The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - Michael Jansen

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 pro­test­­spite 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.

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