This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 25/05/2011
It can be said that a recent event, namely the popular marches towards the Palestinian border on May 15th, was certainly symbolic. Combined with other symbolic events, this could shift into a permanent and progressive act. Based on this potentiality, it can be said that such a symbolic incident will establish roots for a new mechanism of struggle against Israel. The act, once repeated, could be worrisome and troublesome for Israel.
The "march" was initiated at first as a romantic idea by Palestinian and Arab youths who took to the streets of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and walked towards the [Palestinian] border. The most notable incidents happened in Lebanon and Syria; where groups of youths in their mid-twenties were seen rushing enthusiastically towards the border, where heavily armed Israeli soldiers were standing guard. Yet the youths showed no sign of fear or hesitation in such a situation.
In Lebanon, near the Maroun al-Ras border point, it was not only youths who marched towards the border, but their mothers also took part. Eyewitnesses said they were there to encourage their sons to advance towards the border. People are accustomed to seeing Palestinian youths from the refugee camps at the forefront, yet this time they saw university professors in accompaniment. People were advancing in masses towards the border fence, where Israeli soldiers were ready to fire at them, yet this did not affect their zeal or pace. A new psychological condition has been created, something we should pause to observe and consider carefully, for this psychology and will provide future momentum.
Near Majdal Shams village in the Golan Heights, the same scene reoccurred, where eyewitnesses from the district said they attempted to stop the youth march before it came into contact with Israeli gunfire. However, residents of this district were surprised to see the youths declining their request to stop, and instead rushing towards the border fence to pull it down with their bare hands. The youths were wholly inattentive to the bullets showering around them, and continued their advance through the fence, whilst others around them were either killed or injured. The Golan residents were taken by surprise to see this new and unprecedented spirit, following long years of stagnation under the Israeli occupation. This spirit enthused one Palestinian youth to enter Palestine, rush towards Jaffa, his parent's hometown, before being detained there. This youth's journey, and his determination to complete it, is indeed worthy of contemplation, as this attempt will definitely be followed by others. This is because a new spirit has risen in front of our eyes, and it will be a catalyst for future events.
This new style of struggle [the march towards the Palestinian border], and this new spirit of courage, have bewildered the Israeli soldiers and officers completely. They did not know what to do, and thus resorted to their habit of firing at civilians. Israeli newspapers wrote about officers lowering their heads, because they did not know what to do. They were gripped by fear and bewilderment, and this fear has extended throughout Israel. The following question comes to mind: What if this march reoccurred with greater public participation? A future march may transform into a strategic and international incident, an incident which Israel would not know the outcome of.
The next day, as the marches reached their full momentum, incidents occurred in the Yarmouk camp near Damascus. It was the day of a funeral held for martyrs, yet this event was particularly special, as people came out in huge masses to pay the deceased the last honors. Anyone who did not leave his house was seen watching the scene from a balcony, or from behind a window, splashing rice or perfume on the funeral procession. Hence it can be said that all residents of the refugee camp took part in the funeral service, which was unprecedented, although this camp is well known for its high number of martyrs for the Palestinian cause. This time, there was a truly unique harmony between "the march" and the funeral, and there was interaction between the martyrs' families and their sons who participated in the march. This is a good omen for a new psychological condition, which has inspired the camp following years of silence. Hence we can once again say that the march will launch a new stage of Palestinian-Arab confrontation with Zionism, a stage where the Israelis will be bombarded with questions, which they will be unable to answer.
In an additional bid to understand and analyze the marches, there are those who claim they were influenced by the popular mobility that recently shook Arab capital cities, from Tunisia to Egypt, and that what is happening now is a by-product of this. This remark may be correct to an extent, but the issue goes beyond mere influence, imitation or repetition, because none of these can produce a popular movement that can survive, grow and develop, and then become a landmark in the course of struggle. When the inter-Palestinian dialogue was held weeks ago, there were those who said "we need not to imitate, but rather to see a Palestinian activity under a Palestinian title and with Palestinian content". This is exactly what happened with the recent marches, and this idea has had a profound influence on peoples' inner feelings, to the extent that they have been greatly motivated.
Nowadays, events are inseparable, especially in the age of globalization we live, and Obama's recent speech was disappointingly negative. He attempted to interact with the entire Arab mobility, either by means of containment or threat, but he ignored the Palestinian cause, as if it does not exit. Obama did not find anything to say except that he supports Israel in its affairs. He wants to see a Palestinian state, not on the 1967 borders, but on the "grounds" of the 1967 borders, highlighting the necessity of land swap in a manner that guarantees Israel's security. He suggested indirectly that settlements should remain in the same manner proposed by President George Bush, or in other words, the demographic changes should be taken into consideration. Obama did not find anything wrong with warning Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the risk of going to the UN to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 border. We know from experience that such negative American stances will trigger Palestinian anger, but this time anger was expressed by a popular march, and this is something Obama will not be able to ignore forever.