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  • Writer's pictureJewish Examiner

The Truth Behind the #GreatReturn March

I would like to open the lens with which we are viewing the events that transpired Friday March 30th, known as the #GreatReturnMarch .

Let’s begin with the dates and their importance. Marches are scheduled to take place once a week up to May 15th, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. On May 15th 1948, the ongoing civil war turned into an internal conflict between Israel and the Arab states, following the Israeli Declaration of Independence the previous day. Jordan, Syria and Egypt, as well as expeditionary forces from Iraq, entered Palestine.

The invading forces took control of the Arab areas and immediately attacked Israeli forces and several Jewish settlements. The ten months of fighting, interrupted by several truce periods, took place mostly on the former territory of the British Mandate and for a short time also in the Sinai Peninsula and southern Lebanon. During that time, between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked, while urban Palestine was almost entirely extinguished. The term “Nakba” also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.

Fast forward to current time, Hamas controlled Gaza is no longer under Israeli control. The West Bank is still under Israeli occupation but have limited autonomy under PLO control led by Abu Mazen (Abbas).

Though the Israeli Palestinian conflict is always framed as Israel vs Palestine, the two groups are nowhere near any reconciliation of bloody internal conflicts, most notably the takeover in Gaza by Hamas on 14 June 2007 which was a killing spree of Fatah supporters in Gaza, their bodies dragged in the street as display of force and fear to deter any political descent. , Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led government and appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. Though the new Ramallah-based Palestinian government’s authority was claimed to extend to all Palestinian territories, in effect it became limited to the West Bank areas, as Hamas hadn’t recognized the move and continued to rule the Gaza Strip. Both administrations — the Fatah government in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza regarded themselves as the sole legitimate government of the Palestinian National Authority. The international community and Palestine Liberation Organization, however, recognized the Ramallah administration as the legitimate government.

Conflicts between Fatah and Hamas escalated in recent years as Abbas has authorized various sanctions including the shutting down and limitation of electricity supply to bend the arms of Hamas leaders and force them into the negations table. It was Abbas, more than anyone else, who generated the present crisis while pushing Hamas toward the fence with his decisions to limit economic aid to his rivals in the Strip. Abbas knew where the economic squeezing of Hamas would lead. Hamas has refused to disarm as part of the reconciliation process with the Palestinian Authority. Right after the failed assassination attempt against PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah as he was visiting Hamas officials in Gaza on March 13 it was clear that the reconciliation process was over, and that Hamas would look for new ways of escaping the predicament it was in.

To make matters more complicated, as one should in the ME, in comes the Muslim Brotherhood and align with Hamas. One of the international activists involved in media preparations for the “great return march” is Zaher Birawi, a UK-based #MuslimBrotherhood activist, and a.o. director of the PRC and head of the London-based EuroPal Forum. Islamist activist Zaher Birawi provided a stage for activity planned in the Gaza Strip on the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated al-Hiwar TV channel where he is program director. He interviewed Issam Hamad, one of the organizers of the “great return march”. Zaher Birawi said that during the second half of May 2018, close to the 70th anniversary of the nakba, preparations would begin for a number of ships to sail to the Gaza Strip to “break the siege.” Birawi has been involved in several similar campaigns in the past. A swift reminder that In an interview with a #Hamas newspaper, Zaher Birawi once admitted that the flotilla projects to the Gaza Strip are not intended to “break the siege” and bring humanitarian aid, but rather to promote the battle for hearts and minds against #Israel. this march is part of a wider plan to take over the PLO while fighting Israel.

But we’re not even close to being done with all actors involved. Iran will reportedly resume financial assistance to the Palestinian militant group Hamas following a freeze in relations, caused by Hamas’ refusal to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Tehran, and the group’s unwillingness to take Iran’s side in its rivalry with regional enemy, Saudi Arabia. KSA has been easing relations with Israel and displaying so internationally by allowing, for the first time ever, for Israeli airlines to fly over KSA and are in talks for fostering new deals and cooperations. During May 2017, senior Hamas figures have been meeting officials from Iran’s military arm, the Revolutionary Guards, and Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime all view Israel as its primary enemy. Hezbollah waged a war with Israel in 2006, Hamas has fought three conflicts with Israel in the Gaza Strip since 2008, and Iran’s conservative religious rulers routinely calls for Israel’s destruction. Not long ago we had an Israeli plane shut down by Irani forces in Syria as well as an Iranian drone shut down crossing the border into Israel.

Which brings us to Syria and the actors there. While Turkey is not officially in any conflict with Israel, Erdogan’s Turkey has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, supports the Hamas movement in Gaza, and has for years allowed aspiring European jihadists to transit through Turkey to Syria. He continues to arm and finance Syrian Salafist armed groups. While Turkey is always quick to condemn Israel for their actions, Turkey remains a reason why many western countries do not officially recognize the Armenian genocide, he has a long history of attacking Kurds and has recently invaded and taken over parts of Northern Syria with not a single word of condemnation from the UN or any other western forces.

The importance of the Syrian war and the various states participating is the Hezbollah connection. Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian Civil War has been substantial since the beginning of armed insurgency phase of the Syrian Civil War, and turned into active support and troop deployment from 2012 onwards. By 2014, Hezbollah involvement begun to turn steady in support of Syrian Ba’athist Government forces across Syria.

In the past, Hezbollah has served a strategic arm of Iran in the region, allegedly playing a key role in the Iran-Israel and Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflicts in the middle east. In a number of occasions, Hezbollah weapon convoys in Syria and Syrian-Lebanese border areas were attacked, with Israel being the main suspected party behind most such attacks, though Israel did not claim responsibility except for the March 2017 Israel–Syria incident. Hezbollah convoys have also been attacked by Syrian rebel factions, most notably the Al-Nusra Front.

From Israel’s perspective, Hamas’s tactics are a throwback to two distinct eras:

The first:The Fedayeen attacks — in the mid-1950s the fedayeen began mounting cross-border operations into Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan. The earliest infiltrations were often to access the lands agricultural products they had lost as a result of the war, or to attack Israeli military, and sometimes civilian targets. The Gaza Strip, the sole territory of the All-Palestine Protectorate — a Palestinian state declared in October 1948, became the focal point of the Palestinian fedayeen activity. Fedayeen attacks were directed on Gaza and Sinai borders with Israel, and as a result Israel undertook retaliatory actions, targeting the fedayeen that also often targeted the citizens of their host countries, which in turn provoked more attacks .

The second is the late 80s/early 90s, when rioters embedded themselves in peaceful protests.

There is nothing clear, simple, or obvious about ME events and Israeli Palestinian conflict.

When looking at all the actors, states, organizations, groups and civilians involved, you cannot ignore any piece of this puzzle. It remains to be seen what May 15th will bring. It remains to be seen if Israel has acted within it’s legal authority and international border law. It remains to be seen if things will escalate and we are at the brink of yet another war and how each side will play its cards.

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