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A new bloodshed has taken place in Gaza. Between March 30 and May 16, more than 110 Palestinians were killed and more than 12,000 injured by the Israeli army as they were peacefully protesting near the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. In total, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians participated in the peaceful demonstrations.

By Gabriel Huland.

 

The protests were part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. In May 1948, Jewish armed militias started the execution of the so-called Plan Dalet, a meticulously elaborated plan to expel Palestinians from their homes and lands and create a Jewish state in the territory belonging at the time to the British Mandate for Palestine. The territory was inhabited then by approximately 1.3 million Arab Palestinians and 630 thousand Jews (Wikipedia). The Arab/Jew ratio, which in 1914 totalised 13:1, had diminished to 2:1 in 1947.[1]

The State of Israel was founded seventy years ago, in May 1948, by David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel and one of the most prominent Zionist leaders, in a ceremony in Tel Aviv. During the Nakba, more than 500 cities were destroyed or had their inhabitants pushed away or killed. A great number of historians, both Israelis and Palestinians, agree that the genesis of Israel was based on a policy of ethnical cleansing.

The Great Return March, organised by independent activists in Gaza, received later the support of the most important Palestinian political parties. The organisers demanded the right of return for refugees and their descendants to their native lands, as well as the end of the decade-long blockade imposed on Gaza by the state of Israel. Approximately 70% of the population of Gaza is made up of refugees living in extremely precarious conditions.

In Gaza, almost 2 million people live in an area of 365 square kilometres with no permanent access to electricity or water supply. Land, air and sea access is restricted and controlled by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Egypt, which borders Gaza on the Southwest, also maintains a very strict control over who and what enters or exits the area. The latest illegal measure of Israel is the building of a sea barrier to prevent ships from approaching or leaving the strip.

The bloodiest day so far was May 14, when more than 60 Palestinians were cold-bloodedly killed by the IDF. On this same day, the US embassy was inaugurated in Jerusalem. The Gaza protests, or the Gaza massacre, is the latest chapter of a history of intolerance, crimes against humanity, breach of international laws and disrespect for human rights perpetrated by one of the most violent states on earth.

After the US embassy moved to Jerusalem, Israel’s authorities are feeling more confident than ever to continue with their plan to completely remove all Palestinians. Reactions from the so-called international community to the massacre were ambiguous. Whereas US officials echoed the arguments of the Israeli authorities that the action was in retaliation to provocations against Israeli forces securing the border, other heads-of-states criticised the violence. An important number of celebrities and NGO’s also condemned the atrocities.

New international relations in the Middle East?

Since Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the US government changed the tone in relation to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Whilst Obama used a more conciliatory discourse, advocating for a two-state solution and opposing the continual construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Trump positions himself clearly on the side of Israel’s far right and most extremist leaders.

Whether this new tone represents a substantial change in the US foreign policy is debatable. The facts are that both Obama and Trump have stated in many occasions that Israel and the US are strategic allies, with both leaders maintaining the huge sums of financial aid to Israel intact. In 2017 alone, Israel received almost $3.8 billion in military and other types of financial aid.

In the context of this broad consensus, which is that both countries are allies and that Israel is a democracy that shares “Western values”, some differences can be noticed between the current and the former US presidents. Their approach towards Iran is not the same. Obama tried to negotiate with the country, whereas Trump, more aligned with Saudi Arabia and Israel, advocates for a much more aggressive attitude toward the Ayatollah regime.

In fact, the collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in the aftermath of Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May 2017, is increasing and becoming ever clearer. For example, when Trump announced his intention to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Mohammed Bin Salman, the current Saudi king, defiantly stated that the Palestinians should accept it passively or face the consequences.

On the other hand, the tensions between Israel and Iran are escalating. Iran is seeking to expand its influence in the region in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon and Israel is not willing to let it happen so easily. Israel is not worried about the permanence of Assad (an ally of Iran) in Syria, as long as it does not mean an expansion of Iran that threatens its borders.

70 years of ethnical cleansing of Palestinians

As stated previously, the Great Return March was organised in the context of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. Both Israeli authorities and American officials described it as an act of provocation by Hamas towards Israel. By doing that, they legitimised the brutal killings perpetrated by the IDF.

Instead, what the march expresses is an ever more widespread idea in the Palestinian society that the 92 Oslo peace agreements have failed to provide a framework for halting Israeli policies of occupation and ethnical cleansing. 25 years after the signature of the first Oslo agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, no peace has been secured whatsoever.

On the contrary, the scenario has never been more conflictive and violent. As the Israeli historian Illan Pappé argues:

Seventy years after its establishment, Israel stands as a racist, apartheid state, whose structural oppression of the Palestinians remains the principal obstacle to peace and reconciliation. (Al Jazeera, 2018[2])

Israel keeps the construction of settlements in the West Bank and controls the access of food, water and other basic products to Palestinian territories. The Israeli authorities also prevent refugees from returning, restrict movements inside the West Bank and Gaza, and enforce racist laws on Palestinians living in Israel. Few other modern states base their existence on such inhumane, discriminatory system.

Gaza strip: ten years of blockade and humanitarian disaster

The recent events in Gaza brought once more the attention of the world to this small piece of land squeezed between Egypt and the Palestinian lands occupied by Israel and inhabited by almost two million people. After the 2014 Gaza bombings, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs and fire, nearly no reconstruction has ever been undertaken.

According to the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the strip’s economy is at the brink of collapse. Unemployment reaches 46%, electricity outages can last for up to 16 hours a day, water supply is scarce and hospitals cannot provide basic medical care to the population. In addition to this, the Trump administration, as part of a global plan of cutting foreign aid, upheld $305 million in funding for food aid.

Gaza has become an open-air prison and, according to different experts, is gradually becoming an uninhabitable place. Entering or leaving the area is a nearly impossible task that can take up to several days. The other possible route out of Gaza, the tunnels connecting it to Egypt, are also subject to strict control measures and occasional bombings and explosions. The Rafah Crossing Point is closed most of the time.

Hamas, which remains in control of the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, that controls the Palestinian Authority (PA), started a reconciliation process that culminated in the 2017 Hamas-Fatah Agreements. Among other points, it established that the economic sanctions imposed on the strip by the PA would be eased in exchange for Hamas giving up civilian control.

The reconciliation comes in the context of important changes in Hamas political views. Twelve years after the 2006 parliamentary elections in which Hamas won, the Islamic organisation founded in 1987 is going through important changes in its political program.

In May 2017, the group made public a new political platform (Document of General Principles and Policies). Khaled Hroub, from the University of Cambridge, highlights the main aspects of the document:

Three main areas of ambivalence can be summarized as follows: Hamas’s acceptance of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines without outright recognition of Israel; its rejection of the Oslo Accords while accepting the PA; and its emphasis on diversifying the means and methods of resistance as well as “managing resistance” through escalation and de-escalation according to circumstance. (Hroub, 2017, p.109)[3]

If we look at the several uprisings commonly labelled as “Arab Spring”, that swept across the region since December 2010, we can see one of the reasons for these ongoing changes. The regional wave of mass demonstrations questioned nearly all regimes of the Middle East and North Africa, affecting most of the political parties in power. In countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, regimes changed, governments fell or civil wars erupted. In Palestine, although no uprising occurred, the popularity and credibility of both main political parties (Fatah and Hamas) experienced some levels of erosion.

More recently, even in Jordan, one of the most “stable” countries in the Middle East, which had not yet been affected by the “Arab Spring”, mass protests and workers’ strikes, caused by the difficult economic situation and the lack of political freedom, are also occurring.

The second factor that played a role for Hamas to undertake new stances on Israel and the Palestinian struggle was the severe economic sanctions imposed by Israel and the PA on the Gaza strip. The economic pressure forced Hamas to change its discourse. Just like Iran, that started a movement of “opening itself” to dialogue with Western powers (a movement that had its most important expression in the US-Iran nuclear agreements), also Hamas is being pushed towards reconciliation with Fatah and more flexibility and openness to negotiate with Israel.

In a next article, the current stage of the Palestinian resistance movement will be assessed.

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[1] Hagopian, E., & Zahlan, A. (1974). Palestine’s Arab Population: The Demography of the Palestinians. Journal of Palestine Studies, 3(4), 32-73. doi:10.2307/2535449

[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/israel-palestine-2018-decolonisation-peace-180514073500781.html

[3] A Newer Hamas? The Revised Charter; Khaled Hroub; Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 46 No. 4, Summer 2017; (pp. 100-111) DOI: 10.1525/jps.2017.46.4.100