By Eve Mykytyn
The Great March of Return is a nonviolent protest that Palestinians in Gaza started on March 30 in order to serve notice to Israel that the Palestinians have never given up on their right, as refugees, to return to the homes and villages taken from them in the Nakba and thereafter. Since the onset of the March, residents of Gaza have gathered on the Gaza side of the border. The Gazans have been met with lethal violence from Israel. In addition to live fire, Israeli forces have used rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas grenades against protesters, medical crews and journalists. As of May 7, Israel has killed forty seven Palestinians and wounded 7000. No Israelis have been wounded.
Israel has shown its usual genius for controlling the narrative, and has justified its brutal response as ‘defending the border’ although in fact, no Palestinians have successfully crossed the border.
Until bad publicity ended the practice or at least the filming of it, young Israelis displayed the hubris of the oppressor, crowding on bleachers to watch Gazans get shot. Although no Israeli has been wounded, the American media continues to describe the event as if both sides were fighting with equal brutality.
At first glance it seems little has been gained by the besieged Gazans. Palestinians remain stuck with the ‘terrorist’ label. But it is not Palestinians who are evicting people from their homes, stealing their land, or setting up apartheid roads and streets on Palestinian land. And it is not the Palestinians who have forced people into Gaza, making it the most densely populated land in the world, the world’s largest open air prison camp.
The Palestinian protest brings to light the scale of Israeli fearfulness, it may even be possible that Israeli’s deadly aggression points at Jewish guilt. After all, the Israelis know who are the indigenous people of the land they occupy.
By any reasonable measure, it is the Israelis who are the terrorists. Israel currently holds 6500 Palestinians incarcerated , including 500 held indefinitely in “administrative detention” without trial or charges, 350 children, six lawmakers and 700 who require urgent medical attention. Israel has been particularly brutal to Palestinian children. Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in military courts. Various international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and Israeli groups, such as B’Tselem, have documented the fact that Israel subjects Palestinian children to abuse and torture, both physical and psychological.
Thus it is clear that the Great March of Return is an effort to fight what has become an intolerable situation for Palestinians. This is why Gazans, many of them refugees,
are willing to march unarmed to the border when the response is so violent. The intention to make the March a peaceful protest was a deliberate one, designed to put the lie to Israel’s depiction of itself as a victim to remind the Israelis who the true people of the land are and to highlight the brutality of the occupation under which Palestinians live.
It might be instructive to look at the Great March of Return in comparison to two of the great nonviolent movements of the twentieth century, India throwing off British rule and the fight against legal segregation (Jim Crow laws) in the American south. As in Gaza, in India and in the civil rights movement, the protestors were initially accused of being the perpetrators of violence.
Gandhi pioneered the concept of ‘Satyagraha,' literally meaning ‘holding firmly to truth’ and as the term has come to mean, non violent protest. Although Gandhi championed Satyahraha for moral reasons, Gandhi had no better weapon available to effectively resist the British. Prior to Gandhi’s rise to power, Congress Party militants had committed individual ‘terrorist’ acts that had had little effect, and the people who mounted local uprisings were brutally suppressed. In one such protest in the province of Amritsar, Muslims and Hindus staged a massive protest. The British response, the massacre known as Jallianwala Bagh, was deliberately savage in order to produce a “moral effect” as General Dyer said. The British murdered at least 400 Indians, and followed the executions with a wave of random arrests, torture and public floggings.
Satayagraha presented an alternative to the usual response of protest followed by everyday submission to oppression. In fact, Gandhi accused the British rule of being particularly despicable because it left the Indians helpless and emasculated through its systems of taxation and class divisions. India, having been robbed of its economic and moral strength. was in no position to get into an armed conflict with the British. Satyagraha and its resultant publicity was simply the most effective strategy available to expose the injustice of British rule and to display the righteousness of Gandhi’s cause.
Although King read and admired Gandhi, his rationale for nonviolent protest was slightly different. King led nonviolent protests to highlight the extreme violence of the other side. King believed that there “was a deep, incurable sickness in our militaristic society, something that could not be fixed without radical change.”
Blacks in the south did not have access to the power of the state and its weaponry. King sympathized with the frustrations of Black rioters and regarded the threat of violence by Blacks as overstated by the United States. He told American leaders they lacked the moral authority to instruct Black citizens to disavow violence. “The users of naval guns, millions of tons of bombs, and revolting napalm can not speak to Negroes about violence,” he said.
Eventually the televised pictures of violent attacks perpetrated by police and civic leaders against unarmed men, women and children made support for Jim Crow laws less tenable. The federal government was forced to step in to protect the Black protestors and to avoid such federal intrusion, many of the Jim Crow laws were repealed.
Both Gandhi and King understood that their movements were too large to be won through negotiation. Nonviolent protest did not bring immediate results in either case. But by using nonviolence to highlight the violence that the ruling class used to keep the oppressed in their places, King and Gandhi were able to create a shift in the narrative to allow others to understand an intolerable situation. In some ways, these huge issues are not exactly “winnable.” “The grievances were not simply the material kind, which could be solved by slight adjustments to the status quo,” 1960s activist Hayden wrote.
I believe that the situation for Palestinians has reached that point where negotiation by interest groups is not possible. Israel has made clear that there are no two states available for a two state solution. Increasingly it seems that the only equitable long term solution is for Israel to recognize the Palestinian right of return and to become a country of all of its people.
Gaza does not possess the weaponry to fight Israel, but it does have the will to protest. We are in the early stage of a mass nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to an illegitimate authority. With time, perhaps the Gazans’ Palestinian brothers in the West Bank will join a similar protest. The brave soldiers of the great march of return have done more to expose the brutality of the Israeli regime than any violence, however well justified. Israel has proved its willingness to shoot thousands of unarmed Palestinians. Israel is outnumbered if not outarmed.
Can they really shoot millions without the world reacting?
If you have wondered why our Media is biased you may reach the conclusion that the media is not the solution but is a continuation of the problem. It is to us to demand that our media cover the conflict impartially and expose the very real hunting game that the Israeli Army is playing in Gaza.