The partisan defence of the Palestinian actions was clever. Marian Barghouti’s apologetic for the effort was directed at international public opinion. His 16 May statement was headlined: “IF YOU IGNORE THE DEATHS IN GAZA, YOU ARE COMPLICIT IN OUR SLAUGHTER.” The final demonstration was timed to take place at the same time the Trump move of the American embassy to Jerusalem was being celebrated. And Trump is widely loathed on the world stage, even if many Israelis and Jews around the world welcomed the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The distinction between a policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and recognizing a united Jerusalem as the capital remained suppressed. In contrast, the two main emotional issues for the Palestinians were linked – the insistence on Jerusalem as their capital and the return of refugees. The language was bathed in rights even more than on Palestinian suffering. The focus was placed on the complicity of the international community in rewarding Israel in untold ways, including allowing an Israeli entertainer, Netta Barzilai, to win the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon that was also being celebrated in Tel Aviv at the same time as the final Nakba Day demonstrations. After all, even Australian Jessica Mauboy, the runner up in the Eurovision contest, acknowledged Barzilai’s enormous power as an entertainer.
Barghouti wrote and published the following:
“On one side there is an occupying power that is incessantly rewarded by the international community, even as the Palestinians are being pushed ever further out of their lands. Those who remain live under the harshest conditions: The denial of a right to live in dignity and freedom. In this age of media and social platforms, there is no excuse to not see what is happening. As such, remaining complicit is a conscious and active decision to side with oppression and directly be a part of it.”
Simply put, the international community is either for us (as Palestinians) or against us in remaining silent and supporting Israel. In the latter case, the international community was complicit in the loss of further Palestinian lands and the terrible conditions under which Gazans lived. Hamas responsibility for those conditions was ignored. The goal of return, so pronounced in the purpose of the demonstrations, was deliberately placed on a back burner, but the gas was still left on for everyone to see the flame that animated them. The focus was on Palestinians as victims and their rights as well as Israelis as malevolent oppressors.
However, the bottom line for Palestinians, including those in Gaza, was an increased despondency. The vision of return is a forlorn hope. Even the dream of an independent Palestinian state seems to be receding. That is not only because of the militancy and incompetence of Hamas, but Mahmoud Abbas, now in the twilight of his leadership, did not help with his antisemitic outburst weeks earlier. The international political situation in the Middle East does not help the Palestinians either. Iranian support is feckless. The Turkish economy is imploding. Qatar has its own problems in the Gulf. The Saudis and Egyptians support the Palestinian political goals only nominally as they forge stronger economic, military, intelligence and backroom diplomatic ties with Israel.
When return was mentioned, it was linked simply with the desire to stand up in dignity and not be punished for being displaced. Freedom was contrasted with repression and repression was linked with a long history of colonization. Jews settling in Palestine were but the latest phase of that colonizing effort. Palestinians simply had fought a century-old defensive war. But the international community condemned that defence and rewarded the Zionists according to Barghouti.
“Our minds are turned into a space for psychological warfare to implant an image of inferiority into our core, to convince us that we are the lesser ones, destined to be either controlled or kicked out. Our bodies are objects—shot at, beaten, humiliated, assaulted, violated. Our ideas and dreams of liberation are swept into a corner because if we so much as dare to speak loudly and mobilize, we will find ourselves incarcerated or killed. Palestinians are wedged between a painful exile and a butchered land. This is the definition of ethnic cleansing.”
This war was being fought in a way to contrast Israeli strength, inhumanity and oppression with the valiant efforts at improvement of victims under unspeakable conditions. “Palestinians are brave enough to love life so much that they are willing to go out to the streets and protest, and when they are not protesting they are fighting in their daily life by merely echoing the word ‘Palestine’.” Not welcoming death! Not willing to be martyrs for return! Not trying to break through the Israeli security fence! Just protest. Just demonstrations. Just a love of life.
Contrast this poetic statement on behalf of the Palestinian cause with the apologetics of Shimon Fogel, the chief executive of the Ottawa-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) that I included in the initial blog of this series. First, Fogel attacked Prime Minister Trudeau who had demonstrated that he had been almost as supportive of Israel as Stephen Harper and had previously been stridently attacked by pro-Palestinian factions. What was the main failure of Trudeau’s statement on Gaza according to Fogel? Not distorting what Israel did, but omitting any mention of Hamas’ direct responsibility for the recent violence on the Israeli-Gaza border. The CIJA statement began: “We are deeply disappointed the government statement ignores Hamas’ direct responsibility for recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border.”
Trudeau’s statement focused on the wounded and the justice of so many wounded killed by Israeli soldiers. Hamas’ use of violence does not justify Israel breaking the norms and laws of international warfare if the IDF did. Fogel’s statement does not offer a justification. Sidestepping a thrust is not a defence, it is simply a poorly thought-out strategy for missing the point.