Antarah ibn Shaddad, the bravest of the brave in Arab tradition, was once asked to explain his courage. He responded that courage means standing fast for just one more hour. This is the Palestinians’ greatest test. Will they be wise enough to maintain the nonviolent popular character of the protests along the Gaza border despite the brutal Israeli response?
Ohad Hemo of Israel Television News reported that Hamas has stationed policemen to make sure that none of the people coming to demonstrate are carrying weapons. As long as this is a nonviolent civic protest, no matter what Israel does, it’s trapped.
If Israel uses massive force to suppress the demonstrations, it will draw fire from international public opinion, and if it continues to act as it’s acting now, the entire world will see the situation as it really is – bare-breasted civilians against a mighty military force. One must admit, and rejoice in the fact, that no one has yet to invent a ploy to snuff out a civic protest.
The Israel Defense Forces are currently threatening to launch airstrikes on Hamas targets if the demonstrations continue. In addition, the army is presumably preparing for a scenario in which the Palestinians quickly switch to using guns, and it’s fanning the desire to do so by killing unarmed Palestinians – both those who approach the border fence and those who don’t – in hopes that the demonstrators will lose their cool and move to shooting.
Therefore, civic protest is the Palestinians’ winning card. They figured this out less than a year ago, during the protests following the placement of metal detectors at the gates of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in July 2017. At that time, thousands of Palestinians refused to enter the mosque and held prayer services outside it instead. They then realized the power of a nonviolent struggle, and above all an unarmed one.
Anyone who views the current protest as a Hamas initiative should remember how the first intifada began in 1987, and how the PLO joined it later and then tried to lead it. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth urged Gaza residents in Arabic to rise up against Hamas – or in other words, to sit quietly and hope for mercy from Israel. But the plan to demonstrate peacefully near the border fence is the antithesis of Hamas, which believes only in armed struggle. Thus one might say that in this sense, Gaza residents have in fact risen up against Hamas and its extremist agenda.
It must be remembered that this popular protest is taking place at a time of deep internal schism. Just a month ago, someone tried to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during his visit to the Gaza Strip, and the road to internal Palestinian reconciliation – which until then had seemed closer than ever – was slammed shut by the mutual recriminations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Therefore, one could view the current protest as a message to both parties, Hamas and Fatah, that the right way is to unite on the basis of a nonviolent popular struggle.
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But Israelis neither hear nor see. And if they speak, it’s only in the language of force. Even the polite Europeans are asking for nothing more than “proportionality.” How is it possible to kill more than 30 unarmed demonstrators, as of this writing, despite the fact that they posed no real threat to IDF soldiers and none of the latter even suffered a scratch?
In the middle of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, I was asked on the “London & Kirshenbaum” television show how I would respond to Qassam rockets being launched at southern Israel. I replied that first of all, I wouldn’t kill thousands of Palestinians. Apparently, Israelis don’t understand what proportionality is.
That’s a pity. When both main factions of the Palestinian people finally adopt the path of peaceful popular struggle, the Israeli response is just more killing and threats to bomb. Instead of leaping at the opportunity, Israel is destroying it.