Voices Raised for Free Palestine and Against Settler Terror
IN GAZA TOO. Women's demonstration reported by Ma'an.
PALESTINE premier and PLO chair Mahmoud Abbas has made his call for Palestinian statehood and international recognition at the UN, with a ringing reminder of the daily obstacles to peace and normal life that his people have to endure from occupation - the road blocks, the wall, the land confiscations and harassment of farmers and others trying to go about their work.
Recalling hopes raised by the first talks with Israel in 1993, and how Yasser Arafat had appealed to the UN in 1974, "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand", Abbas said Palestinians were holding out their hand to the Israeli government and people. But they would continue to resist the occupation by popular, peaceful means.
This was the moment of truth, the Palestinian leader said, also revealing that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had told him the Palestinian state should have been declared years ago. Earlier he had begun his speech by praising Ban Ki-Moon but also congratulating the UN's newest member - South Sudan. The unstated message was clearly that if independence was good enough for the South Sudanese, why not for the Palestinians after more than 40 years of occupation? And with the 'Arab Spring' already almost a cliche in the mouths of Western politicians and media, Abbas went on to say that the overdue 'Palestinian Spring' was beginning.
No one imagines that the bid for statehood and recognition is going to solve the Palestinian problem overnight, or that the path it opens will be easy. Palestinians have been wary of walking into a trap. But the opposition from the Israeli government (though it has suddenly discovered it wants talks with the Palestinians) and the expected US veto have clarified something. This is a moment of truth, when friends of the Palestininians will have to stand up and be counted. Forcing their fight for freedom on to the world's attention and agenda this way is a worthwhile step.
There have been rallies throughout the Palestinian West Bank to support the bid for statehood and recognition, and today a huge crowd in Ramallah watched Abbas's UN appearance on giant screen TV, bursting into applause at moments such as when he remembered Arafat.
In East Jerusalem youths clashed with Israeli police. And though Hamas had reportedly ruled out any demonstrations in Gaza, the Ma'an news agency today reported a women's demonstration there in support of the bid for statehood.
There were demonstrations in New York too, one supporting Palestinian independence, and a counter-demonstration waving Israeli flags and opposing the Palestinians. For once it looked as though the pro-Palestinian demonstration was bigger. But then the born-again Christian and right-wing Zionist backers of Israeli belligerance do not need to turn out big numbers. They are confident that the US government will do their bidding.
In Israel itself, on the other hand, Peace Now supporters began a banner-drop on motorway bridges with slogans such as "Netnyahu and (Foreign Minister) Liberman do not speak for us".
In Tel Aviv, about 80 leading writers, intellectuals and other respected figures gathered at the call of Combattants for Peace for a rally and to sign a statement supporting Palestinian statehood, outside the very hall where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel in May 1948, situated as it happens on Rothschild Boulevard, where tents sprang up this Summer for Israel's social justice movement.
That campaign avoided facing the occupation issue even when the right-wing settlers attacked it, but many of the participants knew the issues were related, and argued that justice must be for all. 'Protest leader Dror Shalom, 35, insisted criticism of the occupation was implicit in their challenge to Netanyahu's rightwing government. The majority of people who protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he said, would extend their calls for justice to Palestinians.
"Palestine, you don't need our permission to have a state. Negotiations on its borders can follow," agreed author Sefi Rachlevski.
A recent poll conducted by the Hebrew University found that 70% of Israelis believe that if the UN votes in favour of a Palestinian state, Israel should accept the decision. But the Israeli government is opposed, and so are the right-wing settlers whom it has armed, and who have already begun a campaign of provocations, including arson of mosques.
The settlers have already been promising to hold provocative marches into Palestine Authority territory, and to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters. Hilltop Youth leader Meir Bertler expressed his hope that Israel would annex the West Bank settlements. "As far as we're concerned, we're going to feel right at home in the West Bank, and this week we'll hold marches, begin construction and show our presence in order to make it clear to everyone exactly who this country belongs to."
Far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir stressed that his counterparts will not be "waiting at home so the Arabs might get close to their fences."
"We're going to go out and make it clear to the Arabs who the home owners are. We're going to take the initiative and march towards Palestinian towns."
Police, IDF prepare for worst
Meanwhile, security and police forces have begun preparing themselves for expected riots in the West Bank. Thousands of police officers have undergone training for possible scenarios, including riots, mass rallies and attempts to break into West Bank settlements.
In fact, while expecting the Palestine Authority - the state-whom-it-will-not-recognise - to suppress Palestinian demonstrations, the Israeli government is both tooling up with arms and new measures to deal with the Palestinians, and arming the settlers to stage more provocations.
Some Israelis now fear that the state's failure to halt the right-wing settler extremists -who make little secret of their contempt for democracy and ordinary Israelis, let alone Palestinians - reflects not just ineptitude by the security services but something worse. They say that while Shin Bet security was supposedly infiltrating the far Right, the religious right which had been encouraged by the occupation regime and the military has in turn infiltrated both the army and the security services.
It may be too much to compare some Israeli yeshivot (such as the one where Yitzhak Rabin's assassin studied ) and Pakistani madrassas, but there are people saying that in both countries the religious right is out of control. Still, though comparisons might extend to the encouragement given extremists in both countries by the support which came from the United States, it is a safe bet that the US won't be employing drones to curb Israeli settlers who have got out of hand.
That they can still count on US support is a big part of the problem.