Standing up to Apartheid: Contextualizing the Great March of Return

Gaza has been subjected to a suffocating Israeli siege for the past decade. (Photo: MEMO)

By Haidar Eid – Gaza

In the last 10 years, Israel has launched three massive genocidal wars of aggression on the occupied Gaza Strip. Many civilians were massacred by its indiscriminate bombing, condemned by UN experts and leading human rights organizations as war crimes and “possible” crimes against humanity.

These assaults left thousands of Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, including hundreds of children. 15.000 more Palestinians were injured.

We, the 2 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were violently expelled and dispossessed from our homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks (2009), 2 weeks (2012) and 51 days (2014) of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and destroyed scores of schools, including several run by UNRWA, where civilians were taking shelter.

This happened after years of an ongoing, crippling, deadly medieval Israeli siege of Gaza, a severe form of collective punishment described by Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights as “a prelude to genocide.”

In order to understand the mentality behind the killings of tens of civilians, including children, taking place on Gaza borders, one only has to read Israeli generals’ and politicians’ responses.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said there were “no innocent people” in the Gaza Strip after Israeli soldiers shot and killed 32 Palestinians during 10 days of non-violent, peaceful protests of refugees demanding the implementation of UN resolution 194, which calls for their right of return and repatriation, and an end to the 11-year deadly siege.

Liberman claimed that “[e]veryone’s connected to Hamas, everyone gets a salary from Hamas.” His statement came one day before his military said in a tweet that “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed“.

Matan Vilnai comes to mind, who told Army Radio in 2008, when he was Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister, that “[Palestinians of Gaza] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

This mentality is driven by a bigoted ideology that does not see the humanity of the “Other.” They are “two-legged beasts,” in the words of Menachem Begin, and “grasshoppers that have to be crushed after all”, according to Yitzhak Shamir.

As if 11 years of blockade, interrupted by three genocidal wars, were not enough! The attack on Gaza is not yet over: the Palestinians of Gaza are still living with their physical, mental and emotional wounds. Their bodies cannot heal because the medicine that is required is not allowed into the Gaza Strip.

Their homes cannot be rebuilt and the mangled steel and concrete cannot be removed because trucks and bulldozers are not allowed into the Gaza Strip.

Never before in history has a population been denied the basic requirements for survival as a deliberate policy of colonization, occupation and apartheid, but this is what Israel is doing to us, the people of Gaza, today: 2 million people live without a secure supply of water, food, electricity, medicines, half of whom are children under the age of 15.

It is an “incremental genocide” of the kind unparalleled in human history.

No wonder, then, that leading anti-apartheid activists, like Ronnie Kasrils, ex South African Intelligence Minister and member of the ANC, the late Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC leader and Robben Island inmate with Nelson Mandela, and Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmund Tutu, believe that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is far worse than what was done to black South Africans under apartheid. Even former American President Jimmy Carter, on his visit to Gaza, stated clearly that the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza are being treated “like animals.”

We have reached the conclusion that our fight on the ground through a series of marches culminating on May 15th, marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, can pose a serious challenge to Israel’s system of occupation, colonization and apartheid if it is accompanied by a global campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

We do need ordinary citizens of the world to show Israel that we have a common humanity; that if they watch Israeli violence, they will not tolerate it, because silence is complicity; that there is no place for their kind of war mongering and barbarism in the world and that people reject it.

This is exactly what the global anti-apartheid movement managed to do in the 1970’s and 80’s, until the inhumane apartheid system crumbled. It is time to stand up to the only remaining apartheid regime in the world; for that we need to be united.

– Haidar Eid teaches at the Department of English, Al-Aqsa University. He contributed this article to 

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