Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and cities inside the 1948 borders of Israel on May 21 to celebrate the ceasefire following 11 days of fighting between Palestinian and Israeli forces. No such celebrations were reported among the Israeli population. Extreme right-wing politicians condemned the government of Benjamin Netanyahu for entering into the agreement, and vowed to now oppose his re-election as prime minister.
The victory came at the cost of more than 240 lives of Palestinians inside Gaza, often referred to as the world’s largest open air prison, victims of 11 days of relentless bombing by U.S.-supplied warplanes and artillery. Gaza has no air defenses. Twelve people inside Israel were reported killed by rockets fired from Gaza. Nearly 2,000 people were wounded in Gaza and over 100 inside Israel. Massive destruction was once again inflicted on Gaza’s already acutely inadequate housing and infrastructure, and much less but still significant damage in southern and central Israel.
A few hours after the ceasefire, Israeli police attacked Palestinians celebrating at the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem and arrested at least 16.
How the latest crisis began
On May 9 and 10, thousands of Palestinians traveled from cities and towns inside the 1948 borders of Israel to join crowds from East Jerusalem and the West Bank that grew to nearly 100,000 people in Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the most important Islamic religious sites. Many also joined protests in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government is attempting to evict long-term Palestinian residents to make way for more Israeli settlements, as it has done in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Silwan and Issiwaya.
The Al-Aqsa worshippers were brutally assaulted by Israeli police firing huge quantities of stun grenades, tear gas, skunk water and plastic-coated steel bullets. More than 200 Palestinians were wounded on May 9 and over 400 on May 10, with most requiring hospital treatment.
On May 10, Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, gave the Israelis an ultimatum to withdraw from the Al-Aqsa area and halt the brutal repression, and when they didn’t, Hamas’ military wing fired rockets into Israel from Gaza. Israel launched thousands of air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
A shift in Washington
U.S. officials including President Biden, while publicly repeating the mantra, “Israeli has the right to defend itself,” had put increasing pressure on the Israeli government to end the bombing. As the United States is its key armor and backer, no Israeli government can disregard for long serious demands from Washington.
While a majority of Congress remains committed to Israel, there was an actual debate over U.S. aid and the oppression of the Palestinian people last week inside the House of Representatives.
Secretary of State Blinken is now hustling to the region to re-open talks.
The depth and breadth of the new upsurge in Palestinian resistance has shocked the ruling establishments in Israel, the United States, European Union, and many regimes in the region, including Jordan, whose population is more than half of Palestinian descent and which is the official “guardian” of the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The new wave of resistance has seen mass protests not only across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, but also in many Palestinian or “mixed” cities inside the 1948 borders of Israel. The importance of the united mobilization among all four parts of Palestine cannot be overstated.
Palestine is located in the center of the Arab world, both in a geographic sense and in the consciousness of the Arab people and other peoples of the Middle East. It is for this reason that the rise of the mass struggle in Palestine has implications for the entire region.
The outcome of the struggle has clearly raised the stature of Hamas, the governing party in Gaza, as well as other organizations which joined in the fighting. And on the other hand, it has diminished the standing of the Palestinian Authority, which stayed on the sidelines. When the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem failed to mention Gaza in his May 21 sermon at Al-Aqsa, he was reportedly jeered by congregants who chanted, “Go to Abu Mazen,” referring to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA.
With the exception of the Trump administration, the U.S. government has supported the PA since the time of the Oslo Accord it brokered in 1993. U.S. and Israeli regimes have generally viewed the PA as a brake on the Palestinian struggle, particularly through its repressive intelligence arm. Now, it is weakened and possibly in danger of collapse.
Immediately after the ceasefire agreement was agreed to, Biden announced that the United States would provide more “Iron Dome” missiles for Israel, and reconstruction aid for Gaza, but added: “We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority — not Hamas.”
The Biden administration has every intention of continuing the $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel, despite the fact that in recent months two moderate human rights organizations — one Israeli, B’tselem, and one based in the Untied States, Human Rights Watch — have issued reports showing conclusively that Israel is an apartheid state. Apartheid is an international crime against humanity.
Referring to this reality in the House debate, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American congressperson, said: “Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. No matter how much money you send to Israel’s apartheid government.”
All over the United States and all over the world, millions of people have joined marches, rallies, sit-ins and more in support with the Palestinian people and their just cause. International solidarity has been an important factor in this struggle. Many more demonstrations will take place in the coming days.
Despite the devastating toll taken by the Israeli onslaught, the Palestinian people have emerged with their will to resist unshaken. Those responsible for the heinous war crimes committed against Palestinians during this struggle must be held to account. And here in the United States, all supporters of a free Palestine need to make use of the breakthrough in public debate to press the demand that all U.S. aid to Israel immediately end.