June 13, 2011 Edition 16 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Palestinian refugees and Arab revolution
Defend our borders, but make a gesture  - Yossi Alpher
He then turned himself in to the Israeli police--what else could he do?--who handed him to the IDF, which returned him to Syria.

Search for justice continues  - Ghassan Khatib
Israel should draw the correct conclusions.

The empowerment of Arab society  - Yossi Beilin
I realized how deeply the issue is rooted in the Arab consciousness, even among those not considered adherents of the Palestinian cause.

Growing momentum  - an interview with Jamal Juma
It is the time to isolate Israel.

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Defend our borders, but make a gesture
 Yossi Alpher
The Arab revolutionary wave has already touched the Palestinian issue in more ways than one. The transitional military regime in Egypt has granted Hamas in Gaza greater legitimacy, opened the Rafah crossing and pressed for a Palestinian unity government. Fairly modest demonstrations and exploitation of social media by youth in Ramallah and Gaza clearly exerted additional pressure on the Palestinian leadership to reconcile.

On May 15 and June 5 we witnessed yet another manifestation, in the form of interaction between the Arab revolutionary spirit and the Palestinian refugee demand for "return". The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of refugees marched on border passages to Israel and in some cases tried to storm border fences. In Syria, the regime manipulated the border disturbances as a cynical provocation to distract public attention from its own atrocities as it suppresses revolution. In other cases, such as Lebanon on June 5, neighboring regimes seemed more intent on preventing provocation. On both days, the Israel Defense Forces were either taken by surprise or lacked the means and the tactics to deal humanely with attempts to breach border fences by unarmed civilians; the result thus far has been around 30 deaths on the Lebanon and Syria borders.

There were of course mitigating circumstances. In Lebanon on May 15, some of the casualties were inflicted by the Lebanese army. On the other hand, on the Golan Israel's case against the refugee attempt to breach the border fence was compromised at the international level by the fact that only Israel claims the Golan Heights as its sovereign territory. In the eyes of everyone else, the refugees were trying to go from sovereign Syrian territory to occupied Syrian territory--hardly an exercise of the right of return.

We have almost certainly not seen the last of this synergy between Arab revolution and the Palestinian refugee issue. If another intifada breaks out, mass marches on Israel's border fences could be a major new feature of Arab unarmed resistance.

The tactic, incidentally, is not new. In 1949 or 1950, refugees freshly arrived in the Gaza Strip proclaimed precisely such a "green march" on the Israel border. The IDF threatened in response to open fire, and the refugees backed off. Today, when Arab youth throughout the Middle East have seemingly lost any fear of their oppressive regimes' security forces, it is reasonable to assume that they may lose fear of the IDF as well.

Even if they are fired upon and killed, refugees storming Israel's border fences do not have the slightest chance of persuading the Israeli public that their demands for both the right of return and physical return itself are justified. Since Israelis and Palestinians first began negotiating the refugee final status issue at Camp David in July 2000, it has become clear to most Israelis that the concept of "return" represents a Palestinian and broader Arab narrative of delegitimizing Israel by locking into a peace agreement the determination that in 1948 Israel was "born in sin". Without reopening here the entire issue of the clash of the two sides' narratives, suffice it to say that the Palestinian demand is a non-starter in Israel and that further attempts to breach Israel's borders will merely reinforce Israelis' perception that they do not have a viable Palestinian partner for a genuine solution of two states for two peoples.

Yet there will almost certainly be more such breaching attempts, and the question arises, how to deal with them with a minimum of bloodshed and provocation. In this regard, I was intrigued by media accounts of the adventures of one of the Syria-based Palestinian youth who actually managed to breach the Golan fence and evade attempts to apprehend him. With a little help from the local Druze villagers and Arab citizens of Israel, he made his way by bus to Jaffa, where he tried to no avail to find the home his grandparents had fled 63 years earlier. He then turned himself in to the Israeli police--what else could he do?--who handed him to the IDF, which returned him to Syria.

Is there a potential model here for dealing with future attempts by grandchildren of refugees to enter Israel? After all, almost none of the homes their grandparents left still exist; most of their pre-1948 villages have been erased. Nor, needless to say, does Israel look or behave at all like these youth are taught to believe. Perhaps, as we justifiably defend our borders against masses of demonstrators, we could offer a guided tour as a gesture to a select few. We could try to demonstrate to them that while Israel resettled its own Jewish refugees after 1948 without making a fuss about their rights and their abandoned property, the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees has been cynically exploited and inflated by their Arab hosts. They have nowhere in Israel to "return" to--only to a state of Palestine.-Published 13/6/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Search for justice continues
 Ghassan Khatib
Several important dates have been observed in recent weeks. In one, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees when Israel was created, their lives and futures altered in a way that was catastrophic for the Palestinian nation. The second date that recently passed was the occasion of Israel's occupation of the rest of historic Palestine, comprised of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

These two occasions were commemorated in an extraordinary and dramatic way this year. There are several important dimensions to this, and controversial or contradicting explanations. While Palestinians in the occupied territories observe these dates every year, this year additional events made the anniversaries unusual.

First, preparations and planning for activities on these occasions was influenced by the "Arab spring" and the political use of social media. This led to the distribution of anniversary plans all over the region, through very popular Facebook pages or accounts and the great enthusiasm of Palestinian youth in and around Palestine, including in Palestinian refugee camps throughout the Arab world. Second, two neighboring Arab countries, Syria and Lebanon, gave the nod for Palestinians to demonstrate at the borders of both Syria and the Syrian-occupied Golan Heights, and between Lebanon and Israel. Finally, this year, the commemoration of these occasions was extremely bloody due to the brutal response of the Israeli army, which led to the killing of tens of Palestinians and their supporters.

While Israeli officials and analysts blamed Syria--and to a lesser extent Lebanon--of cynically using these occasions and exploiting Palestinians to divert attention away from unrest and upheaval taking place in Syria, Palestinians and most of the world had different readings of these developments.

The wide response to the calls to celebrate these two occasions, whether inside the Palestinian occupied territories or outside, shows that the Palestinian people are clearly still interested in achieving their inalienable right of return, guaranteed to them by international legality and United Nations General Assembly resolution 194, which has been renewed annually since its passage.

Second, the Palestinian people are also unified in their insistence on rejecting Israel's occupation of the occupied territories and are determined to continue resisting this occupation, mainly by peaceful and legitimate means, in accordance with international legality and the many United Nations resolutions that declare this occupation belligerent, illegal and needing to end.

The third conclusion is that the passage of time has not reduced the commitment and enthusiasm of the new Palestinian generation to their legitimate and legal rights to freedom, statehood, and return. Many analysts have even gone further to say that new generations might be more committed and more efficient in pursuing the same principled desire of achieving legitimate objectives. Whether there were attempts, either by Palestinians or non-Palestinians, to manipulate or exploit these demands is irrelevant to the fact that the Palestinian people all over the world used this occasion to renew their commitment and determination to their legitimate objectives, especially at the time when there is unprecedented international support for them.

Instead of responding to these legitimate and peaceful demands in blood or blaming other parties, Israel should draw the correct conclusions and realize that only by recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights of self-determination, freedom and statehood in their homeland can there be a peaceful solution. Without this, there will be neither coexistence nor normalization.-Published 13/6/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

The empowerment of Arab society
 Yossi Beilin
It happened during my second visit to Muscat, the capital of Oman, in 1994. It was a time when it looked like everything had changed and the Arab world was ready to embrace us. As deputy foreign minister, I headed a diplomatic delegation intent on building a relationship between the two countries. In the course of my first visit, I had already been to Muscat's unique fish market, so when I was asked where we would like to visit before our first official meeting, I informed the Omani chief of protocol who received me that I would like to show my colleagues the fish market.

The next morning, several black Mercedes limousines accompanied by endless security guards stopped at the entrance to the market and deposited us, decked out in dark suits at the beginning of the kind of hot day only the Gulf states know how to generate. Under the astonished eyes of the fishermen seated on the floor with their marvelous produce, we walked among the stands until we reached the far end of the market. There, we were approached by a man wearing a suit jacket who was buying fresh fish and was curious to know where we were from. He asked if we were Italian; we replied in the negative. He tried French and was again turned down. At that point I decided that I couldn't permit myself to leave his question unanswered, and with Israeli pride told him exactly who we were.

His face dropped and paled. He looked at me and launched into a rapid lecture in reasonable English about the Zionist invasion of Palestine in the early twentieth century, the injustice the Jews had inflicted on the Arabs living there, the expulsion of refugees and the need to repatriate them. He even said something about the Arabs not having to pay for the injustices the Germans had inflicted on the Jews. The security detail thought this was altogether too much and pulled him aside. I asked them not to hurt the man.

At the end of the day, that was the most important event in the entire visit, at least for me. I understood that the Palestinian issue is not just between the Palestinians and us. I realized how deeply the issue is rooted in the Arab consciousness, even among those who are not considered adherents of the Palestinian cause.

In late 2010, the Arab public discovered a secret that had been kept from it for generations: nothing can stop it if it decides to act. For years this fact had been hidden from the public by authoritarian regimes, some more and some less enlightened, that caused it to believe that real power is in the hands of the regime and that only the regime, in a gesture of good will, could benefit the people. The broad public knew that voicing criticism, organizing, demonstrating against the regime, and saying the wrong thing to the media could end up in an unpleasant interrogation and an even less pleasant sojourn in jail. It knew that loyalty pays, that towing the line keeps the regime off your back and maybe even produces payoffs and good jobs. The public learned that it's best not to take on the regime, and to play the game: fly the national flag, hang the ruler's photograph in your house or office or shop, and never ever ask questions.

People were born and died under such regimes for most of human history; they lived their lives this way in most Arab countries most of the time, with an occasional short exception. They were oppressed. They were aware of their oppression, but saw it as a fact of life.

The rulers well understood that they were on shaky ground. As more and more West European countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece) emerged from dictatorship during the 1970s, as the Soviet Union collapsed along with the dictatorships of Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, as the dictatorships of Latin America dissolved during the same period and even Africa began to experience a move toward democracy, they knew their hour was approaching. All they could do was buy time by means of their police states. What happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and what is still not over in Libya and Syria needed just a spark.

The moment Arab public opinion becomes an important actor than can change regimes, the decision-makers have to pay attention. The demand to solve the Palestinian problem is a broad public demand in the Arab world. From herein, it is impossible to push aside that man wearing the jacket in Oman. His opinion counts. Middle East leaders, whether sincere or cynical in their interest in the conflict, will have to deal with it, pressure for a solution, and no longer suffice with the kind of step they took nine years ago--offering an Arab Peace Initiative without pushing it in any direction.

The new empowerment of the Arab individual includes the Palestinians. To the distress of the establishment, al-Jazeera broadcasts to nearly every Palestinian home, where the social networks are also very popular. Suddenly it occurs to the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the refugees that previous generations may have failed them by first acquiescing with their situation, then turning to violence and now engaging in sterile diplomacy. They believe they can unsettle Israel by means of a Palestinian Tahrir square. As matters now stand, and assuming no alternative option looks more promising, mass marches to Israel's borders will become the next Palestinian effort.-Published 13/6/2011 ©

Yossi Beilin, a former minister of justice, currently chairs the Geneva initiative and is president of Beilink.

Growing momentum
an interview with Jamal Juma
bitterlemons: What do you think has been the impact of this year's demonstrations held on the occasions of the 1948 Nakba, when Israel was created and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes, and 1967 Naksa marking the occupation of the rest of historic Palestine?

Juma: It is not distant from the Arab revolutions and the situation in the region. The momentum that has been created there is also affecting and influencing Palestinian society and the Palestinian people. The most important thing about what happened on Nakba day was the participation of Palestinian people from outside. This is [usually] very sharply restricted. The Palestinian people and this young generation came to tell the world and to tell Israel and even the Palestinian Authority that "we are still here and we want to come back to our homeland. We are practicing it this time, not just calling for it."

The Naksa was a kind of continuation. They wanted to say, "we came with empty hands, just carrying the slogans that we want to return back to our homes and you killed many of us, but you won't stop us from continuing the steps that we started, calling for rightful return." The Naksa day protest was to make sure this message continued.

bitterlemons: Were you on the ground in the West Bank? What was the feeling in the air?

Juma: The Campaign to Stop the Wall was one of the organizers of the demonstrations. First, many of the calls were to have a demonstration on the Manara [Ramallah's central square], but everyone knew that there were going to be marches towards [Israel's] borders [from other countries]. It was not logical that while they were going to the borders and gambling with their lives, we would go to the Manara and listen to speeches and watch popular dancing. We had to go with the heartbeats of our people. We had to go to symbolic areas, confrontational areas, on the borders that have been enforced by the Israelis to tell them, "we are in the same line. Outside and inside, we want the same thing." We had to practice our right to Jerusalem [at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah]. Hundreds of soldiers were there and this continued until nine o'clock at night.

In [the village of] Walaja on Nakba day, about 1,000 people broke through the wall and entered the areas of 1948, close to al-Malha. Many people were arrested and beaten and we were lucky no one was killed. Also, in Tulkarem, in Baqaa Sharqiya and Gharbiya where the Israelis demolished a big market and built a nine-meter-high wall between the areas of 1948 and the West Bank--all inside one town, dividing the people from one another--[there was a demonstration].

bitterlemons: What was driving the demonstrations and will there be more?

Juma: The momentum that was created came out of the clear Israeli government position over the settlements and its colonial project in the West Bank. They want to change the geopolitical situation in the West Bank to serve the occupation, and as you know, it is very cut off and divided into ghettos and isolated areas. Also, the American position has totally sided with Israel, using the veto in the Security Council against the project to denounce the settlements. This has raised so much anger among the Palestinian people and it also raises a question to the Palestinian Authority: until when will we continue this so-called peace process and negotiations that have done nothing but made the situation in the West Bank more difficult?

All of these things are feeding into these demonstrations and we feel that they will escalate and become stronger.

bitterlemons: How does this relate to the Palestinian quest to be recognized as a state at the United Nations in September?

Juma: In reference to the September UN statehood issue, the Americans were so clear with [President Barack] Obama's declaration. Don't dream,[he said]. That is going to add frustration and anger and should convince the Palestinian leadership to stop relying and counting on the Americans.

We have to manage things in a better way, with a clear strategy. We must focus on two things. The first is to create and support the popular resistance in the West Bank and Gaza: against settlements, against walls, against checkpoints, against confiscating the land, and in terms of the settlers. It has to be conducted in an organized way.

The second thing is to open wide the international law fight. I don't understand why the [International Court of Justice] decision [on the wall] remains in the drawers of the PLO until today. It is one of the papers we could start with because it addresses the occupation, it addresses Jerusalem. There are many resolutions that condemn the crimes of Israeli officers and officials in the government, so the question is how to push this. Also, we must activate our diplomatic missions to promote the call for BDS [boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel]. It is the time to isolate Israel.-Published 13/6/2011

Jamal Juma heads the Stop the Wall Campaign.