they have built their state on the ethnic cleansing, deprivation, and exile of the Palestinians, the indigenous people of the country. Palestinian “return” would mean an end to Israel as a Jewish state, the culmination of the Zionist conquest of Palestine.
Palestinians argue they were granted a “right of return” to their homes, villages, towns and urban neighbourhoods by UN General Assembly resolution 194 paragraph 11, which resolves “that the (Palestinian) refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return home and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”
This resolution was, belatedly, adopted by the General Assembly due to the shock delivered by the assassination on September 17th, 1948, of Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat who was appointed UN mediator tasked with securing a truce in the war in Palestine. Bernadotte arrived in Jerusalem on May 20th, ive days
after the declaration of the Israeli state. By that time, 250-300,000, a quarter of the Palestinian population, had been uprooted and Israel’s underground army and allied militias were engaged in full-scale ethnic cleansing in
central and northern Palestine.
As former head of the Swedish Red Cross, Bernadotte had made his name as a humanitarian negotiator and mediator towards the end of World War II by arranging the release from Nazi prisoner-of-war and concentration camps of 21,000 people, including 1,615 Jews. He was, therefore, deeply upset by the Zionist/israeli treatment of Palestinians and put forward two proposals for ending the conlict, both calling for the
“return” of Palestinians to their homes and both denying Israeli control over Jerusalem. He was assassinated by a member of the Israeli Stern Gang, “Lehi,” led by a triumverate including Yitzak Shamir, who served two terms as prime minister of Israel (1983-84 and 1986-92).
Therefore, the demand for Palestinian “return” to their properties and native places is, for Israelis, a capital offence and explains why Israeli snipers have used the most destructive munitions against Palestinians who call for “return.”
“Return” is a recurring Israeli nightmare and has become particularly frightening recently because, in 2016, Palestinians became the majority in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, now ruled by Israel.
The hardline Israeli government under Binyamin Netanyahu, an ideological successor to Shamir, has warned of dire consequences for Palestinians who attempt to use mass muscle to break through the Gaza fence on May 15th. Israel and its acolytes claim the Great March of Return is “terrorism” mounted by Hamas. Israel argues the march is “an intentional threat to the security of the State of Israel.” Netanyahu praised Israel’s soldiers and snipers for protecting “its sovereignty and the security of (its) citizens.”
Palestinians marching towards the Israeli border in the Great March of Return.