Will Jerusalem’s Victory Offer Gaza a Glimpse of Hope?

Palestinians in Gaza closely and cautiously followed the recent events that unfolded in their holy city, Jerusalem. For nearly three weeks, Jerusalemite Palestinians protested against newly installed metal detectors at the gates of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, opting to pray outside the mosque rather than go through what they perceived as a humiliating infringement on their freedom of worship and an Israeli attempt to control the holy site.

Gazans are haunted by the memories of the destructive Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, which followed an outbreak of violence in the occupied West Bank. They feared the Jerusalem crisis would produce another assault on their besieged territory. For Israel, this would have been a way to diminish the impact of mass mobilization in the West Bank and Jerusalem through distracting global attention under the pretext of fighting “terror-ridden” Gaza.

However, in the midst of a corruption scandal, Netanyahu is too weak to drag his government into a military confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, and Hamas and the Palestinian resistance factions have taken a hands-off approach, leaving the outcome of events in Jerusalem up to the people of that city. In fact, some observers from the resistance camp deemed calls for the involvement of armed factions unwise, and called for giving Jerusalemite Palestinians a chance to achieve their immediate goals. And so it was, much to the relief of Gazans, the recent events in Jerusalem receded with the relative victory of the masses on the streets of the holy city: Israeli authorities have removed the metal detectors.

Palestinian resistance factions also realize that the current regional moment is not suitable for an armed confrontation with Israel. Throughout the Aqsa crisis, these factions seemed to share the understanding that being drawn into a military escalation with Israel would be disastrous. For armed factions in Gaza, the lesson learned from 2014 is that very little could be achieved through the use of armed struggle in the absence of support by Arab regimes and the Palestinian Authority.

Now, with what Palestinians consider a triumph over the occupation forces, many in Gaza feel relief that the events did not escalate, and hearts are filled with joy for what their fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem were able to achieve. Yet, Gazans remain stuck in their misery, and for many of them, the ability of their brethren in Jerusalem to successfully challenge the occupation has once again raised questions about the feasibility of applying similar tactics in Gaza to challenge their miserable reality. Many on social media affirmed that the people’s victory must make Gazans rethink the strategies adopted by the factions, namely Hamas, in the pursuit of ending the siege and bringing attention to the collapsing Gaza Strip.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza has deteriorated at an alarming rate in recent months. According to the latest UN report, marking ten years since Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza, the region is rapidly becoming unsuitable for human habitation. Access to safe drinking water, medical supplies, electricity, and fuel are at an all time low. Meanwhile, unemployment, poverty, and crime have reached unprecedented rates.

Some of the proposed ideas include organizing nonviolent, large-scale protests near Erez, the border between Gaza and Israel. For many, the scenes of hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians marching near the borders with Israel may move the stagnant waters of a decade of siege that brought Gaza to the brink of collapse. This scenario, some believe, would help put Gaza under the spotlight, embarrass and expose Israel, and return international attention and support to Gaza that would eventually help end the siege.

However, for all that unites Gazan and Jerusalemite Palestinians, such a scenario underestimates critical differences between the two regions. First, unlike Jerusalem, there is no direct Israeli presence inside Gaza that can be disrupted. Al-Aqsa is at a stone’s throw from Jewish neighborhoods and Israeli vital institutions, whereas Erez or other friction points sit beyond the armistice line between Israel and Gaza. Therefore, they are not sites where Palestinian demonstrators could bring vital aspects of Israeli daily life to a halt, which is a cornerstone of civil disobedience tactics.

Secondly, we must ask: to what extent does civil society in Gaza have the capacity to lead and mobilize Gazan masses to partake in such large-scale protest movement? It is worth mentioning here that for years, the average Gazan civilian did not take part in direct confrontation with occupation forces, especially the younger generations. Additionally, unlike Gaza, Jerusalem lacks the direct involvement of traditional Palestinian factional structures that are conspicuously present in major West Bank and Gaza Strip cities. For Jerusalemites, this vacuum arguably provided the space for their victory on their own terms, unhindered by the often unproductive rivalries of Palestinian factions.

Third, the nature of Israel’s expectations of and relationship with both places is fundamentally different. While Israel can’t afford a protracted crisis in Jerusalem, no one knows for sure how it would react to a movement of mass mobilization coming out of Gaza near its border areas. For Israel, Gaza is nothing but a security burden, and what defines Israel’s relationship with Gaza is the former’s desire for keeping Gaza quiet, if not by might, then by protracted siege from which Gaza is slowly dying. The siege, in fact, has been put in place to consume people in Gaza, distract them from realizing their higher human potential, and cause them to dwell in endless cycles of misery and pain on a daily basis.

Thus, the recent calls in Gaza for a mass popular movement that targets the nearest Israeli presence is yet another attempt by a desperate population whose region is on the brink of collapse. Perhaps a mass protest of thousands of civilians could shed light on the plight of people in Gaza, but there are few guarantees that Israel wouldn’t commit a bloody massacre in order to crush the possibility of nonviolent protest occurring again in the future. And, of course, in the case of a bloody Israeli assault on civilian protesters, armed factions in Gaza might find themselves in a position where they feel compelled to retaliate, a situation that might drag both sides into another 2014 scenario.

Undoubtedly, the proposition of mass protests in Gaza has left us with more questions than answers, but one fact remains – given the enormous pressure its people are under, Gaza will eventually explode in the faces of its besiegers. It is not a question of if it will happen, but only one of timing and scale.

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About Jehad Saleem 2 Articles
Jehad Saleem, from Gaza, Palestine, is a PhD student in history at New York University. His research focuses on history of the Gaza Strip and the intellectual history of the Palestinian left.

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