'March of Return' puts Palestinians back in the spotlight

It's not yet clear if the activists involved in the protests can sustain the momentum.

By
April 3, 2018 04:58
3 minute read.

Palestinians mark 'Land Day' with protests on Israel-Gaza border (Reuters)

Palestinians mark 'Land Day' with protests on Israel-Gaza border (Reuters)

 
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For several days the “Great March of Return” succeeded in putting the Palestinian struggle back at the center stage of world concern. With sixteen killed and more than 1,000 wounded out of 17,000 protesters who sought to march on Israel’s Gaza border Friday, the activists made headlines around the world.

But they paid a heavy price in death and wounded.

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The full reverberations of the effort is not yet known and it is not clear if the activists, many of them connected to the Hamas movement, can sustain the momentum. They claim it was the start of six weeks of protests but images published on Palestinian Quds Network media on Monday showed one of the large protest camps already being cleaned up near Khan Yunis.

A look at some of the global coverage gives an indication of how the march was reported.

The Washington Post ran several stories, one analysis piece claimed that “for Israel, there’s little political cost to killing Palestinians.” The New York Times highlighted how the battle was waged on social media and that the violence was fading away. CNN’s coverage, with Ian Lee reporting from Gaza, also sought to highlight how this was like “so many battles of yesteryear.”

In the UK, The Guardian also ran three stories about the protests, focusing on the 773 Palestinians allegedly shot with “live ammunition” and pondering if the march would lead to a wider conflict.

The Telegraph focused on whether one of the protesters who was wounded was a “Hamas fighter or unarmed protester” and also looked at whether there would be an inquiry into the deaths. In Germany, Deutsche Welle concentrated on UN calls for restraint while Russia Today in Moscow also highlighted the UN aspect.

It’s hard to gauge but it appears the overall coverage was not particularly critical of Israel. There was a sense of routine and almost boredom about it. This isn’t because other Middle Eastern stories eclipsed the Friday march and killings. The Egyptian presidential election was also greeted with a snooze internationally. Momentous events in Syria with rebels being evacuated from areas they held near Damascus after six years was greeted with a shrug. ISIS attacks in Iraq? Not of interest. In Kashmir, twenty were killed in battles between the Indian security forces and extremists.

The Palestinian mass march was supposed to highlight several issues. The main idea is to draw attention to the “right of return” as Palestinians approach 70 years since the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, which many see as the founding of Israel in 1948. Hamas also wants to use the march to remain relevant. However, it cleverly sought to distance itself from overt participation so that the march would seem like a populist event.

The Gaza Strip has real population pressures with almost two million residents living in a small area of land under a kind of blockade by Israel and Egypt. Hamas was unsuccessful at galvanizing any kind of march in the West Bank, so it’s success was only in Gaza.

The feeling in media coverage is that most people realize there will never be a “return” and that legitimizing this demand is not worthwhile.

The march was not successful at really focusing any light on the problems in Gaza or what people demand.

The Palestinians also had difficulty pushing the narrative that the march was peaceful. Although activists said that they were against stone throwing, tire burning and other violence, Israel seems to have at least encouraged coverage to cast doubt on whether the protest was peaceful.

That the Gaza protests, so far, did not result in a larger conflagration is evidence of the continued divisions in Palestinian society; between Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian diaspora.

As with clashes in the last year, such as the metal detectors in Jerusalem or the US Embassy move, the Gaza march shows that although the Palestinian cause can gain the attention, it doesn’t appear to gain the traction it once did in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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