When the clashes erupt, who is to blame?

By the looks of it, yesterday’s Land Day commemoration will go down in history as yet another bloody day of protest. Mirroring the events that unfolded exactly thirty-six years ago in 1976, Palestinian protestors faced both the front end and the butt end of the gun. Tear gas flooded their eyes and burning rubber flooded their lungs. One protestor was shot and killed and dozens more were injured, arrested, or both.

And on the other side, Palestinians battled the rubber bullets, the gas canisters, and the excessive use of force with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

There was violence from both sides today, and as journalist Joseph Dana notes, “this is . . . the reality of this conflict”. When asked who is to blame, each side will undoubtedly point the finger towards the other, and with the news convoluting itself with politicized semantics, it’s virtually impossible to determine, with evidence, who struck the first blow and what the term “first blow” even entails.

But one thing is for certain: no occupation, no Land Day. If Israel didn’t maintain a military presence in the West Bank, if it respected international rulings and dismantled its wall, if it applied itself to the human rights standards it demands from the world, there would be no reason to ask who struck the first blow because there likely wouldn’t be any reason to clash, as the news puts it, in the first place.

On March 30, 1976, after the Israeli government chose to annex Palestinian land for “settlement purposes”, Palestinians organized large-scale demonstrations that were met with excessive force from Israel’s police and military units, similar to what was seen in Qalandiya and at Eretz just hours ago. Six Palestinians were killed in the ensuing confrontation and hundreds more beaten, injured, and arrested.

On March 30, 2012, as Israel mobilized its military and the U.S. urged its citizens to seek shelter, Israeli government officials earmarked 10% of the Palestinian West Bank for settlement growth and expansion. In other words, Palestinians were facing yet another round of illegal land annexation.

For the Palestinians, the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was as if the Israeli government was teasing them with a repeat of the events that eventually gave rise to Land Day traditions worldwide.

For Israel on the other hand, instigating hostility would give its military a reason to put to use its relatively new “eXact iMpact” bullets—soft and spongy on the top, piercing metal on the bottom. Although the effect of the land annexation announcement can’t be accurately gauged, it did absolutely nothing to promote the quiet protests Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was determined to enforce.

What is left, then, are two opposing sides, one armed and one unarmed, the occupier and the occupied, an instigator and the victim of previous instigations, historically speaking. Dana would be more accurate in calling this the reality of the conflict. After all, it is this institutionalized oppression, this lack of equality that keeps these protests coming.

If the Israeli government is as concerned for its state as it claims, it would allocate its resources towards lifting the siege on Gaza, ending the occupation of Palestinian lands, and abiding by international law. With these bases covered, it wouldn’t feel threatened by commemorative marches, particularly those contained within Palestine’s native streets.

So, when the clashes erupt, now you know what and who is to blame.

Sami Kishawi

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