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Heroic Palestinians are anything but victims

Israeli occupation forces violently respond to Palestinian demonstrators along the border fence on 14 May 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Israel's refusal to acknowledge the Palestinians as anything other than the victims of Hamas manipulation and "incitement" is insulting and offensive to the people of Gaza on many levels. It also suggests that Tel Aviv treats the rest of us as useful idiots ready to accept the twisted narrative churned out by the Zionist propaganda machine.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians — young and old, women and children — left their homes yesterday knowing fine well that they could pay the ultimate price by taking part in peaceful protests against their chief tormentors and generally violent, psychopathic neighbours. Israel has previous form for aggressive behaviour and a history of lashing out, no matter that this might mean mowing down infants and their mothers.

The youngest martyr on Monday was an angelic-looking eight-month-old baby called Layla Al-Ghandour. She died as a result of inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers who have no qualms about targeting the young with their deadly weapons.

8-month-old Layla became the youngest victim of Israel's heavy handed response to unarmed Palestinian protests in Gaza [File photo]

We all know that the sticks, stones and slingshots of the Palestinians are little more than a symbolic response to the advanced technology and weaponry of the fourth largest army in the world. Very few armed forces in the world today have the superior firepower of Israel on land, sea or in the air. Israel even has nuclear weapons — the elephant in the room in all the recent cant about the Iran nuclear deal — although it refuses to allow anyone, even its allies, to inspect the deadly arsenal.

All things considered, then, it takes sheer guts, raw courage and determination to go out and stare down the barrel of an Israeli gun, even one hundreds of metres away. The Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip do it not because they are told to by Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other faction in Gaza. They do it because they are fired up by an unquenchable thirst for justice.

This is something that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson obviously has some difficulty in understanding. Speaking in the House of Commons today he told MPs: "I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Gaza where peaceful protests are being exploited by extremists. I urge Israel to show restraint in the use of live fire and I take this opportunity to repeat the UK's commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital."

What extremists? What hold does Israel have over Johnson and people like him that they can't admit that the Palestinians simply want justice and be free of the Israeli occupation? Nothing more, nothing less. Nobody is being "exploited"; ordinary human beings just want to return to their lands stolen from them so unjustly and brutally 70 years ago. That is the refugees' legitimate right, guaranteed over the decades and enshrined in international laws and conventions. The Palestinians don't need extremists to crank them up and send them to the Israeli borders demanding the right of return; the brutal Israeli occupation does that on its own.

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The 70th anniversary of the Nakba – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Today, more than 60 of those Palestinians have paid the ultimate price for their beliefs and will not be returning home. They will be buried by their families and friends having acquitted themselves with honour in the service of their people. The funerals are taking place on Nakba Day marking the ethnic cleansing of Palestine ever since 1948.

Israel was born 70 years ago out of Zionist terrorism and violence targeting the Palestinians and the British Mandate authorities. Today the blood of innocent Palestinians is still being spilled and it will continue to flow until justice is served. Look at the mind-boggling statistics, Boris, if you want to know why the Palestinians step "once more unto the breach" very willingly.

Seventy years ago, 750,000 Palestinians were dragged out of or fled from their homes built on land that generations of their families had owned and farmed for hundreds of years. The Palestinians owned more than 90 per cent of historic Palestine when the UN decided to partition it in 1947 and give 56% to a Jewish state. Despite the myths taught in Israeli schools, "Palestine" existed as an entity and had done for centuries. Indeed, it was first mentioned by name in the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece, when the historian Herodotus wrote in The Histories about "Syria and Palaistinê" which he said lay between Phoenicia and Egypt.

The founders of Israel thought that the 750,000 Palestinians would soon disperse and that the older generation would die, while the younger generations would forget about their homeland. However, having become refugees overnight, successive generations have remained consistent in their determination to return to their land. There are now around 7 million Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, at least 2 million of whom live in the Gaza Strip.

Sadly, the homes that they once owned have virtually all gone; over four million acres have been seized, emptied by force and occupied by Israeli settlers. More than 500 towns and villages have been wiped off the map altogether as part of what has been called Israel's "slow genocide" of the Palestinian people.

What's more, the Palestinians are now supposed to accept that their spiritual capital, Jerusalem, has also been taken away from them. As if to rub salt into their wounds, President Donald Trump has moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognised the occupied holy city as the capital of Israel.

This was the straw that has broken the camel's back. The move was steamrollered through by the US President to the delight of his friends and allies in Tel Aviv despite protests from the international community, even the British government, which usually falls in line behind every decision taken by America.

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That's the context of the Palestinian protests — the Great March of Return — which sees heroic people staring defiantly down the gun barrels pointed at them by Israeli snipers. They have had enough of 70 years of injustice and three horrific wars launched by Israel against the civilians in Gaza, all topped by an air, sea and land blockade.

Hamas had no need to encourage anyone to take part in the protests; in fact, it was a grassroots initiative to challenge Israel over the Palestinians' inalienable right to return. In reality, Hamas could not have stopped them even if it had wanted to. The Palestinians might live in the world's largest open prison, starved of food, fresh water and medical aid, but the will and determination of the people of Gaza is stronger than ever.

I watched with growing admiration when the Gandhi-style peaceful protests were launched on 30 March and then gasped with revulsion and horror at the brutal Israeli military response. Thirteen Palestinians were martyred on the very first day, most of them shot in the back.

While the backslapping at the messianic gathering of US and Israeli VIPs continued in Jerusalem at the embassy opening — largely boycotted by the international community, as well as local Christians and Muslims — the blood of the Palestinians turned the nominal border with Gaza red.

When the inevitable condemnation of Israel erupted around the world, it didn't just come from pro-Palestine activists. Interestingly, dyed-in-the-wool Zionists, including Jewish Chronicle reporter Daniel Sugarman, found the violence too much to bear. "[E]very bullet Israel fires, every life Israel takes, makes this situation worse," he wrote. "There are ways to disperse crowds which do not include live fire. But the IDF has made an active choice to fire live rounds and kill scores of people."

Decrying Israel's actions, he added: "In front of the entire world, Israel keeps shooting, and protestors, including those younger than my friend Gal was in 2002, keep dying. You may tell me that Hamas wants these deaths, wants to create martyrs, wants to fill the hearts of the people of Gaza with rage against Israel because the alternative is for people to look at their lives in Gaza and rage against Hamas. But if you tell me that, why are you not asking yourselves why Israel is so willingly giving Hamas exactly what it wishes?"


Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against their army's murderous action [File photo]

Images on Twitter, like the one shown above, also reveal that Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against their army's murderous action.

The empty rhetoric spouted in Jerusalem by Trump's evangelical supporters will soon be forgotten, unlike the demand for the right to return which grows stronger by the day in Palestine. Three-quarters of a million Palestinians fled their homes in 1948 in the belief that they would be able to return after a few weeks. Their determination to do so was unwavering and it remains so to this day. The evidence is very clear that not even Israel with its ethnic cleansing policies and state-of-the-art weaponry can hope to put an end to the Palestinian resistance. One day, Israel and its supporters will realise that fact, and peace and justice will follow. Until then, the heroic Palestinians remain anything but victims in my eyes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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