Persistence will pay off for
Palestinians By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - There are several remarkable
layers to what has been called the beginning of a
"Third Palestinian Intifada" (uprising) that broke
out on May 15, marking the 63rd anniversary of the
creation of the state of Israel.
was famously coined Nakba, which means
"disaster" in Arabic, by prominent Syrian
historian Constantine Zureik, and continues to
carry that name.
On this day in 1948, the
armies of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt
(25,000 soldiers in total) went to war against
Israel - resulting in a humiliating and painful
collective defeat for the
Arabs. In 2011, it was a
human mass that marched onto Israel, rather than
official bulky armies.
They came carrying
Palestinian flags and keys to the homes of their
fathers and grandfathers - a sacred symbol of
Palestinian identity, bequeathed from one
generation to the next since 1948.
Syrian front, hundreds of Syrians and Palestinians
broke through the border fence and pelted soldiers
with stones, heading into the Syrian Golan, which
has been occupied by Israel since 1967. They
reached the occupied town of Majdal Shams, at
which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) opened fire,
killing four civilians. A total of 170 were
wounded on the Syrian border.
the same scene was repeated when angry Lebanese
and Palestinians reached the border town of Maroun
al-Ras, where the IDF shot and killed 10 people,
wounding over 110. In the West Bank, young
Palestinians attempted to wrestle control of the
Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and
Jerusalem. Once again the IDF opened fire,
wounding 40 in the clashes, which spread into
Jerusalem. In Egypt, authorities prevented angry
demonstrators from breaking through the border
with Gaza, resulting in large riots and 120 people
Is it war? Not yet - but as Eran
Makov, an official from the Israeli Defense
Ministry put it, May 15 was "a dress rehearsal for
September". Then, the Palestinians plan to ask for
United Nations General Assembly recognition of a
Palestinian state. That is when Israel will
certainly say no and that is where the real
violence - the real Third Intifada - will break
The outgoing head of Israel's Shin
Bet, Yuval Diskin, recently said that he was "very
worried" about Palestinian statehood in September.
The Palestinians are expected, by some rough
estimates, to win 140 votes, whereas all they will
need at the UN is 128.
Ehud Barak held a similar line, warning that his
country would face a "political tsunami" if it did
not devise a peace plan ahead of September. "We
have been ruling over another people for 43 years.
This is unprecedented. There is no way the world
is going to accept this."
failed to jumpstart peace talks since they
collapsed last October 2010. Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas, who sealed a deal with Hamas this
month, has said that he would resume talks
immediately if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
froze all settlement construction in the West Bank
and East Jerusalem.
The premier, who is
due in the US on May 20, has so far refused to
budge on settlements and so has his Foreign
Minister Avigdor Liebermann who replied, "We are
ready for immediate talks without preconditions,"
adding that he will not freeze settlements neither
for three months "nor for three days and not even
for three hours".
The popular uprising, it
must be noted, should have been no surprise for
Israel - a Facebook page for the Intifada has been
up and running for weeks, calling on the
Palestinians to revolt on May 15. Strangely
enough, the Israelis expected an in-born uprising,
similar to the one of 1987 and 2000, but nothing
on their borders with the Arabs.
those who might have expected hostilities, they
certainly imagined that it wouldn't be on the
Syrian-Israeli front, which has been quiet since
1973. According to organizers of the new Intifada,
Stage I was to include a "sit-down strike" on
Sunday, with refugees from Syria, Jordan, Egypt
and the Palestinian Territories gathering at
different locations close to their borders with
Israel. Stage II was to be the "The Advance" where
refugees would march peacefully towards the
border, penetrating as deep as geography allows
them. Stage III will be the "Crossing" where
refugees would march into Palestine, with one
objective in mind: liberation. The last phase,
Stage IV, would be when each refugee reached
his/her native town or village, or the nearest
location to it, where a second sit-in would take
place until they were allowed to "return".
On Sunday, Stage I started and immediately
distracted the entire Arab world, and its media,
from all that was taking place in Libya, Yemen,
Bahrain, Egypt and Syria. In as much as Arabs seem
to be furious with their respective governments,
they would certainly be willing to set aside their
differences when it comes to the Arab-Israeli
It goes without saying that Arab
governments are pleased by the prospect of a Third
Intifada. Throughout history, whenever the
popularity of any Arab regime is in doubt,
monarchs and president immediately take out the
Organization leader Yasser Arafat famously did it
in 2000 when he used Nakba day to drum up
support for his diminishing popularity in the
Occupied Territories. Hasan Nasrallah, the leader
of Hezbollah in Lebanon, came out with a statement
on Sunday night: "You the honorable have given the
Nakba a new meaning!"
caretaker prime minister Saad al-Hariri, an ally
of the West, could not but describe the killing as
"blatant, intolerable aggression".
better were the voices of condemnation heard from
within Israel. Daphne Richmond-Barak of the
Herzilya Interdisciplinary Center, acknowledged
that shooting the demonstrators was a violation of
international law. One of the authors of Israel's
military code of ethics, Asa Kasher, added, "It
would be more appropriate to look to the US's
actions against Mexican infiltrators on its
southern border to learn about legitimate use of
If the May 15 episode is repeated,
snowballing into a regular habit for the next four
months, Israel will find itself isolated within
the international community, whereas the
Palestinians would have captured the world's
hearts, minds and television screens.
Having just killed Osama bin Laden and
declared that the US is not at war with the Muslim
world, US President Barack Obama needs to deliver
on the issue most sacred to the Arabs: Land and
justice for the Palestinians. For more than two
years, the Israelis have been giving him a very
difficult time, refusing to dismantle settlements,
refusing to enter into peace talks, shooting at
the Turkish freedom flotilla last June, and more
recently, even refusing to recognize Mahmud Abbas'
historic breakthrough with Hamas.
thing Obama wanted was trouble on Israel's borders
- knowing perfectly well that Israel would swallow
the bait, shoot the demonstrators and get the US
into an international mess - yet again. On Sunday,
the Palestinians actually gave Netanyahu enough
rope to hang himself, ahead of September.
Sami Moubayed is a university
professor, historian, and Editor-in-Chief of
Forward Magazine in Syria.
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