Protests at the Gaza border demanding the right to return

‘On May 14, 1948, on the day in which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and approved the following proclamation, declaring the establishment of the State of Israel. The new state was recognized that night by the United States and three days later by the USSR’ (Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This followed the passing of a resolution on 29th November 1947 at the United Nations General Assembly, calling for the establishment of a Jewish State.

‘The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the In-gathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

‘We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East’.

That was 70 years ago. On 15 May 2018, Israelis will celebrate the 70th anniversary of their independence day. For the Palestinians it marks the day of ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe (Arabic).

There isn’t the space here to go into the history in a lot of detail, some of that can be found an an article I posted, from which the above excerpt is taken from.

In short, Palestine during the post war period was subjected to widespread ethnic cleansing, a term used selectively by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. In his article Calling a Spade a Spade: The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. He argues that the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ should be used instead of ‘Nakba’:

‘The term Nakba does not directly imply any reference to who is behind the catastrophe — anything can cause the destruction of Palestine, even the Palestinians themselves.

Not so when the term ethnic cleansing is used. It implies an accusation and reference to the culprits of/for the events that took place not only in the past but happen also in the present. Far more importantly, it connects policies, such as ones used to destroy Palestine in 1948, to an ideology which continues to guide Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians: the Nakba continues, or more forcefully and accurately, the ethnic cleansing rages on.’

The excellent documentary ‘Al Nakba’ broadcast by Al Jazeera covers the Nakba in detail, covering the historical events that eventually led to the creation of the state of Israel.

The Great March of Return

Since 30 March 2018 and up until Nakba day itself, peaceful Palestinian protesters from the Gaza strip have been gathering at the Israeli border participating in ‘The Great Return March’. This has been met by a violent unprovoked response from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) reports:

‘Israel deployed hundreds of snipers along the border of Gaza, who continue to open fire using live ammunition on unarmed Palestinian civilians. As of the 15th April – 35 Palestinians have been killed, 1,297 shot, and a further 1,554 suffering from other injuries.’

In a since deleted tweet, the IDF made its intentions clear:

idf gaza protest every bullet.png

To this day Israel continues to develop illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank. Whereas the Gaza Strip has been under a continuous total blockade since 2006. Peace initiatives have came and went. But Israel isn’t interested in peace and neither does its benefactors – mainly the US and the UK.

Israel is effectively a beacon of neoliberalism in the Middle East. Following the end of the cold war and the breakup of the Soviet Union, the global arms industry had gone into decline. This also impacted Israel. The result was a diversification of business interests.

The 1990’s also saw significant changes taking place. There was the steady expansion of the global neoliberal economic system that began to consolidate itself following the cold war. Indeed Israel itself became host to over 600,000 Russian immigrants. This provided the impetus for change within Israel.

Israel had an image problem. From a Global economic perspective, Israel was regarded as a war zone. Israel wanted to join the neoliberal ‘club’. When the Oslo peace process began during this period this presented an opportunity for Israel to ‘normalise’ itself. In addition there was the Arab league boycott of Israeli companies that has been in effect practically since Israel’s inception:

A key objective for the business sector was the lifting of the Arab League’s boycott of Israeli companies and especially the so-called ‘secondary boycott’, under which companies doing business with Israel or Israeli companies were barred from business with Arab countries and companies. Shafir and Peled note that: Many Israeli business leaders realized that the Arab boycott was an obstacle on the road to integrating the Israeli economy into the world market; that while it was in effect all efforts in this direction would yield only limited results. Similarly, only the stability ensured by peace could bring foreign investment and foreign corporations into Israel in significant numbers.’

This was the image of Israel of a country seeking peace that was fostered during the Oslo peace process. But the underlying objective was economic expansion and Israel’s integration into the global economy.

With agreements secured between the PLO and Israel, with both factions recognising each other, Israel established a foothold in the Global markets. Not everyone in Israel agreed with the peace accords. But the economy took off.

During this period, relations between Israel and the UK strengthened. In 1995, Prime Minister John Major ‘visited Israel with a group of British business people and jointly with the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin established the Israel-Britain Business Council, which was backed by public funds and tasked with promoting business relations between the two countries.’

However, trouble was brewing. Oslo had done nothing for the Palestinians and the accords were about to disintegrate:

The Oslo process did not bring an end to Israel’s occupation or to the construction of illegal settlements on occupied land. The Netanyahu government had demolished Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem and approved plans for new settlements in the area around the city.’

Under the Oslo Accords Israel had pledged to withdraw from 90 per cent of the occupied territories by the beginning of 2000, but by that time they had in fact withdrawn from only 18 per cent. The ‘final status’ talks held at Camp David in July 2000 ended with no agreement between Barak and Arafat, each side blaming the other for the failure.’

The end result was the breakout of the second Intifada. Since then support from the west has been consolidated, particularly with the election of the Bush Administration and the aftermath of 9/11.

Israel’s grip on Palestinian society increased in the wake of the second Intifada. However the Palestinian response would follow a non violent trajectory. In July 2005, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) foundation was established. This would be a highly significant move by Palestinian society.

On its website BDS states that:

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.’

This then is the spirit on which the The Great Return March is based. The Palestinian right of return is enshrined in UN Resolution 194, which was adopted on December 11, 1948. The Resolution defined principles for reaching a final settlement and returning Palestinian refugees to their homes. It called for an establishment of a U.N. Conciliation Commission to facilitate peace between Israel and Arab states.

Since then, the UN has continued to re-affirm Resolution 194, along with other key Resolutions calling for a resolve of the Israeli/Palestine issue.

But the occupation continues. Perhaps The Great Return March will give the Palestinians their ‘South Africa moment’ when Israel reveals itself to the world as a brutal occupier presiding over a apartheid system of governance over the Palestinians.  I’ll leave you with the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu from a speech he made in the US in 2014:

‘The sustainability of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people has always been dependent on its ability to deliver justice to the Palestinians. I know firsthand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed. Realistic Israeli leaders have acknowledged that Israel will either end its occupation through a one or two-state solution, or live in an apartheid state in perpetuity. The latter option is unsustainable and an offense to justice. We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure.’

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