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11 April 2018

The March Continues

By: Hani al-Masri
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Nevertheless, growing dangers are threatening it, but they are of the sort that can be defeated. They stem from Arab and international pressures aimed at stopping the March for fear that matters could lead to a military confrontation because of the massacre that Israel has committed and threatens to expand. This emerges from Israeli leaders' threats to strike deep inside Gaza to end the March of Return and all that such an Israeli aggression may produce – which means that everything possible should be done to block the path before this aggression since it diverts the march from its course and undermines the strong message that it has already delivered.

The March of Return has brought the entire world back to the roots of the problem. It has brought Palestinian rights, specifically the right of return, back to the forefront of international events and concerns. And it is exerting pressure to ensure urgent action to end or ease the criminal blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, which has reached the brink of explosion – one that will be directed at Israel, not internally or aimed at Egypt.

On its second Friday, the march confirmed its peaceful and popular nature and unity. This has further consolidated the victories that it has achieved. Yet, the it also witnessed attempts by certain factions and groups to exploit it for their own purposes. This is a dangerous thing; for the march will succeed to the extent that it safeguards its unity despite the disagreements that should remain within the framework of unity.

The disagreements over the march's slogans, forms, and aims have continued. There was disagreement over using the rubric 'Rubber' [the tires the protestors planned to burn] on the grounds that this harms the environment and gives the occupation forces a pretext for inflicting more deaths and injuries. Despite this, last Friday's march went ahead, even though the tire-burning affected the size of participation and the quality of participants. Most of those who attended were youths, while the participation of older people, women, and children was less pronounced.

There was disagreement over the slogan of last Friday's march – whether it should be called 'Rubber Friday' or 'Mourning of Martyrs Friday' – just as there is disagreement over the title for next Friday's march – whether it should be called 'Palestinian Flag Friday' or 'Burning the Israeli Flag Friday' or 'Molotov Friday' or 'Shoes Friday.'

Any decision in this regard should favor the title that best able to unite ranks, since no group is free to do whatever it likes. There are wide areas for differences, creativity, and competition. But there certain slogans are unacceptable, for example, 'Molotov Friday', since this would transform the battle into a costly military confrontation and divert the march away from its objectives.

It is important to maintain plurality, variety, and competition, but all within a framework of unity and in a way that does not affect the March's peaceful character, which is the source of its power, and without which it cannot be a popular march and can achieve nothing. We must repeatedly warn against the use of Molotov cocktails, since this would be a recipe for destroying the March without achieving its main objectives or any tangible objectives at all.

But the most important disagreement has to with the March's potential aims: What is its central and defining purpose?

There are those who deny that it has anything to do with the sanctions or the tight blockade imposed on the Strip – which is a war crime according to international law – or with the attempt to end the inter-Palestinian split and regain Palestinian unity. And there are those who exaggerate in linking the March to these two issues and others. There are those who believe that the marches should continue until the Palestinians' return to their lands is achieved, either soon or in five years from now. And there are those who have set aims for the March that begin with independence and sovereignty for a state within the 1967 borders, but do not end with securing the Palestinians' right of return and self-determination wherever they may be located.

Before the March began, this disagreement was resolved in a reasonable manner by agreeing that its general framework is to highlight the right of return. But this does not mean that there can be no other side-marches that proceed in parallel. For the march can also be used to lift the blockade. After all, it makes no sense to tell those who are besieged, hungry, sick, and unemployed not to divert the March away from their course. Moreover, it is not wrong – in fact, it is a duty – to employ the March so as to enhance the prospects of ending the split and regaining unity.

For without unity, the Palestinian people become more akin to separated groups, with Gaza rebelling alone, just as Jerusalem had rebelled alone, and just as the villages, areas, and the confiscated lands that are threatened by settler colonialism demonstrate weekly alone, and just as the prisoners went on strike alone, and the Palestinians in the Diaspora are left to face their fate alone, and just as our people in the lands occupied in 1948 are left alone. All this is the result of the absence of a common national project and an all-embracing national institution and single leadership. For without unity, it is not possible to secure a national solution that includes the right of return as well as the remaining Palestinian rights and objectives.

This futile dispute reminds us of the dispute that arose in the days of Arab revival. The failure to resolve this dispute in a proper manner contributed to bringing the Arabs to the catastrophes they are experiencing today. This was the dispute that– very sadly – was resolved in favor of a separation between national liberation issues and human rights and liberties. The right of human beings to live in a dignified, free, and democratic way was shunted aside on the grounds that 'no voice should be louder than the sound of battle [with Israel].' This lead to the Arab countries being controlled by tyrannical, dictatorial, and corrupt leaders and regimes hiding behind progressive titles despite these regimes' achievements, which, however, they were unable to preserve. They were unable to achieve actual national liberation, and they did away with democracy and the rights of ordinary Arab people, while other regimes remained tyrannical, corrupt, and reactionary lackeys of foreign powers.

We have to bear in mind that the March of Return has broken out at a time when the Palestinian cause is passing through a very difficult phase. There are growing dangers threatening the cause with liquidation. Moreover, it is not true that Trump's 'deal of the century' has been buried before it was born, as we have heard from many leading figures that exaggerate the importance of the Palestinian stance against the 'deal' and underestimate its threat. For the deal's implementation is already underway even without being officially proposed, even though it is very possible to bury it if we know how to act by adopting a complete practical plan that does not confine itself to merely verbal rejection.

Without providing the requirements of victory, the brave stance against Trump's deal and the wonderful and creative March of Return will end in a bad solution; or an already bad situation may become worse, as happened after the first and second intifadas.

In light of this, we should act on the assumption that we have yet to reach the phase of harvesting the yield and achieving major victories, that of a Palestinian state, and the right of return. We must act on the assumption that we are still at the self-defense phase instead. And this means that the priority and the adopted strategy should focus on safeguarding the cause, the nation, and the land.

In this self-defense phase, the greatest achievement is to ensure that the cause remains alive and that the schemes to liquidate it are foiled, while at the same time trying to satisfy the requirements that ensure that the people continue to cling to their rights, identity, and their insistence on fighting for these aims and for what remains of their achievements.

The greatest achievement includes preserving the people's presence on their country's soil in the face of the schemes and calls urging them to emigrate. And resistance to the racist settler-colonialism that aims to confiscate and settle more lands as a prelude to imposing the Israeli solution must be maintained.

In light of the Palestinian weakness, split, and loss of direction, and Arab, regional, and international developments, especially after Donald Trump has become U.S. president, Israel imagines that it can move from managing the conflict to determinedly and seriously imposing its preferred solution. This emerges from its opposition to a Palestinian state and its proposed various alternatives to that, while simultaneously completing the Judaization and Israel-ization of Jerusalem and the liquidation of the refugees' issue, paving the way to annexing the settlement blocs and all of Area C, which amounts to more than 60% of the West Bank's area. In addition, Israel insists on being recognized as the state of the Jewish people, which effectively amounts to accepting the Zionist narrative and denying the Palestinian narrative of the conflict.

Understanding our current situation is half the treatment. On the other hand, imposing our wishful thinking and what we believe should be the case on the real situation – by claiming that Israel is on the defensive and is about to collapse – is a grievous mistake. This is despite the fact that Israel has numerous points of weakness, suffers from many contradictions, and faces many challenges. But that does not cancel the fact that it and its allies are still in charge of a balance of power that tilts in their favor, but which is beginning to move in the opposite direction.

In short, we should not leap over phases if we do not wish to suffer a new defeat. After all, we have paid a heavy and dear price for our attempts to 'burn through' the phases and try and prematurely capitalize on our struggles and uprisings.

We must benefit from our experiences and not repeat our mistakes.

* Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research & Strategic Studies - Masarat. - hanimasri267@gmail.com

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