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Why Israel fears Palestinian non-violent protests?

Apr 04,2018 - Last updated at Apr 04,2018

What frightened Israel so much that it premeditatedly killed at least 17

unarmed Palestinians and injured hundreds who were among tens of thousands
of peaceful protesters gathering along Gaza Strip’s border with Israel last
Friday? Scores of Israeli snipers were deployed with shoot-to-kill orders at
any protestor who dared come close to the heavily guarded border fence. But
this was an entirely peaceful march, as was documented by journalists and TV
stations, where protestors did not even throw stones at the entrenched
soldiers. At no time during the event, marking 42 years since the first Land
Day massacre of 1976, were the lives of Israeli soldiers under threat.

To begin with, there was no moral ground to lose for the Israeli side. The
whole world saw how peaceful protestors, including women and children, were
gunned down and attacked by tear gas canisters, while hoisting Palestinians
flags and vowing to return one day to their ancestral home. They fell on
their side of the border, not Israel’s.

The unprecedented event signaled the beginning of a 45-day symbolic marches
and protests across the occupied territories that will culminate on May 15,
a day that marks 70 years since Nakba, or catastrophe day for Palestinians,
and the birth of Israel. The two events will remain entwined so long as the
Palestinians remain under Israeli occupation and are denied their right to
self-determination and statehood.

Israeli shameful reaction, which is tantamount to a war crime, underlines
its fear that the Palestinian people have finally embraced a weapon of
resistance that is more dangerous to Israel than Hamas’ rockets or the
Palestinian National Authority’s (PA) vow to seek recognition in international forums.
Non-violent peaceful protests, involving Palestinians of both genders and
all ages, will become Israel’s worst nightmare. On Friday the flags of
various Palestinian factions were absent, the only flag that was hoisted was
that of the state of Palestine. There were no armed militias in military
uniforms, instead only young Palestinian youth saluting their usurped
homeland across the deadly barren divide. The symbolic message that tens of
thousands of Palestinian civilians were able to send to the entire world on
that day had shaken fortress Israel.

And the message was well received despite Israeli efforts to distort it. The
New York Times tried to whitewash Israel’s shame on that day by alleging
that the Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers! But its
shameless cover-up was quickly debunked by tens of activists, including Jews
and Israelis, on Twitter and Facebook. Videos of Palestinians being fired
upon, including one showing a youth being shot in the back, went viral.  A
top Israeli army radio host, Kobi Meidan, was suspended from work after
posting on Facebook     that     he’s   “ashamed to be Israeli” following Friday’s
massacre.

Pope Francis, in his Easter address on Sunday, called for peace in the Holy
Land, referring to the carnage on the Israel-Gaza border by saying that the
conflict there “does not spare the defenseless.” And despite the false
hubris, expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israel found itself isolated and humiliated.

It could only hide behind the US, which blocked a UN Security Council
statement that called for an independent inquiry into the Gaza killings. But
the question is what would the US do when Israel resumes its killing spree
next Friday in Gaza and the West Bank? How long can Israel maintain its
reckless and bloody response to peaceful protests while relying on the
diplomatic cover provided by the Americans?

For years Israel had managed various aspects of Palestinian life under
occupation by maintaining a well-orchestrated blockade on Gaza, weakening
the PA and its institutions, manipulating the Fateh-Hamas rift, changing
facts on the ground and equivocating when it comes to negotiating peace
terms. The situation has become untenable for the Palestinian people and
since President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,
seen as a prelude to forcing a final one-sided settlement, it became clear
that unless the rules of engagement change, all may be lost.

Israel’s fears are well-founded. Non-violent  marches and protests, what one
Israeli journalist called the Palestinian’s new doomsday weapon against
occupation, are a form of resistance that will prove more potent and
effective than Hamas’ controversial rockets and the PA’s diplomatic
manoeuvres.  The image of unarmed Palestinian protestors being targeted by
occupation soldiers will do much damage to an Israeli narrative, that it is
fighting terrorism and is in fact the victim. Furthermore, as popular
build-up continues the US will think twice before submitting a skewed plan
that fails to meet Palestinians’ basic rights and aspirations.

The non-violent protests have come as a gift to beleaguered Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas leadership. They should embrace the
movement and support it and not cave in to pressure or false promises. The
Palestinian people have proved time and again that they are willing to pay
the ultimate and hefty price for their liberation. All they need is for
their leadership to remain firm.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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