The Palestinian Spring?

IssueJuly / August 2011
News by David Polden

The Arab Spring appears to be having positive results for Palestinians, notably the rapprochement between the main Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas, and the re-opening, after four years, of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

However, the antipathy between Fatah and Hamas persists and it remains to be seen whether they will indeed form a joint government and hold elections in 2012. And the re-opening of Rafah on 28 May was only partial: commercial traffic is not allowed, only a limited number of people are allowed through, and men between 18 and 40 have to apply for an Egyptian visa.

No borders

Palestinian refugees appear emboldened. This year’s commemoration of Al Nakba (“Catastrophe” day) on 14 May, the day of Israel’s foundation in 1948, was marked with simultaneous demonstrations at the Israeli borders with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank and also inside Egypt and Israel.

At the Syrian border, young refugees climbed over fences separating them from Israeli-occupied Syria, despite Israeli landmines and live fire from Israeli troops which killed four of the demonstrators – four more were killed at the Lebanese border and five elsewhere. Hundreds managed to climb over the border fence near to the village of Majdal Sharms, meeting fellow Palestinians.

Egyptian and Jordanian security forces prevented hundreds crossing into Israeli-occupied territory, while mass protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador were dispersed by Egyptian police and troops using tear gas and rubber bullets. An attempt to carry out a similar return from Syria on 5 June, Al Naksa (“Setback”) Day - marking the 1967 occupation - was less successful.

The Israeli army was prepared, with a reinforced fence and an anti-tank ditch. When demonstrators tried to reach it they were shot at. Some 22 were killed, many dozens wounded.