A perfect storm gathering for Palestinians, Israelis
LONDON - Symbolic and sensitive events in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are taking place close to each other, raising the likelihood of confrontations.
Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day on May 13, a national holiday commemorating the reunification of the city after the Israeli military took control of the Old City in the 1967 Six-Day War. Last year, which marked the 50th anniversary, tens of thousands of Israelis marched through Arab neighbourhoods in the eastern side of the city.
The marches are often marked by anti-Palestinian slogans but this year the event is likely to be more sensitive for the Palestinians because one day later the United States will ceremoniously open its new embassy in Jerusalem, in line with US President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of the city as the capital of Israel.
The move of the US Embassy was timed for May 14 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. Israel has welcomed the move. Palestinians have announced a “day of rage.”
“The 14th of this month will be a huge, popular day of rage everywhere,” Ahmad Majdalani, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official, was quoted as saying on Palestinian radio. “Our people will express their rejection of relocating the embassy to occupied Jerusalem.”
If Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas decides to back the “major protests,” there would be “little the [Palestinian] security forces could do to prevent clashes” between Palestinians and Israelis, an unidentified Palestinian security official told the Jerusalem Post.
Abbas recently said he would take “tough steps” against the United States and Israel over the moving of the embassy but he has yet to specify what those moves would be.
Hamas, the rival to Abbas’s PA, is taking part in what is expected to be the largest gathering near the Gaza-Israel border on May 15. The day marks Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees following the creation of Israel.
Since the weekly Gaza protests began March 30, approximately 40 demonstrators have been killed and more than 1,700 wounded by Israeli forces. The protests, called the “Great March of Return,” were meant to highlight the rights for Palestinian refugees and the humanitarian situation in the besieged strip.
There are fears Palestinian causalities will be higher because more Palestinians — an estimated 100,000-200,000 — are expected to be taking part in the protests. Israeli media reported that hundreds of Palestinians intend to try to breach the Israeli border on May 15.
Palestinians accused of attempting to cross the border have been killed by Israeli soldiers, a show of force branded as unlawful by rights groups.
“Excessive use of force by security forces has been routine during Israel’s 50-year occupation, Anan AbuShanab, a research assistant at Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Division, said in a statement.
“In Gaza, Israeli forces have since March 30 fatally shot 39 Palestinians — including five children and two journalists — and injured thousands during demonstrations near the border fence.
“Illegal orders have greenlighted firing on demonstrators irrespective of whether this was ‘strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,’ the standard required under international law for intentional use of lethal force in a law enforcement situation.”
Israel responded to HRW’s criticism by terminating the residency permit of the rights group’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, giving him two weeks to leave the country. It accused him of promoting the boycott of Israel as part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
HRW denied the allegations and accused Israel of seeking to pressure human rights groups.
“This is not about Shaki but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” HRW said in a statement. “Neither Human Rights Watch nor its representative, Shakir, promotes boycotts of Israel.”