May 14, 2018 – Blood flowed in Palestine today. It was the seventieth anniversary of Ben Gurion‘s proclamation of the State of Israel, a state created out of Palestinian land by expelling thousands of Palestinian families from their homes. In doing so, Ben Gurion invoked U.N. Resolution 181, which allowed the partitioning of historic Palestine. But he did not fully respect the terms of that Resolution. Even his decision to declare the so-called independence of Israel took place earlier than the approved UN date, as if to show the world that Israel was a law unto itself.
War immediately broke out with the Arab states: Israel won it and, as its prize, annexed more land – much more than what was established by the UN, including territory that, according to international law, could not be annexed. But Europe, with the drama of the holocaust still on its conscience (not to speak of the considerable European and American economic interests in the region), simply closed an eye and the annexations eventually became a fact. So much so that, when the confines of the State of Palestine were finally settled, the Palestinians ended up with only 22% of what was once historical Palestine.
Then came another war – the so-called Six-Day War – again won by Israel: this time, the booty involved the occupation of still other Palestinian territories, including the Arab part of Jerusalem, Al Quds. The blatant illegality of the occupation of Al Quds was not accepted by the international community, neither de facto nor de jure, despite Israel‘s repeated claims to all of Jerusalem as its capital. The question was included among the points to be resolved through future negotiations.
Then came Trump. Abdicating the role that the U.S. had always pretended to play, i.e., that of an impartial arbitrator, the president of the United States chose instead the role of godfather-protector of his proteges, the Israelis. His declarations regarding Jerusalem, scandalous from a legal perspective, have become a fact on the ground. Trump’s business ties with Israel and some of the most reactionary Arab countries and his vulnerability to their financial blackmail are most likely not extraneous to all this.
But the Palestinians have so far said no: Jerusalem is not just a city, it is a symbol that holds together memories as well as many other symbols, and not only religious ones. It represents values for which Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, are willing to die.
Today Trump, with his choice to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and with his outspoken support for a State which acts outside the law, has inflamed the Palestinian protest against Israeli disrespect for international legality. In the West Bank, the protests have mainly concerned the “theft” of Jerusalem. Along the Gaza Strip, the participants in the “Great March” have been insisting on their right to return to their homeland (as authorized by UN Resolution 194 which Israel refuses to recognize) and this means putting an end to the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza.
No one can deny that, today, on the borders of the Gaza Strip, heinous crimes were committed. Israel has once again drenched its self-styled democracy in rivers of Palestinian blood. Israeli snipers deliberately shot dead 52 unarmed protesters and deliberately wounded 2638 others, aiming at their kneecaps to cripple them for life. Stones were the only “weapons” these protesters were carrying today, as they marched up to the fence behind which thousands of heavily armed Israeli soldiers were hiding in trenches.
Among the marchers were children, the elderly, even disabled Palestinians – people who posed no physical threat. But they, too, were decimated by the Israeli gun fire. Between 300 and 400 children have been killed over the years by the IDF – including newborns. What an outrage, by any measure of human rights!
All this has been carried out by the self same Israel which, in the 2008 Gaza Massacre, bombed orphanages and hospitals all the while proclaiming itself a democratic state. So nothing new under the sun, a cynic might say.
But let’s see how this tragic day began along the borders of the Gaza Strip. It began with the arrival, shortly after dawn, of small incendiary aircraft, launched by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to drop burning petrol on the tents where many of the families participating in the Great March were sleeping. Thus the day started off with six casualties and it was not yet 7am.
By noon prayer time, Israeli snipers had already made martyrs of 37 more Palestinians. At the end of the day, the number rose to 52 and, during the night, that number was destined to rise because of the deaths in hospitals of the critically wounded. One must always remember that, for the Palestinians, those killed are not simply victims, they are martyrs – and the word “martyr” for Palestinians, as well as in every part of the world, has the same meaning: someone who sacrificed himself or herself for an ideal, an example to follow, an inspiration that gives those remaining the courage and the determination to carry on.
And indeed, after these deaths, the protests continued more vigorously than before, even in the face of threats by the Israeli military spokesman, Avijaa Adraei, who announced on TV that if the Gazans did not stop their protest, the Israeli Air Force would bomb all of Gaza. While he was speaking, a group of youngsters cut through the siege fence and entered – unarmed – into Israeli territory. By their action they wanted to testify that freedom is a supreme good and that the cage they have been held in by Israel for the past 11 years must be opened, at any price. For some of them that price was life. Now they are martyrs.
Meanwhile, the protests over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem have continued on the West Bank. This additional de facto annexation may very well prove to be a hollow victory, despite its immediate benefit to Netanyahu personally: the event has overshadowed the scandal that has been putting his political career in jeopardy. The scandal in question is not, of course, Netanyahu’s order to massacre the Palestinians of Gaza but rather the charges against him of bribery and fraud that have emerged from a recent police investigation.
While Netanyahu, together with his American godfathers and his valets, have been celebrating the Israeli disregard of the UN Resolutions concerning Jerusalem, and while the official IDF spokesperson has declared scornfully that Israel could very well bomb Gaza whatever the legality be of such a decision, the UN has remained silent.
What will the Secretary-General finally say?
On the basis of past experience it is reasonable to suppose that Guterres will rebuke Israel for its exaggerated reaction to the Palestinian protests. But nothing more. This reticence is extremely dangerous because it legitimizes Israel’s scorn of international law. Moreover, if Israel blatantly gets away with its repeated crimes, ordinary citizens may resign themselves to the apparent fact that the only law that counts is the the law of the jungle, not only in world politics but also domestically; they may even start acting accordingly in their own affairs. Goodbye rule of law.
Moreover, the foreseeable “timidity” of the UN will not only fail to resolve, but will probably aggravate the problem. This is because the basic issue behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in fact a two-pronged issue: military siege and military occupation, both illegal. If the UN shows once again that it is impotent as well as ineffective against Israeli crimes, the whole world, and not just the Middle East, may very well pay the price. Because not only international law but also the very international institutions themselves will be increasingly perceived as what they unquestionably have become: useless. When will the powerful of the earth, first and foremost the U.S., understand that it is more convenient to choose international legality over the law of the jungle?
As these words are being written, requests are coming in from the hospitals in Gaza for blood and medicines . Among the wounded there are even journalists – although this is not a novelty given the Israeli record in the wounding and the killing of journalists.
Yes, today in Gaza, for the first time, it seems that hundreds of international journalists have arrived on the scene, perhaps a spin off of the coverage of the Jerusalem event. In theory they should offer eye-witness testimony of the crimes being committed. But, for the moment, apparently very few have actually gone up to the fence and, even if those who take the risk actually report what they have seen, one wonders if their professional integrity and bravery will manage to prevail over their editors’ censorship. If it does, their articles can only report that Gazans, in spite of the political divisions of their various leaders, have truly come together for this event and that today’s IDF bloodbath will mark a momentous page in the difficult history of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The attempts of Israeli media and of pro-Israeli media worldwide to dismiss these events as a mere Hamas plot will be debunked.
And yes, today in Gaza, clashes finally took place. During the previous Friday marches, there had been none, despite mainstream media reports of “clashes” between protesters and the IDF, journalistic inventions used to justify the IDF’s cold-blooded murders of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. But today the Gazans did fight back, using everything they had: slings and stones and even a kite carrying a Molotov cocktail and flown over Israeli lines. All this was pitted against the IDF’s missiles, tanks, incendiary drones, toxic gases and well-protected snipers. On the one hand the almost bare-handed fight for freedom. On the other, the brute force of highly armed and ruthless repression.
While hospitals across the Strip no longer have places for the wounded and have launched appeals to the world, a rumor began to spread in the afternoon that, yesterday, the head of Hamas had agreed with Egypt to call off the march. But the march was not called by Hamas; on the contrary it was an initiative promoted by the committees of every faction in Gaza and also by Gazans outside any of the factions. If the initiative had a “father”, it was the Popular Front whose militants first began speaking of a “great march” a few months ago. The idea was then taken up by the committees, representing every political orientation. Indeed, the cars with loudspeakers roaming the streets in Gaza to invite the population to participate in today’s march, belonged to every faction, including Hamas. How strange, then, that Hanyeh, the leader of Hamas who supposedly had agreed to stop the march, nonetheless today called on the citizenry of Gaza to participate.
Now the eventful day has come to an end. Among the most touching photos that are beginning to circulate is the picture of yet one more disabled person shot dead in his wheelchair and the picture of a young Gazan, Moutasen, hit in the face by a sniper‘s bullet and who ended up in the arms of his brother, a doctor in the hospital were, unknowingly, the stretcher carriers had brought him.
From Ramallah on the West Bank comes news that will surely dampen the celebrations tomorrow organized by the Israelis and the Americans and their supporters: President Abu Mazen has called for a general strike in all of Palestine. The de facto annexation of Jerusalem may truly be the first wrong move made by the land-grabbing Israelis. Time will tell.
Meanwhile in Gaza tonight no one will be sleeping easily. The IDF drones will be flying low and there is always that threat of a massive IDF bombardment. But the Gazans have overcome their fears and continue repeating to themselves their motto, an invocation of their dignity: “Either free on earth or martyrs under the ground”.
Translation from italian by Patrick Boylan