Palestinians have upped the stakes in their struggle for freedom and justice on the anniversary of al-Nakba (“The Castrophe”), as Palestinains refer to the ethnic cleansing that accompnied the founding of Israel in 1948).
Israel responded with lethal repression.
Thousands of Palestinians and their supporters protested on Israel's borders and in the occupied Palestinian territories on May 15. The protests ― in which 21 unarmed protesters were killed and hundreds injured by the Israeli military ― came in response to a call for a “third intifada” (uprising) against Israeli occupation.
Protesters on the Syrian border broke through fences and reached the Golan Heights ― part of Syria illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Eight people died and about 50 were injured when Israeli troops opened fire, Gazatvnews.com said on May 16.
Hassan Hijazi, a protester of Palestinian background, was able to elude security and travel to his grandfather and father’s old house in Jaffa ― from which they had been driven out, Electronic Intifada said on May 18.
Ten people were killed and 70 were injured at a protest at Maroun el Ras at the Israel-Lebanon border.
Many of the protesters were Palestinian refugees demanding their right to return to their country. Thousands have been forced to live for decades in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria with few legal rights.
Journalist Matthew Cassel, who was at the Lebanese border protest, said in the May 16 Guardian: “Men and women, young and old, secular and religious, were all present. This was the first time in 63 years that Palestinian refugees would go to the border in their tens of thousands and call for their right to return home.”
US President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's “unshakeable support and commitment” to the security of Israel on May 17, Ynetnews.com said the next day.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney justified Israel's actions, saying, “Just like any other country, Israel has the right to defend its borders”, Ynetnews.com reported.
The wave of protests across the Arab world has this year has emboldened Palestinians to engage in a new round of mass protests. The protests also have taken advantage of the new democratic space opened up in neighbouring countries.
The border rallies showed that Israel's neighbours ― who usually maintain tight border security arrangements with Israel ― felt they could not use their usual heavy-handed tactics in fear of inflaming their own domestic tensions.
The protests follow an agreement for the formation of a unity government between Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah. The two factions, along with 11 other smaller Palestinian groups, officially endorsed an agreement brokered by the Egyptian government on May 4.
In 2007, Fatah led a coup, with the support of Western powers, against the elected Hamas-led government. The conflict ended with the Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
The unity government would operate until elections are held ― within one year, Inter Press Service said on May 5. The agreement also included integrating Hamas into security and political bodies.
The deal comes after mass pressure from protests that occurred across Palestine in March in response to the wave of uprisings across the Arab world, demanding an end to division between the factions.
Mohamed Megahid al-Zayat, assistant director of the Cairo-based National Center for Middle East Studies, told the Inter Press Service on May 5: “The revolutions currently sweeping the region ― especially the fall of Egypt’s [Hosni] Mubarak regime ― have altered the strategic balance.
“Mubarak’s departure removed Fatah’s chief regional ally from the equation, prompting it to reconcile with Hamas,” said al-Zayat. “Hamas, meanwhile, signed on to the deal because it knows the [new Egyptian] government will be a far more even-handed mediator than the Mubarak regime ever was.”
However, the unity government will continue to cooperate with the occupying Israeli army, Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator told ElectronicIntifada.net on May 16.
He said cooperation with the Israeli military was an unavoidable necessity of a people under occupation. This cooperation had been a key point of disagreement between the groups.
The extent of the Fatah-led PA's cooperation with Israel was exposed in January when the “Palestine Papers” were released. The documents detailed Fatah's active collaboration in helping occupying forces suppress resistance activists, including Hamas members.
This collaboration was evident on May 15 when Palestinian Authority security forces broke up a protest in the southern West Bank town of Hebron. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said on May 16: “The police and security officers used force to disperse and drive the demonstrators away from the area. A number of demonstrators were violently beaten.”
Hamas's position after the agreement is unclear, and its leaders have made differing statements about future tactics since the signing of the agreement, Xinhuannet.com said on May 18.
Israel has condemned the unity agreement and used it as an excuse to avoid negotiations, Associated Press said on May 18.
IPS said on May 4 that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded: “The PA must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas ― there is no possibility for peace with both.”
The PA is also pushing for Palestine to be given statehood by the United Nations at a September sitting of the UN general assembly, AsiaNews.it said on May 18. The proposal seeks to recognise Palestine on its pre-1967 borders – a mere 22% of the original country.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in a New York Times opinion piece on May 16 that recognition would allow Palestine to negotiate with Israel as an equal “member of the United Nations,” not as “a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us”.
However, this strategy has little chance of changing life in Palestine.
Ali Abunimah said in a May 17 ElectronicIntifada.net article: “Abbas admits later that once the 'state' is recognized, he would go back to negotiations with the same old intransigent Israel and 'negotiate' the same old 'core' issues.
“The notion that 'the international community' will suddenly start to put real pressure on Israel just because of yet another UN declaration to add to dozens of others that it has never enforced on Israel is delusional.”
Erekat told ElectronicIntifada.net that Israel would be allowed to keep its growing, illegal settlements if statehood was achieved and that Palestine would engage in “land swaps”.