Israeli repression fails to stop Palestinians marching  

As Palestine’s national day on November 15 and the 34th consecutive Friday of the Great March of Return set for the next day approach, Palestinians in Gaza look set to be handed an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, look set to face the death penalty if they are convicted of “terrorism”.  

The Great March of Return, in which Gazans march every Friday to demand the right of return to the lands they were expelled from, has been notable for the horrific rate of deaths and injuries inflicted on protesters by Israeli snipers — and iconic images of the Palestinian flag being waved defiantly by protesters. In the West Bank, you run the risk of being arrested for carrying or displaying the flag.

Israeli politicians are hardly shy in calling for harsh punishments for Palestinians — and their calls are treated by Israeli settlers as permission to harass, attack and occasionally kill Palestinians. But a law proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marks a potential turning point in what Israel legally allows itself to do to Palestinians.  

Israel routinely uses “administrative detention” (jailing without trail), treats Palestinian prisoners appallingly, hands down prison sentences of up to 20 years for “crimes” such as throwing stones “with intent” and has an almost total lack of prosecutions against Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinians. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the next logical step would be an actual death penalty reserved for Palestinians.  

Israeli law already contains a death penalty for certain crimes, but no one has been executed since 1962. The bill to introduce a death penalty specifically for Palestinians is expected to pass its first Knesset reading in coming days.

In the aftermath of the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Israel wasted no time in exploiting it to further its anti-Palestinian agenda. Israel’s minister for education and diaspora affairs Naftali Bennett was sent to the US to address a memorial gathering in Pittsburgh.  

Ignoring the fact the mass murder was carried out by a white American neo-Nazi, Bennett immediately tied the anti-Semitic violence with his own country’s struggle against “terrorism”. He mentioned the Israeli town Sderot, close to the Gaza border where rockets occasionally land. His message did not find the unquestioning audience he had hoped for, instead offending many Jews with his cynicism.  

Meanwhile, Israel has won a new international ally with the election of fascist politician Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president. Bolsonaro has promised to follow in the steps of the Donald Trump administration and move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian embassy in Brazil has already been closed, signalling a hardening of official attitudes against Palestine.

Brazil’s new president isn’t the only leader to raise such a move. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the possibility of the government doing the same during last month’s Wentworth by-election. With almost no public statements about it since, in the aftermath of the Liberals’ historic loss of the blue-ribbon seat, we can only hope that it is off the agenda for now, at least.

Six months into the Great March of Return, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn praise for his “restraint” for not sanctioning all out war against Gaza. Far from being driven by humanitarian concerns, it is likely Netanyahu is worried about losing control of the situation.  

For Netanyahu, Gazans should be cowed enough to endure a blockade and too exhausted to protest it. However, the marches every Friday, Gazan fisherpeople seeking to break the naval blockade and the tunnellers who risk their lives to bring in essentials to Gaza via Egypt, suggest his plan is not going well.   

As for the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, there is very little detail. What has been announced includes Hamas agreeing to suspend “violent confrontations”, Israel lifting 70% of the blockade and setting aside a number of work permits that would allow some Gazans to enter Israel. An injection of Qatari money for salaries and fuel donations is also expected.  

Meanwhile, the people of Gaza are continuing to march, because they are steadfast in the justness of their demand to return home.