On Tuesday, May15 — the day after Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) — Palestinians commemorated the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Arabic: يوم النكبة Yawm an-Nakba, meaning “Day of the Catastrophe“) by burying their 62 dead loved ones, including 7 children under 18, one of them as young as only 8 months old, who were brutally massacred the day before by Israeli soldiers during mass demonstrations along the separation line between Israel and Gaza, which also resulted in nearly 2,800 injured, almost half of them by live ammunition, according to the health ministry.
Monday’s death toll is likely to rise even higher still as 70 remain in critical condition. Gaza hospitals have been overwhelmed by the staggering number of casualties, with thinly-stretched medical personnel struggling to triage the seemingly endless procession of wounded demonstrators in urgent need of swift medical treatment; meanwhile, due to the ongoing blockade, hospital inventories already dwindling dangerously low on medical supplies, lifesaving medications, and plasma and blood donations, none of which are readily available in Gaza, continued to deplete at alarming rates. by Israeli tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition rounds, completely overwhelming Gaza hospitals whose medical staff smuggled to medically accommodate such high casualty tolls. The brutal it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 massacre. Nakba Day marks the 1948 mass expulsion and dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians the day after British and UN officials forcefully established the new state of Israel on the ruins of their homeland. As a result, most Palestinians were transformed into refugees overnight and continue to hold that status, denied by Israel the fundamental human right to return to their homes. Many Palestinian farmers were shot and killed 70 years ago for attempting to go back to their lands simply to feed their farm animals or tend to their olive plants.
By continuously denying Palestinians their right of return, Israel has been in ceaseless perpetual violation of their United Nations membership agreement — not to mention in addition to blatantly disregarding or trampling over most international laws with complete impunity, shielded by the US and other Western allies from any effective condemnation or sanction, with an obsequious, complicit corporate media to relentlessly peddle the same redundant propaganda justifying Israel’s illegal occupation and blockade, repeated war crimes, and gross human rights abuses as “defending itself against terrorists.”
The world community seems to have either abandoned or completely forgotten their obligation to the Palestinians, which it had enumerated in detail within multiple UN Resolutions. Israel was accepted into the UN on the explicit condition that it accept the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. Israel’s admission to membership in the United Nations carried out in General Assembly Resolution 273 of May 11, 1949 requires Israel to comply with General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, and Israel stated it agreed to adhere to this resolution, which includes among its terms:
“9. Resolves that, pending agreement on more detailed arrangements among the Governments and authorities concerned, the freest possible access to Jerusalem by road, rail or air should be accorded to all inhabitants of Palestine;
Instructs the Conciliation Commission to report immediately to the Security Council, for appropriate action by that organ, any attempt by any party to impede such access;
10. Instructs the Conciliation Commission to seek arrangements among the Governments and authorities concerned which will facilitate the economic development of the area, including arrangements for access to ports and airfields and the use of transportation and communication facilities;
11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;”
Tens of thousands turned out on Monday in the occupied territories to protest against the continued blockade that has greatly contributed to the 80% poverty and 50% unemployment rates, and seven decades of Israel’s refusal to make amends or end its oppressive rule.
The illegal move on Monday of the US embassy to East Jerusalem, a disputed territory under belligerent Israeli occupation, seemed to render null any hopes of a two-state solution, and has only inflamed Palestinian grievances — and a sense that the West is still conspiring in their dispossession.
“There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives.”
The focus of the protests is Gaza, where unarmed Palestinians have been massing every Friday since late March at the perimeter fence that cages two million of them. For their troubles, they have faced a hail of live ammunition, rubber bullets, and clouds of tear gas launched from overhead flying drones. Dozens had been killed and many thousands more maimed, including children.
Early reports on Monday suggested that Gaza’s demonstrators were being massacred by the Israeli army. Amnesty International called the events a “horror show”.
But for more than a month, Israel has been working to manage western perceptions of the protests – and its response – in ways designed to discredit the outpouring of anger from Palestinians. In a message all too readily accepted by some western audiences, Israel has presented the protests as a “security threat”.
Israeli officials have even argued before the country’s high court that the protesters lack any rights – that army snipers are entitled to shoot them, even if facing no danger – because Israel is supposedly in a “state of war” with Gaza, defending itself.
On Sunday night the Israeli air force dropped leaflets across Gaza warning Palestinians not to go near fence. “The Israel Defense Forces is determined to defend Israel’s citizens and sovereignty against Hamas’ attempts at terrorism under cover of violent riots,” the leaflets said. “Don’t get near the fence and don’t take part in Hamas’ show, which endangers you.”
Many Americans and Europeans, whose growing economic frustrations were exploited and manipulated by disingenuous politicians into misdirected anxiety over an influx of “economic migrants” flooding into their own countries, readily sympathize with Israel’s concerns — and its actions.
Until now, the vast majority of Gaza’s protesters have been peaceful and made no attempt to break through the fence.
But Israel claims that Hamas has exploited this week’s protests in Gaza to encourage Palestinians to storm the fence. The implication is that the protesters have been trying to cross a “border” and “enter” Israel illegally.
The truth is rather different. There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives. In Gaza, even the air and sea are Israel’s domain.
Meanwhile, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former lands – now in Israel – is recognized in United Nations Resolutions.
Nonetheless, Israel has been crafting a dishonest counter-narrative ever since the Nakba, myths that historians scouring the archives have slowly exploded. Western mainstream media outlets have been especially working overtime to crank out the relentless propaganda to reassign blame and condemnation away from the state of Israel and squarely onto Hamas for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed civilians away from Israeli forces and squarely onto Hamas, a seemingly involuntary reflex following the sporadic spikes
One claim – that Arab leaders told the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to flee in 1948 – was in fact invented by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. He hoped it would deflect US pressure on Israel to honor its obligations to allow the refugees back.
Even had the refugees chosen to leave during the heat of battle, rather than wait to be expelled, it would not have justified denying them a right to return when the fighting finished. It was that refusal that transformed flight into ethnic cleansing.
In another myth unsupported by the records, Ben Gurion is said to have appealed to the refugees to come back.
In truth, Israel defined Palestinians who tried to return to their lands as “infiltrators”. That entitled Israeli security officials to shoot them on sight — in what was effectively execution as a deterrence policy. Israel’s deliberate invocation of the term “border” to describe the 1949 armistice line that divides Gaza and Israel, which some protestors attempt to traverse each year at with tremendous risk to life and limb during the Great March of Return — most of them peacefully without any hint of aggression — seeks to justify its excessively vicious, hostile open-fire policy toward any demonstrators even remotely approaching the expansive buffer zone as “asserting Israel’s legitimate right to defend its sovereignty and security.” It further claims that, because the government dismantled its settlements in 2005 and no longer occupies the Strip, it therefore bears no responsibility for the terrible inhumane conditions imposed upon its captive inhabitants.
These are disingenuous talking points relentlessly propagated throughout the Western media. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza stretches from its eastern and northern land crossings to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, with Egypt controlling the south. In other words, Gazans are completely trapped and surrounded, forced to subjugate to the whims and demands of their heavily armed gatekeepers. What Israel calls a “border” is actually a militarized network of naval ships, barbed wire, electronic barriers, lethal no-man zones, and Orwellian surveillance systems that operate as the fence of the world’s largest open-air prison. In legal terms, Israel retains “effective control” of the Gaza Strip, including people’s movement, its water and power supply, its airspace, the flow of goods and services, and other needs of daily life, thereby remaining its occupying power.
The Great March of Return demonstrators are not “infiltrators” trying to illegally breach a sovereign state; rather, they are disenfranchised, dispossessed, and unlawfully detained second-class “citizens” of that very state desperately trying to break out of its brutal, soul-crushing prison in search of freedom they have never known outside its suffocating walls.
Nothing much has changed seven decades on since the original Nakba. A majority of Gaza’s population today are descended from refugees driven into the enclave in 1948, and for the most part, the vast majority under 50 have never known a single day of personal, physical, political, economic, or religious freedom in their entire lives. They have been penned up like cattle ever since, with over 2 million Palestinians languishing in the world’s largest open-air prison, surrounded by an aggressive dominating military force that frequently uses any excuse to abuse, beat, detain, menace, torture, and murder them. That is why the Palestinians’ current protests take place under the banner of the “Great March of Return.”
For decades, Israel has not only denied Palestinians the prospect of a minimal state. It has carved the Palestinian territories into a series of ghettos – and in the case of Gaza, blockaded it for 12 years, choking it into a humanitarian catastrophe.
Averaged out, Israel has killed over 10 Palestinians per week between 2000 and 2015, according to statistics compiled by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem. Granted, some of these Palestinians were engaged in violently resisting the Israeli occupation, but the vast majority were not. To blindly and consistently pin the blame on Hamas without fail, and before that on Israel’s previous favorite scapegoat, former PLO President Yassar Arafat, for that sheer, staggering volume and frequency of slaughter of Palestinian civilians by Israeli troops, especially when the numbers are starkly lined up in comparison, would be an insanely delusional, exhaustive achievement in cognitive dissonance.
Despite this, Israel wants the world to view Gaza as an embryonic Palestinian state, supposedly liberated from occupation in 2005 when it pulled out several thousand Jewish settlers. Again, this narrative has been crafted only to deceive. Hamas has never been allowed to rule Gaza, any more than Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.
But echoing the events of the Nakba, Israel has cast the protesters as “infiltrators”, a narrative that has left most observers strangely indifferent to the fate of Palestinian youth demonstrating for their freedom.
Once again, the executions of recent weeks, supposedly carried out by the Israeli army in self-defense despite not even a single reported Israeli injury or death, are intended to dissuade Palestinians from demanding their rights.
As an occupied people, Palestinians have a right to resist – in every way possible. It has been long settled that the right to resistance and even armed struggle against a colonial occupation force is not just recognized under international law but specifically endorsed.
Israel is not defending its borders, but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege.
In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.
For many years, world heads of state have castigated Palestinians for using violence and lambasted Hamas for firing “rockets” (in reality, modified fireworks) out of Gaza.
But now that young Palestinians prefer to take up mass civil disobedience, their plight is barely attracting attention, let alone sympathy. Instead, they are criticized for “breaching the border” and threatening Israel’s security.
The only legitimate struggle for Palestinians, it seems, is keeping quiet, allowing their lands to be plundered and their children to be poisoned and starved.
Western leaders and the international public betrayed the Palestinians in 1948, and are continuing to do so by failing to honor their commitments outlined in the UN Resolutions. There is no sign, 70 years on, that the West is about to change its ways.
A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.