Thursday, November 26, 2020

Mass resistance to Israeli occupation: One year of the “Great March of Return”

By J.J. Rhies - April 08, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Gaza Blockade] [Occupation] [resistance] [right of return march]

On March 30, 2019 - the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” - Palestinians clashed with Israel Defence Forces (IDF) around the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


Lightning flashes, booming thunder and Israeli gunfire set the scene for a midday scuffle in Beit El, near Ramallah, that lasted most of the afternoon. From a nearby hilltop an IDF squad stared down demonstrators, who gathered in an open plain. Peppered among the crowd were the neon vests of medics and journalists.


During the clash, Palestinians and Israeli soldiers exchanged projectiles varying in lethality: Demonstrators hurled stones with slingshots, and Israeli forces answered with tear gas, sound grenades, and live rounds, whose muzzle flashes were obscured by rain and occasional hail. 


Though there were no casualties in Beit El that day, four were killed in Gaza, including three 17-year-old boys.  


Over the past year, Israeli soldiers killed more than 200 Palestinian protesters and injured at least 6,000. In that same time period, one Israeli soldier was killed and at least four were wounded. 


A question naturally poses itself, in light of another year of bloodshed and loss: What effect is the “Great March of Return” having on the occupation? 


'A very difficult year’ 


The weekly protests started on March 30, 2018, in response to increasingly dire conditions in the Gaza Strip, a region the United Nations has said will be “unliveable” by 2020 due to the Israeli blockade that began 12 years ago.


The Palestine country director for German think tank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Marc Frings said the demonstrations allowed Palestinian refugees to advocate for their “right of return” to Israeli-occupied land. 


“The majority of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees,” Frings said. “The right of return is an essential” and “sensitive” component of the conflict, “as it encapsulates questions of history, identity, and sovereignty.”   


Head of the Projects Department of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society in Gaza Dr. Bassam Zaqout told Palestine Monitor the demonstrations were a last resort for residents of the embattled coastal enclave. 


“Palestinians in Gaza,” he said, “don’t have a lot of options. This is the only option available: to start the March of Return, to demonstrate every week.” 


Violent resistance is likely to be counter-productive. Foremost, Israel’s arsenal, which Zaqout described as “mass killing weapons,” far out-match Palestinian military capabilities.  


Additionally, Israel has repeatedly said that “Palestinians are terrorists,” Zaqout said. Israel is “painting this picture to the world that Gaza’s people” are “aggressive, that they want to kill all Israelis.” 


Israel’s “mass killing weapons,” combined with the labelling of Palestinians as “terrorists,” makes violent resistance both practically and politically untenable. 


Because nonviolent demonstrations like the “Great March of Return” can “shed light on the severe consequences of the blockade,” explained Frings, they could have a positive impact so long as they remain peaceful. 


It is unclear, however, that Israel’s ongoing occupation and blockade can be further illuminated. The occupation is nearing its 72nd year, and the blockade its 13th.  


But nonviolent resistance, according to Zaqout, is the only feasible way “to break the siege.” 


According to a UN independent commission of inquiry, Israel may be guilty of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” for soldiers’ use of lethal force during Gaza protests in 2018. The independent commission found that in all but two cases, the use of such force was not justified and therefore “unlawful.” 


In a statement to the Palestine Monitor, the IDF offered a different conclusion. 


“The IDF uses live ammunition only as a last resort and in accordance with regulations that comply with international law,” the statement read. 


It added that the Israeli military “operates against violent riots and terrorist activities ... which include shooting at soldiers, attempts to penetrate into Israel, attempts to damage the security infrastructure, burning tires, throwing stones, throwing Molotov cocktails and grenades in order to harm IDF soldiers.”


In addition to direct violence against Palestinians in Gaza, Israel’s blockade and military operations have critically affected everyday life. 


Nearly one million Gazans, or 50 percent of the population, are unemployed, Frings explained.  The “majority of Palestinians in Gaza depend on international food assistance” and there is a “lack of electricity and access to suitable water.” 


As a result, “all indicators are fulfilled for a huge crisis and an outbreak of more violence,” Frings said. 


Resilience, hope and international intervention 


Even though the occupation has wreaked havoc on millions of lives, many Palestinians show an enduring hopefulness, both Zaqout and Frings said. 


“Despite all these negative trends ... people who are locked in Gaza still remain ... resilient,” Frings explained. 


Zaqout, for his part, said “the March of Return brings hope” for the Palestinian resistance. 


Both sources insisted that in order for the Israeli occupation to end, the international community must intervene immediately. And yet neither expressed confidence about the present possibility of outside governments or organisations taking such action. 


Frings said that “external actors have to act now if they are still committed to the two-state paradigm.” But in light of the international community’s varying opinions on the conflict, such intervention seems unlikely, he added.


Furthermore, global observers do not have the ability to meaningfully confront the Israeli occupation, Zaqout said. 


Although the international community has “good intentions ... they don’t have the power to influence Israel to change any of its policies.” 


“Israel influences the world more than the international community can influence Israel,” he said.

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