Tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have defied an appalling campaign of Israeli violence to join mass protests along the border with Israel.
A demonstration of 30,000 people last Friday began several weeks of planned protests marking 70 years of Palestinian dispossession by the racist state of Israel.
But the Israeli army said it could escalate its assault—which had killed 17 Palestinians as Socialist Worker went to press.
General Ronen Manelis threatened that Israel would push its operation further into Gaza. If protests continued, he said, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) “will not be able to continue limiting our activity to the fence area”.
It comes as senior Israeli figures talk up the threat of a new war on Gaza. In an interview last week IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said, “The likelihood of escalation, to the point of war, has increased substantially.”
More than 1,500 Palestinians were injured in Israel’s attack on the protests last week. Soldiers fired live ammunition at protesters, as well as rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas, as they marched on the border.
Teenager Mariam Abu Matar told the Al Jazeera news network how she was shot for daring to defy Israel’s threats against those who approached the border.
“I wanted to show the world that we are still here,” she said. “I kept on walking towards the fence with a flag. The boys followed us. The soldiers could see me.
The snipers were pointing their weapons. “I took my backpack off so they didn’t think I was carrying something suspicious. I threw some stones, hid, then started walking again. I turned to my friend then felt an excruciating pain in my leg.”
After the demonstration the IDF tweeted that every shot fired was “accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed”.
It deleted that tweet after footage of the demonstrators being shot appeared online.
One video appeared to show a man being shot as he kneeled down in prayer near the fence. Two other videos showed Abed al-Fattah Abed al-Nabi, 19 years old, apparently being shot as he ran away from the border fence.
Abed al-Fattah’s brother Alaa said his sibling “went to the march to see his country on the other side, to see the return of our people to their lands”.
“But they responded with violence,” he said. “This is the price we have to pay to return to our lands.”
Protester Mohammed Sabbagh said he watched as his younger brother was shot in the head. “He didn’t do anything—he was standing next to me,” said Mohammed. “He asked me for a cigarette. “I gave him a lit one, he took about two puffs and then a bullet shot him in the head and went out the other side.
“I carried him to the ambulance and he was dead.”
Hospitals in Gaza are struggling to cope with the influx of causalities. Surgeons say many of those they have treated were shot in the leg—and that injuries suggest soldiers used bullets designed to maximise damage.
Surgeon Mohamed Kalub said, “The type of bullets here are explosive bullets, which cause an inlet of around 2 millimetres but an outlet of around 15 centimetres.
“This can cause severe damage to tissue, nerves, arteries and bones.”
Israel’s assault against Palestinians last weekend was its bloodiest since its war on Gaza in 2014, which killed 2,251 Palestinians.
Its blockade on Gaza—now over ten years old—has caused what the United Nations describes as a humanitarian crisis.
Another large demonstration was set to take place this Friday.
The scale of Israel’s response shows it feels it can act with impunity against Palestinians—but also that it fears mass mobilisation.
The Great March of Return
The demonstrations begin six weeks of protests dubbed The Great March of Return.
The protests last Friday came on Land Day, the anniversary of the day in 1976 when Israel killed six people protesting over the theft of Palestinian land.
The protesters in 1976 were resisting Israeli expropriation of swathes of Palestinian land in the Galilee—an area of historic Palestine now in northern Israel.
This year’s protests are set to culminate on Tuesday 15 May—Nakba day.
This marks the day following the anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians refer to this as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, because of the process of ethnic cleansing of Arabs that paved the way for Israel’s foundation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were systematically cleared from their homes to make way for the new state of Israel.
Their expulsion was one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century—and millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants still live in refugee camps.
There can be no justice until they are allowed to return.Yet as the right wing Times of Israel news website has pointed out, “No Israeli government could accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state.”
A two state solution would deny refugees their right to return.
The only just solution is a single, secular Palestinian state with equal democratic rights for Arabs and Jews.
Israel justifies massacre
Israel sought to justify the massacre by blaming Palestinians for daring to resist.
The IDF pointed out that many of those killed were members of Hamas or other resistance groups—and that demonstrators threw rocks, petrol bombs and burning tyres.
Pro-Israel groups suggested that all 30,000 protesters were being used as “pawns” by Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which governs in the Gaza Strip.
Some politicians in Britain—including Labour MPs—echoed Israeli attempts to blame Palestinians for their own murder.
Labour MP Mike Gapes said, “It is clear that Hamas organised demonstrations and attempts to break down the border fence and Israeli troops used tear gas and then live ammunition.”
Another Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted, “Terrible scenes in Israel—nations have right to defend borders but responses 2 violence must be proportionate. Death and injuries of Gazans as well as those few protesters intent on harming Israeli civilians must be condemned.”
Palestinians have a right to resist their occupation however they choose. Condemning “both sides” masks a double standard.
Life for Palestinians is shaped by a violent occupation enforced by one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East—armed and funded by the US.
Last Friday that army stood between them and the land they were expelled from 70 years ago.
That some protesters stood up to its might armed with nothing more than rocks, tyres, bottles and petrol is nothing short of heroic.
United Nations fails the Palestinians - again
The United Nations (UN) failed to condemn Israel’s massacre of Palestinians after it attacked the protesters.
The UN only managed to warn Israel against using “lethal force”—clearly too late—and called for an independent inquiry, which was swiftly rejected.
The UN security council also failed to condemn the killings—because it was blocked by Britain and the US.
Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, brought an emergency statement asking for an investigation.
It expressed “sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives”. But even this timid statement was blocked by the US in the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.
Palestinian officials later blamed the US and Britain.
The US and Britain have relied on Israel—and the Zionist movement before it—to defend their interests in the Middle East.
Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid funding—the vast majority of which goes to the military.
Both the US and Britain are to blame for decades of Palestinian misery.
Take to the streets in solidarity with Palestine
Israel fears Palestinian resistance—and the idea that it could spread.
Before last week’s protests Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom revealed that Israel had held secret talks with officials from Arab countries including Egypt and Jordan.
They were worried that the protests could spark solidarity actions across the Middle East.
Palestinian resistance has often inspired protests and revolts in other Arab countries.
The millions who took part in the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 chanted and protested in solidarity with Palestine.
Revolt across the region could bring freedom for Palestinians—and all governments in the Middle East fear it.
Israel also feels threatened by support for Palestinians outside the Middle East—particularly the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
This calls for boycotts of companies that benefit from the occupation.
The Israeli government has described BDS as an “existential threat” and even has a dedicated minister to fight it.
Last year it pledged £51 million to campaigns combatting BDS and earlier this year banned certain BDS activists from entering the country.
Israel also fears demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine. Last year Israeli minister Gilad Erdan wrote to the British government urging it to stop a march organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
Israel appointed its former government spokesperson Mark Regev as its ambassador to Britain with a specific mission to combat support for Palestine.
His appointment was prompted by huge demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014—the largest ever.
The PSC has called a demonstration in London set for this Saturday and there are several others across Britain.