The long fretted-over Nakba day began worryingly with Molotov cocktails in Hebron and a rocket out of Gaza on Tuesday. But while dozens of Palestinians were lightly injured in the hours of subsequent skirmishes, as were several IDF personnel, the army brass must have been pleased when the sun set on this May 15.
The borders were not violated. Blood was not spilled. The demonstrations were limited, in no way heralding the coming of a violent Arab Summer, or a third Intifada, to the West Bank.
Last May 15, the Palestinian commemoration of the day after the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948, triumphant protesters from Syria braved death and ran through a minefield and past army troops to the Israeli soil that they seek to liberate. A jubilant and worryingly empowered young man in a blazer and a t-shirt shouted from within Israel proper, “20-35 infiltrators managed to open the gates of the Golan. They did what all of the Arab armies could not. We can liberate the Golan. We can liberate al-Aqsa. We can liberate Jerusalem. We can liberate Palestine and all of the occupied lands. All we need is…” and the crowd responded, “God is great, God is great.”
Providence notwithstanding, the “liberators” were aided last year by the potent combination of courage, power in numbers, a willingness to die, a lack of weapons… and under-preparedness by Israel – a permutation that did, and still could, challenge Israeli security forces.
Asked to explain the difference between this year and last, a defense official said Tuesday, “The results of the day are a by-product of lessons learned over the past few years and thorough preparations.”
The official stressed that while this year’s protests were far from non-violent, they were relatively calm, and that enabled the troops to respond in kind.
An additional factor was the Israel Prison Service and the Shin Bet’s skilled handling of the mass hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners. None of the hunger strikers died behind bars. The Shin Bet, in return for a commitment from the prisoners to end their hunger strike and avoid recruiting, guiding, coordinating or in any way assisting terror, promised a series of easements, including family visits from Gaza and the West Bank and a general improvement of the terms of incarceration. Their agreement, made public Monday by the Shin Bet, was criticized by some on the right, but the minor victory given to the Palestinians on the eve of Nakba day robbed many of the will to protest.
“There cannot be an intifada so long as we have an intrafada.”
Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights worker and a commentator on Middle East affairs, attributed the relative calm to the state of Palestinian society, which he described as frustrated, fractured, tired and hopeless. “The back of Palestinian society has been broken by the Hamas-Fatah separation,” he said, noting that within the West Bank, a region he referred to as “Fatahstan,” the rifts within Fatah were so deep there was no hope of any coordinated uprising. “There cannot be an intifada so long as we have an intrafada,” he said.
Asked about the effects of the resolved prisoner strike, Eid said it was not the first such strike and not the last and that “the Israelis are such professional occupiers and the Palestinians are such professional customers of the occupation that all the time we have these arrangements.” Such minor achievements, he contended, are what perpetuate the conflict.
Eid described Palestinian society as comprising three categories: those out to feed their families; those out for their own personal advancement; and those that are afraid, sitting at home, waiting for God’s help. “Who will make a third intifada?” he asked. “The Palestinians? Those who have sacrificed themselves for the past 65 years?”
Instead, he posited that if an uprising were to emerge in the near future it would take place along the borders, like last year, and it would be manned by the four or five million Palestinians living outside Gaza and the West Bank. “We have no more energy,” he said of the “inside” Palestinians. “Let me see what they can do.”