For years, I have been hearing of plans by Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Lebanon
and Syria to march en masse toward the Israeli border, under the watchful,
headline-making eye of the international media – especially the Arab media.
Israel would never dare shoot the marchers, it was reasoned, especially if they
walked unarmed and showed no violence.
I wrote and spoke about these
plans in Israeli media outlets.
Recently, a few things changed in the
Arab milieu, and we saw the consequences on Sunday.
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First and foremost is
the development of a “Yes, we can” sentiment – the belief that unarmed masses
can overcome and defeat dictators. The “exposed body” protest is the new
nonconventional weapon of frustrated, unemployed young people, a weapon against
which the regime is expected to be helpless. Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and
Syrians use and have used this weapon against their rulers; now the Palestinians
have adopted it for use against Israel.
The second development is
Facebook and Twitter, means by which a public can organize despite the regime’s
efforts to stifle it, and where leaders can mobilize a rebellion without the
danger of revealing their real names. Social media was indeed the way Sunday’s
events were organized.
The third change is the involvement of the Syrian
and Lebanese regimes in events, since bus upon bus of disgruntled Palestinians
could not have reached the border with Israel on Sunday without those
governments’ knowledge and consent. The regimes’ cooperation stems from
their effort to export their internal problems to Israel, and turn TV cameras
away from what happens in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to Israel and its
actions against the Arabs.
Syrian residents of Deraa recently shouted at
the cameras, “We hope Israel will occupy us, because the Syrian military is more
cruel than the Israeli army.” The Syrian regime believes that dead bodies near
the border with Israel will “restore sanity” to the civilians in
The fourth fresh element is the link between Syria, Lebanon and
Gaza – the Iranian link. These three arenas are all under the influence of the
ayatollahs, and there is no better date on which to blame Israel for the mess in
the Middle East than May 15, the notorious “Nakba.”
But we must not
overlook the Israeli factor, which has an important role: In past years, Arab
players have seen and heard that Israel concedes whenever it is subject to
external pressure. The Likud, which historically was strongly opposed to
the establishment of a Palestinian state, is today willing to accept one. A
unified Jerusalem, an Israeli consensus for years, is today on the verge of
division. Even the return of refugees – once considered anathema across the
political spectrum – is contemplated, at least to a limited extent, by some
politicians on the left.
And when Israel’s enemies see it compromising
its core “principles” under external pressure, and realize its “red lines” are
at most pale pink, hope rises that further pressure will be rewarded with
further concessions; strong pressure from the refugees, for instance, will bring
war-weary Israelis to give up on that point, too.
Israel’s image today –
despite the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 – is
that of a weak, wimpy state, a state that can be nailed to the global cross by
Richard Goldstone, a state where announcing plans to build 1,600 homes in
Jerusalem is enough to raise the ire of the current resident of the White House.
Its neighboring countries are certain that Israeli society – especially the
elite living in ostensibly hedonist, pacifist, post-Zionist Tel Aviv – will sell
out all that it once held sacred in return for peace and quiet on Shenkin
Street, because it has lost the will to fight.
At the same time, in the
eyes of the rest of the world, Israel is becoming a leprous country – thanks to
classical anti-Semitism amplified by European guilt over the evils of the
Holocaust and colonialism. (It is always easier to beat the Jew’s breast in
contrition than one’s own.) Israel is therefore expected to never resort to
force against the unarmed “returnees”; those are the means used by the likes of
Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad.
Sunday’s events are not the last word.
The dynamic in the Middle East is one of escalation and
enhancement. Every person killed today is the martyr of tomorrow’s
funeral, the funeral itself becoming a violent protest and its victims, in turn,
the next day’s martyrs. Israel must thus be resolute on the one hand, but
restrained and measured on the other, since a rising death toll will only
exacerbate the situation.
This country must carefully weigh its actions
in confronting the new realities. It has no interest in sharing a cell
with this region’s dictators.Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the
Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the
University's Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.