Monday, May 16, 2011

The Arab Revolution and Nakba Day

The first Nakba day to take place following the Arab Awakening has been dramatic. I was particularly surprised to thousands of Syrian and Palestinian demonstrators rushing across the fences and mine fields into the occupied Golan Heights, under fire from the Israeli army. As is known, the Syrian side of the borders has been Israel's quietest since the Golan Heights were occupied in 1967. That doesn't mean that Syrians don't care about the Palestinian cause, in fact the regime's pro-resistance credentials are impeccable, but many will be cynical at what they believe is a publicity ploy by a regime intent on diverting attention away from the unrest it faces at home. A visit to the Syrian/Israeli border is simply not possible for average Syrians, and unthinkable for average Palestinian refugees, without countless security checks and clearance.

The interesting thing about the unrest that we saw on the Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan side of Israel's borders is that these three areas are all managed centrally from Damascus. Nothing could have happened spontaneously without the approval of the Syrian security services, Hezbullah and Hamas. Coming so soon after Rami Makhlouf's statements to the New York Times, that instability to Israel is tied to instability in Syria, this appears to the cynic to be a confirmation of that warning. But, supposing that this is a totally spontaneous expression of popular yearning to liberate Palestine, does this show that the Syrian regime is incapable of policing its border with its enemy? Of course not, but it can start looking that way. And when things start looking that way, something which people believed was invincible might just start to look vulnerable.

Israel might have an army that can defeat a conventional Arab army, but it has performed dismally against a popular and well dug-in militia. It will be even more difficult to stop individuals from crossing over alone or in massive groups without getting people killed, meaning that Israel's image will suffer immensely. But the flip-side to this story shows us that organised, centrally managed and state-focused, Arab initiatives to help the resistance have been execrable. Countries such as Syria, which focus their resistance agendas, can no longer be seen as the most effective form of resistance when popular groups that can no longer be controlled and manipulated are putting far better pressure on the Israeli state than they could ever wish for. Whilst the borders might usually be heavily guarded, this desparate act could be a genie let out of the bottle. At a time when the entire Arab world is erupting against tyranny, this is a dangerous game to play.

One thing that must be understood about the Arab revolution is that it is sweeping away both pro-Western and Resistance rulers alike. The entire political map of the region is being redrawn radically in a way that has not been seen since the 1970's. More importantly, it is not just Arab rulers that must fear what is happening but also the Israeli state. The people of the region cannot be manipulated along sectarian, ethnic and nationalist lines anymore. Instead, they have erupted angrily and will continue to do so until they get justice. It is a wise ruler who recognises this and begins to respond to the will of the people instead of just shooting them.

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