Gaza protests mark shift in Palestinian national consciousness

By | April 4, 2018

Nathan Thrall writes:

Protest organisers describe them as reflecting a shift in Palestinian national consciousness, stemming from Trump’s decision to, in his words, take “Jerusalem off the table”. They say that, to Palestinians, it is now indisputable that they cannot achieve their national aims through mediation by the U.S. or the international community. The march is an attempt by Palestinians to take matters into their own hands and shape their fate, as they attempted to do during the first and second intifadas.

On 15 May, the national day of mourning for the flight and expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinian refugees, Palestinians in Gaza plan to break through the border fence and march toward their erstwhile villages, destroyed since 1948. The protest will take place at a tense moment: the day after Israel will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence and the U.S. will hold a ceremony to open its embassy in Jerusalem.

The march is taking place at a time of unprecedented suffering in Gaza. Gazans have endured a more than a decade-old closure, with severe restrictions on imports, exports and travel to and from Gaza, which has turned the territory into a virtual prison. Youth unemployment stands at roughly 60 per cent, and overall unemployment is over 40 per cent. In March 2017, conditions worsened considerably, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank began taking a series of punitive measures against Gaza, hoping to press Hamas to fully relinquish control of the territory. The PA cut salaries of its employees in Gaza, most of whom had been paid to stay home since Hamas won the elections and took over Gaza’s administration in 2007. It also prevented Gaza patients from obtaining the insurance needed for medical treatment outside of Gaza, held up the supply of medicine and reduced the electricity supply, causing worsening blackouts, increased flows of untreated sewage and the closure of several hospitals and clinics.

Following several months of such pressure, Hamas and the PLO forged a new reconciliation agreement on 12 October 2017, but little progress has been made in implementing it. Israeli officials now complain openly of the PA seeking to drag Hamas into a new war with Israel as a way of crippling its political rival. Israeli officials interpret the current march as an attempt by Hamas to respond to PA pressure by directing the anger of Gaza residents toward Israel. But Gazans view it as a rare moment of unity following eleven years of conflict and stalemate among their political leaders. [Continue reading…]

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