The Palestinian way of war: Preparing for the 'march of return' in Gaza

Even in the best of times, one can hardly know what will really happen.

Crowd in Gaza City during celebrations for Hamas' 30th anniversary   (photo credit: Courtesy)
Crowd in Gaza City during celebrations for Hamas' 30th anniversary
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ever since Fatah waged its first act of sabotage against a pipeline of the National Water Carrier on January 1, 1965, the newly emergent Palestinian national movement has waged a constant war against Israel.
At the most basic level Palestinians and others are urged by all Palestinian entities and organizations from the PLO and Palestinian Authority to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Salafi organizations to kill or maim Israeli Jews and damage or destroy their property.
These various forms of organizations only disagree over the tactics to achieve these objectives.
Mahmoud Abbas, the “president” of the PA (or Palestinian State as it appears in its logos and correspondence) is constrained to achieve these objectives through “popular struggle,” through sticks, stones and incendiary bombs but excluding firearms, suicide bombings and missiles.
All the other organizations below that level voice no such restraint, including Fatah, the organization which Abbas heads in addition to heading the PLO and the PA . Their only constraint is their capabilities, which in Judea and Samaria are very low thanks to the Israeli Security Agency intelligence, preventive arrests and security cooperation with the PA in destroying a common enemy – Hamas.
As experts in the production of violence, these entities and organizations know that the “routine” production of violence through “armed” and “popular” struggle is insufficient by itself not only to achieve meaningful political objectives such as Israeli withdrawal, but even to achieve the international media limelight in the battle of delegitimizing the Jewish state.
To put it bluntly, the killing of two fathers of large families, and the severe maiming of two Israelis, the crop of Palestinian violence, for example, in January and February 2018, made headlines in the Israeli and Palestinian media sites only, hardly an impact that can in any way change the basic balance of power between the two sides.
As painful for most Israelis as is the killing of fathers of five, few Israelis whether on the Right, Center or Left will change their opinions on the Palestinian issue, and still less so those in power.
The Palestinians are also painfully aware that since the “Arab Spring,” its often bloody aftermath and Iranian- Saudi, Shi’ite-Sunni proxy wars, the threshold of killings and maiming they must attain to achieve the limelight has become appreciably higher.
Palestinian organizations compete with the Russian and Syrian indiscriminate air bombings of Ghouta, the area that covers the eastern suburbs of Damascus, and to a lesser and decreasing extent with the violence in Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
This is why tens if not hundreds of members of these organizations consistently try to come up with ways to break the routine and create events and hopefully waves of violence, which if frequent enough will hopefully undermine Israelis’ will to maintain their democratic state in a region of states on the brink of war, such as Lebanon, or deep in the throes of war, such as Syria.
The latest in the staging and production line is the idea of a massive procession of 100,000 Gazans, with the objective of storming the Israeli security fence around Gaza to signify the return of Gaza’s refugees to their original homes. Needless to say, the protesters will hardly be the original refugees, who would have to be at least 69 years old, the time that has elapsed since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
In this event, the immediate objective is less to kill Israelis (if that can be achieved, even better), but to get Gazans killed. Hopefully, from their point of view, Israel will resort to force to maintain the border with Hamas-controlled Gaza (as indeed every sovereign states does) and create the graphics and the funerals that will delegitimize Israel.
Nevertheless, the long-term objective of the event is in fact to kill and maim Israelis and damage their property.
Hamas and other factions are hoping that this will lead to mass waves of violent protest and self-initiated suicide terrorist acts in the West Bank and among Israel’s Arab citizens. More hopefully, from the perspective of the Palestinian organizations, it will yield a wide-scale intifada.
Even in the best of times, one can hardly know what will really happen.
Why and how to rebel is studied closely by the status quo power, the rebels and terrorists and of course many academics.
The former, in this case, Israel, wants to unearth the secrets to maintain the status quo – where people go about their business peacefully – or in the case of the Palestinian terrorist organizations to change it, so that we have another Ghouta, another bloody Baghdad, a tattered Gaza after 11 years of Hamas rule, or another full-fledged failed Palestinian state.
All would agree that after a hundred years of studying rebellion, creating mass waves of violence remains closer to being a mystery than the neat formulas that characterize the exact sciences.
The project is even more fraught with difficulties when the Palestinians are divided, especially after the attempted assassination of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza. In fact, so divided are they that the major actors, PA and Fatah on the one hand, Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other, disagree over the dates on which the event should take place.
Fatah supporters urge the event to take place on May 14, the date Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel and five Arab states invaded it. The Palestinians have appropriated the date to commemorate the Nakba, the failure of the Palestinians to destroy the state and the plight of the refugees, even though the exit of Palestinian refugees had little to do with the particular date.
Hamas is hoping to stage the even on March 30, on which many Israeli Arabs commemorate Land Day.
There is a good chance that marches will take place on both dates.
Both Israel and the Palestinians are then preparing assiduously for the events.
The Israeli army will do everything to thwart the protesters in ways that avoid bloodshed. The Palestinian organizations, from the PLO and PA downward, want the shedding of blood.
Hopefully, for both Israeli and Palestinian lives, Israeli intentions will prevail.
The author is a professor in the departments of Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.