Gaza's lonely heroism

Gaza's lonely heroism
Comment: The people of the West Bank should follow Gaza's example; there is no alternative for them but popular resistance, writes Ghada Karmi.
6 min read
09 Oct, 2018
'The time for diplomacy is long over' writes Karmi [AFP]
On 21 March 1960 a crowd of 5,000 demonstrators gathered outside the main police station of their township in peaceful protest at the imposition of new government discriminatory laws. 

That demonstration was to be the first of five, but it never got past its first day, ending instead in a hail of police bullets that left 69 dead and 180 wounded. The police commander described the circumstances as, "hordes of people" who had surrounded the police station, some throwing stones, saying they "had to learn their lessons the hard way". 

The place was the Sharpeville township in South Africa, and the incident was known thereafter as the Sharpeville Massacre.

It was a pivotal moment in South African history, galvanised world opinion and led to a 1960 UN General Assembly Resolution condemning all acts of racial discrimination as violations of the UN Charter. In 1965 the UN went on to make 21 March the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

By contrast, on 15 May 2018 Israeli soldiers fired indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators peacefully protesting for their rights in Gaza, killing over 60 and wounding hundreds.

Only this time it was not called a "massacre" and there was no international outrage. It is true that the UN Human Rights Council did institute an investigation into the killings, and the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor warned Israel it might face trial for crimes against unarmed demonstrators.

This weekly human toll hardly merits a mention in the western media now

But within hours of the mass killings Israel had produced a cover story that exonerated its army and put the blame on Gaza's government, Hamas, and the willingness of Gazans to put their children in harm's way. It was a preposterous defence, but it convinced some and took the pressure off Israel. The world did nothing to sanction Israel or call it to account for its crime, and international censure has rapidly faded.

It is six months since the Great Return March started in Gaza. In that time, well over 170 Palestinians have been killed and 10,000 wounded, all of them unarmed according to human rights groups in Gaza.

Every Friday since the protests began demonstrators have been out within rifle shot of Israel's army, and each time they have lost between two and 30 of their ranks. On the last Friday of September three people were killed and 192 wounded. Yet this weekly human toll hardly merits a mention in the western media now, almost as if they thought the people of Gaza actually enjoyed spending their Fridays in this way.

No one knows when this cycle of protest and killing will end, but it seems to hang on the balance between Gaza's resistance and Israel's brutality; in other words, on the Palestinian struggle for justice and the Israeli quest for profit.

Gaza's function as a laboratory for testing new arms on a live population is well known. That is what gives Israeli weapons an edge over other competitors and is now central to Israel's profitable arms and surveillance industry. At the start of the 2014 war on Gaza, for example, shares in Elbit - Israel's largest weapons company - shot up by 6.1 percent.

Gaza's function as a laboratory for testing new arms on a live population is well known

The Great Return March is no less of an opportunity for Israel's "field-tested" weapons-making with the prospect of more profit.

The new "Sea of Tears" drone that dispenses clouds of tear gas over crowds, and the lethal "butterfly bullets" that explode on impact and lead to severe injury, are the result.

Surgeons operating in Gaza's hospitals have been shocked by the horrific damage inflicted by these bullets which cause huge craters as they exit the body, pulverising all tissue in their path. Nevertheless, the international market in Israeli arms is thriving, in effect making the purchasers complicit in the killing and maiming of countless defenceless Palestinians.

Read more: Israel places new restrictions on Gaza after protests

With such profits at stake and so little cost in international reprisals, Israel has no incentive to end the siege of Gaza.

As a result, a vicious and inhumane blockade has been allowed to continue for 11 years, with no end in sight. In such dismal circumstances, why do the men, women and children of Gaza risk death each Friday, knowing that no one will come to their aid against an enemy unconstrained by international rules or the norms of ordinary decency?

With such profits at stake and so little cost in international reprisals, Israel has no incentive to end the siege of Gaza

The answer, in Martin Luther's famous phrase, is that they can do no other.

Years of oppression have led them to understand the only path against Israel is that of a people's resistance in all its forms.

In the struggle on the ground against Israel's soldiers and its bombs, no negotiation, ceasefire, or mediation has ever succeeded. That is the context of Hamas' rockets, tunnels, and erstwhile suicide bombings. Today's Great Return March is the natural consequence of this position, a lesson the Palestinians of the West Bank would do well to emulate.

Against this background, the Palestinian president's speech to the UN General Assembly meeting last month seems like an utterance from another planet.

As if unaware of the persistent failure of the peace process and Israel's relentless West Bank colonisation, he reaffirmed his allegiance to the same process, asserting that, "consistent with our commitment to peace and the two-state solution and the path of negotiations to achieve [it]... We have never refused these negotiations with a view to rescuing the peace process."

Such an inappropriate position, maintained against the odds for 25 years since the failed Oslo Accords, has acted as an effective soporific to the inhabitants of the West Bank where Abbas rules.

They have been pacified with salaries and everyday concerns and generally diverted from thoughts of rebellion.

But it is obvious there is no future for such a course in the face of Israel's continued contempt for international law and the rights of the Palestinian people. Gaza's example must surely show there is no alternative for them but popular resistance.

The West Bank should become as ungovernable for Israel as Gaza now is. If that were to happen, Gaza's lonely heroism would end and be subsumed into a mass resistance movement across the whole Palestinian territory currently under occupation.

The time for diplomacy is long over. Israel's greed and brutality has seen to that and left Palestinians no other choice.

Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian doctor, activist, academic and writer.

Follow her on Twitter: @Ghadakarmi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.