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Why did so few Palestinians march for statehood on Friday?

Palestinian belief in the two-state solution is dropping rapidly, and Israelis who aren’t yet willing to come out should be warned: It is now, or never.





Leaving Jaffa Gate to march toward Sheikh Jarrah in support of Palestinian independence, 14 July, 2011 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)


In an effort to save the two states solution, thousands of Israelis and Palestinians marched from Jaffa gate to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The march was organized in cooperation with residents of East Jerusalem from Silwan, Issawiyah and Sheikh Jarrah. The three neighborhoods are facing growing settler activities.

The march was a success in today’s standards. This kind of march has not happened for decades in Jerusalem. The size of the crowd was impressive. However 2,000-5,000 participants are not impressive if we remember the “good old days” of Rabin era when tens of thousands came out to support the peace process.

Nevertheless, this march for the freedom of Palestinians is very important. It shows a slow awakening in the Israeli public. There are more Israeli Jews who are willing to go out of their comfortable homes to show dissatisfaction toward the status quo. They are starting to understand the danger of the indifference toward the failed peace process.

It is ironic, however, that the same cause that prompted many Israelis to march kept some Palestinians away from Friday’s event. For Israelis, part of the recent talk about resuming negotiations is a result of the realization that the two state solution is quickly becoming irrelevant. On one hand, the larger the settlements get, the more a one-state solution becomes likely. At the same time, the Obama administration has made it clear that Palestinians should not expect any help for a two-state solution from the Americans.

As a result, the best hope the Israelis have for a two-state solution is the success of President Abbas’ bid at the United Nations in September. In reality, Israelis that want to save the state of Israel must support Abbas’s bid for the Palestinian state with all their might.

As I marched on Friday, I heard a few Israelis voice frustration that not many Palestinians showed up. It was clear that more Jews came to the march. As I explained, Palestinians have been experiencing a major change on the ground. Many are loosing their hope in the two state solution. It is becoming more appealing for many Palestinians to struggle for equality in a one state. Jalal  Abukhater, a young Palestinian who published an article on +972 is an example of this sentiment. This movement calling for one-man one vote is likely to grow unless a breakthrough is going to happen soon in the peace process.

However, despite my cynicism regarding the current reality, I think these marches and protests are important. The success of this march should not be measured by it size but rather by its ability to build a momentum. More Palestinians are likely to join these efforts if it becomes a movement. This should not be the last march for ending the occupation.

It must be clear that if our efforts for two states solution fail nowdays, the Israelis calling for two states solution tomorrow, will find no partner on the Palestinian side. Israelis who aren’t willing to come out yet, should be warned. It is now, or never

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    1. Ben Israel

      Is it possible that there are other reasons for the low turnout by Palestinians than having them losing faith in the 2-state solution. One is the fact that most Palestinians, for whatever reasons, don’t want Jerusalem divided and don’t want Palestinian rule in eastern Jerusalem.
      Another possibility is that many Palestinians, possibly a majority according to a recent controversial poll, don’t view the 2-state solution as any sort of final goal, and perhaps they believe that Israel can be pushed back through other means of struggle, without a need for the interim stage of the “2-state” solution since it could possibly turn out to be a trap designed to get the world’s attention off the Palestinian problem.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Eitan

      Hi Aziz,

      It’s an interesting point that you make. While the official line of Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah is in support of Palestinian self-determination (and *not* in favor of a one- or two-state solution), there are many, many, many activists who support a ‘one man, one vote’ single state.

      Activists who are of this opinion — like me — consciously put their own personal beliefs on the back burner in order to participate in this rather remarkable event. Is this something that only Israelis should do? Is it something that no one should do? If we only participate in events whose messages we completely agree with, aren’t we condemning ourselves to a ‘one man, one party’ left?

      The messages put forward in this march were the result of months of joint planning. They were definitely *not* the sole decision of the Israeli activists in Solidarity.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sean Connery's pimp slap

      Why would they? They don’t have to. They can rely on the far left to do almost all their heavy lifting for them.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sean,
      Actually they do on daily basis. My family live in Issawiya in Jerusalem and last week, the military stormed their neighborhood twice to make arrests of Palestinians who dare to resist. It is something many Israeli activists don’t have to fear… at least not as much.

      Reply to Comment
    5. @Eitan,

      I actually agree with you that more Palestinians should get out even if they don’t agree %100 with the message of the protest. Especially Palestinians promoting for one state need to work more with Israelis since they want to live in one state with them.

      As I mentioned earlier, I believe if these big marches continue more Palestinians will show up to them. Most Palestinians seem to struggle locally at the moment. IE Issawyah, Bilin, Nabi Saleh, Sheik Jarrah. It is often a local struggle at this moment and moving toward a national one is very important.

      Another thing I didn’t mention in the article is the challenges that Palestinians face in organizing such events. Even though this event was co-organized with Palestinians, they don’t have the same ability to promote it. Palestinian leaders who promote protests are likely to end up in prison (few of them are in prison already). Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in the same way on both sides. My family live in Issawiya and they didn’t know about the protest until I told them about. The Palestinian taxi driver that took me to Jaffa gate told me as he watched the protest that he is angry that Jews can carry a Palestinian flag in Jerusalem but if he was to carry it in a Palestinian protest he would be arrested. All these things add to the reality on the ground.

      with all that said, I believe our struggle is a joint struggle and we must work together for the end of the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mik

      Aziz, i have a question for you- How come Palestinians don’t march in any other protests? Its not like i see one stater protests with thousands of East Jerusalemites and they just missed this one..

      Reply to Comment
    7. Eitan

      Hi Aziz, thanks for your response!

      Your response puts a pretty different face on things, when compared to the title, which reflects a lot of the negative spin that the march got. For example, there were much fewer Palestinians than Israelis, true, but the Palestinians led the march, both symbolically and actually — they were at the front, they led the slogans, and so on. As far as I could see, there were also not so few, and there were a few buses from outside of Jerusalem.

      In fact, there have been a few cases in which actions have had both Solidarity activists and an ad hoc ‘coalition’ of Palestinians from different parts of East Jerusalem. For example, the big demo in Ras el-Amud had Israelis, sure, but also a lot of local residents, as well as people from other neighborhoods, like Shuafat and Sheikh Jarrah.

      As far as I can see, the main determinants regarding the participation of Palestinians in joint actions are two (and please correct me if I’m wrong!): one, as you mentioned, the high risk for Palestinian demonstrators, especially young men (women, children and older men tend to participate more); and two, a general political approach of anti-normalization. The former is a fact, and I certainly wouldn’t criticize anyone for not participating for that reason. The second is also a valid political principle, and I wouldn’t criticize it either. The attitude towards normalization can only change if it is politically useful for it to change, and in this respect, the onus of proof is on Israelis.

      As for promotion: it wasn’t promoted in Israel either, not really. Very few Israelis from Jerusalem knew about it unless they were connected by some political, activist, or social network. Most people I know came to know about it only after the fact.

      A final point: I don’t think that it’s productive to compare actions in Jerusalem to anything in ‘the Rabin days.’ In Tel Aviv you can still bring out 10,000 people easily. However, these rallies are completely empty and useless and don’t lead to any kind of change in consciousness or to direct action. In religious, conservative, uncool Jerusalem, a few hundred people is a big turnout, and the 3,000-4,000 people who came out are actually a pretty big deal.

      I think that the conversation that we’re having here is a really important one, since it is clear to nearly everyone that for any kind of change to happen, it has to be the result of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, based on equality, mutual understanding and respect, and commitment.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Brad

      “Palestinians who dare to resist. It is something many Israeli activists don’t have to fear”

      By “resistance” are you referring to the attacks on Hadassa or the attacks on Israelis who enter Issawiya accidentally? http://www.jpost.com/Health/Article.aspx?id=229082

      If the residents of Issawiya are “resisting” using those modes of resistance, then perhaps they are too busy to demonstrate peacefully for something along the lines of a two state solution.

      Maybe they don’t want a two state solution? It would have been a strong statement in support of a solution to the problem to have seen Palestinians demonstrate side by side with their Israeli supporters who try so hard to demonstrate for solutions to the conflict. I’m willing to bet they would demonstrate in large numbers if the demonstration was about jobs and work.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mik

      Eitan,, I would be happy to get an answer from you as well. I understand your first reason for Palestinians not being at the protests as independent of joint struggle, but your second one, “anti normalization” still doesn’t explain why there aren’t thousands at other protests.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      What does “anti-normalization” mean?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      In the article about the attacks on Hadassah-Mt Scopus hospital, part of the “resistance” from Issawiya that Aziz has told us about, did you note the Orwellian Doublethink Dr Agbaria gave us? First he deplores the attacks, but finds them “understandable”, then he shift gears and thinks that Jews disguised as Arabs are carrying out the attacks (how they get into Issawiya to do this is unclear). You know, sort of like those who claim the Mossad and/or CIA carried out the 9/11 “in order to make the Arabs look bad”.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Eitan

      MIK, I think the first reason I gave is a big part of the reason that there aren’t more mass protests. I do think we should remember that there *is* plenty of regular non-violent struggle. Why don’t they become massive, i.e., transcend local struggles? First of all, the movement of Palestinians is strictly limited, which might be a reason. The leadership of non-violent struggles is savagely repressed through baseless arrest, eviction, and worse.

      Another reason, and this might be a Jerusalem thing, has to do with the destruction of Palestinian political and civil institutions in East Jerusalem, as well as its cutting off from other parts of the West Bank, esp. Ramallah and Bethlehem. The best book on this, as far as I know, is Hillel Cohen’s book (in Hebrew) Kikar haShuq Reka: Aliyato ve-nefilato shel Yerushalayim Ha-aravit.

      I have to stress that these are the answers I give to myself, as a spectator and participant, but also as someone who is only indirectly a victim of the occupation. I can go wherever I want, do pretty much what I want, and say quite a lot of what I want. As an Israeli Jew, I benefit from the apartheid regime. I say this in order to emphasize that I can’t give you the answer that a Palestinian would.

      Ben Israel, as far as I’m considered, you’re not really engaging in discussion here, so I’ll assume you’re asking rhetorical questions.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      No, I really don’t understand what anti-normalization means. Does it mean opposition to a compromise peace which is supposed to lead to normalized relations, or does it mean that in the period prior to an agreement, there should be no normal contacts between Palestinians and Israelis, but allowing for normalization after an agreement?

      Reply to Comment
    14. RichardNYC

      Despite settlement construction, Jewish and Arab populations are still very much segregated on the ground (fewer that 100,000 settlers west of the wall according to Btselem). And the proportion of Arabs:Jews over the green line is increasing, not decreasing. So I don’t really see how Palestinian support for the two-state solution is determinative of Israel’s survival. The Palestinians never gave up the “right of return”, even if they professed support for two-states (which is to say, they never properly understand what two states means). Since it seems pretty clear that Israelis would never surrender their security or government to Arabs, and can easily consolidated themselves geographically (unlike the Whites of SA), there isn’t really a ticking clock. You need to make a stronger argument about why Palestinian despair is relevant to the end game. I don’t see why it is.

      Reply to Comment
    15. The kill radius of an 81mm mortar is 80 meters

      The reason is that Arabs let their mortars and rockets do their protesting for them.

      Reply to Comment
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