By Hani Al-Masri/
A year after the Marches of Return began, why have they not spread to other Palestinian communities despite their outbreak coinciding with Land Day [commemoration of Israel’s 1976 land annexation], which is a day of symbolic importance in the Palestinian people’s struggle to defend their land, existence, and national rights?
The land has always been at the core of the struggle between the settler-colonialist Zionist movement and its Israeli embodiment, and the Palestinian people and their national movement. Defending the land is of growing importance after Israeli schemes to colonize and Judaize it have intensified to the extent that colonialist-settlers now number over 830 thousand [in East Jerusalem and the West Bank], with further schemes to raise that number to one million in the next few years.
The risk of annexing settlement blocs and Area C, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the West Bank, is also growing, especially after the U.S.’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan. Perhaps the most important reason the entire West Bank has not been annexed is the fact that it is already populated. Israel would need to choose between granting its residents Israeli citizenship, displacing them, or exercising blatant racial discrimination against them.
How to explain the limited participation in marches and confrontations in the occupied West Bank as compared to the mass participation in the Gaza Strip? Or how can one explain the failure to organize commemoration events in Palestinian communities abroad that were completely ignored by the PLO after the  Oslo accords, as compared to the massive festival in the [Israeli Palestinian] town of Sakhnin in traditional commemoration of the lands taken in 1948?
These differences are the direct result of an ongoing and deepening divide accompanied by mutual demonization and increased polarization that have contributed to widespread adoption of an ‘every man for himself’ attitude. This, in itself, is the natural product of the absence of a common national project after it has been changed too many times – from that of liberation and the right of return, to national sovereignty over any inch of liberated land, to a Palestinian state with self-determination and the right of return, to a state built on land swaps and an agreed solution to the refugees’ issue – and that has not been reconsidered since the Oslo agreement failed miserably.
In addition to the above, we have experienced the absence of an influential collective national institution after the PLO was sidelined following the Oslo agreement; the emerging authority is akin to the [PA] daughter that ate her [PLO] mother. When the PNC (Palestinian National Council) convened last year after a long absence, it was a unilateral affair limited to the attendees, and, consequently, did not embody the unity required to confront the challenges and threats that threaten the Palestinian cause, and to exploit the available opportunities.
One of the factors leading to the ebb of popular movements in recent years is the absence of a common political strategy for the national struggle with a unified leadership directing its implementation. Even unity in the field does not exist at the required levels today, as it did during the first [1987-93] intifada, when there was unity on the ground, with everyone participating in resisting the occupation, even though there was no unified leadership at the time. As a result, priorities and interests have shifted, with the priority and interest of each group, region, family, clan, or individual overriding the national priority and interest.
In this context, one may explain what is happening in the Gaza Strip, which is living under a suffocating blockade in the largest open-air prison in history: The blockade and the struggle to lift it have acted as a major catalyst in instigating the Marches of Return that have lasted for a full year and provided an example worthy of examining and popularizing.
Despite the Marches of Return’s high costs [casualties] they are the most viable and feasible, and the least costly option. There are only a few alternatives [for Gaza]: A military confrontation, which the various sides do not want each for their own reasons, or else total surrender to the enemy’s terms, which would entail agreeing to the four well-known conditions: Recognizing the state of Israel, disarming the [Hamas-led] resistance, suspending the resistance, and implementing the terms of the Oslo agreement – or allowing surrender to the terms of internal antagonism [between Hamas and the PA] by giving up power and allowing the Palestinian president’s government to control the Strip.
There is a better option than any of these, however; one the parties to the split have not had the courage to follow. It requires paying the price of achieving the unity that used to and still must exist, despite all the obstacles. An inclusive vision must be articulated that will generate a common political strategy for the national struggle under a unified leadership grounded in national principles: A true partnership, and a consensus-based democracy that suits the nature of this phase in the Palestinian people’s struggle.
One factor that cannot be discounted is the [PA] authorities and leadership’s lack of faith in popular resistance, despite constantly talking about adopting it. This is doubly significant in view of the wide gap between the leadership, forces, and the people arising from political failures and the poor governance embodied by the authorities.
This yawning gap is all but self-evident in what happened last Saturday when the national and Islamic forces in the Ramallah and al-Bireh governorate called for a demonstration in commemoration of Land Day at a sit-in square near Beit El settlement. Although leaders from various PLO and non-PLO factions, including Hamas and Jihad, were present along with an [PLO] Executive Committee member, and a [PA] minister, there were no more than twenty people in the crowd, joined by a few dozen youths at the last minute.
This meager presence – which is a repeat of several other previous occasions – should cause the forces and elites to take pause and consider how to answer the question at hand: Why did the masses, including faction members and supporters, not respond to the call to commemorate an occasion as important as Land Day?
It is not enough to say that the masses are disillusioned and hopeless. If that were the entire story, why do they participate in other protest activities, as we saw in Jerusalem when the Aqsa mosque’s electronic gates were stormed [in July 2017] and the Bab ar-Rahma gate reopened [in February 2019], and other incidents in defense of Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque?
Why did the public participate on a large-scale in the protests against the [PA’s] social security law, or the movement calling to lift the blockade off the Gaza Strip, or the 48K March, or the funeral of activist Basil al-A’raj [killed by Israeli security forces in March 2017], among other incidents?
Failing to consider these factors, and proceeding with the same policies, practices, instruments, and methods, especially when it comes to relations with the public, reflects either an inability to mobilize because the forces have become outdated and fossilized, or a lack of genuine desire for mobilization and fear of it. Either or both cases urgently raise the need for the long-awaited change, renewal, and reform that have yet to be achieved but are required for the situation to change. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it will produce the means to fill it if nothing is done.
“We hope events unfold in the right direction, because the vacuum may be filled with forces and ideologies that push the Palestinian cause backwards if we do not hope and work to push it forward.”