Israel’s Costly Neglect

The Political Perils of Ignoring Gaza and East Jerusalem

Palestinians take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2018. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters

Last Friday marked the fifth consecutive week that thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip gathered near the border fence as part of what organizers have dubbed the Great March of Return. The weekly protests are designed to draw international attention to the disastrous impact of the Israeli-led blockade on Gaza and to the plight of Palestinian refugees and have been strategically scheduled to end on May 15. This date will mark the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” during which most of Palestine’s Arab population fled or were driven from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948. Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s two million Palestinians are refugees who came from lands in what is now Israel. Since the protests began on March 30, at least 45 Palestinians have been killed and several thousand have been wounded by Israeli forces. Although there have been instances of rock throwing and attempts to forcibly breach the border fence, the vast majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, and most of those killed or injured by Israeli forces were unarmed, including children and several journalists.

The largely nonviolent protests in Gaza are reminiscent of last summer’s unrest in East Jerusalem following Israel’s installation of metal detectors, cameras, and other restrictions at the al Aqsa mosque. Israel later removed the devices following days of marches, sit-ins, and acts of civil disobedience by Palestinian Jerusalemites. As in Gaza this year, independent civil society leaders rallied the residents of East Jerusalem to take the streets, generating enough momentum that established political forces, such as Fatah and Hamas, later came to embrace the protests. The emergence of nonviolent protest movements in these two areas, which are known for their recurring instability and violence, may be a sign that Palestinian politics are entering a new phase. The fact that Gaza and East Jerusalem, which have long been neglected by both the peace process and the Palestinian leadership, have emerged as the primary drivers of

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