This Sunday, approximately 70,000 ultra-nationalist Israeli settlers attended their annual racist “flag march” during which Palestinians, their properties, and Holy sites came under attack in Jerusalem’s old city. In an unexpected twist, however, no violent reaction came as was threatened. So what can we now expect?
An unprecedented attack against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim identity occurred this Sunday with Israel’s “flag march”. Tens of thousands of radicalized settler extremists took to the old city of Jerusalem, provocatively marching through the ‘Arab quarter’ of the city. The settlers and armed Israeli occupation forces attacked men, women, and children, including elderly people, paramedics, and journalists. The Israeli settlers were filmed chanting “death to Arabs” and taunting Palestinian journalists over the murder of their colleague Shireen Abu Akleh. Some settlers even shouted “Shireen is not here, Shireen is dead!” as Israeli far-right marchers physically assaulted journalists.
What made the Israeli far-right extremist march so shocking was that for the first time in such a provocative way, since 1967, Israel settlers raised the regime’s flag inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound. The Israeli state, from the Prime Minister and the occupation police in Jerusalem to the settler groups themselves, all coordinated this action together in an attempt to solidify their “sovereignty over Jerusalem”. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as the result of crackdowns on protesters in Jerusalem and the West Bank, in addition to those attacked by racist Israeli settlers.
Although it is important to understand the numbers and statistics when it comes to outlining the provocations witnessed this Sunday, what is most pertinent now is an analysis of what is to come.
Prior to the ‘flag march’ in Jerusalem, the Palestinian armed factions in the Gaza Strip all met for a joint session to analyze the Israeli intention to storm al-Aqsa and the old city in such a provocative way. Threats were issued in the event that the ‘Joint Room’, of armed resistance factions’, red lines were to be crossed, and this was widely interpreted to have meant that an armed response would be triggered from Gaza.
Israel’s military and political establishment took these risks seriously, evacuating Israelis from the nearby settlements along the Gaza perimeter, deploying iron dome all over the country as well as fortifying the West Bank and Jerusalem with additional militarized units. The Israeli military were even found to have used automated vehicles near Gaza, to draw the fire of anti-tank missile crews near the Gaza-Israel separation fence.
It is clear that the Israeli military was preparing for an attack from the Gaza Strip. In fact, the Israeli decision to allow an unprecedented number of settlers, over 2600, to not only enter al-Aqsa but to chant against the Prophet of Islam and hold up Israeli flags in the area, shows intent to incite war. Hardline Israeli Knesset members, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, were even permitted to enter al-Aqsa. Ben-Gvir taunted Hamas on video and stated that Jerusalem is for Israel. Yet, throughout the entire day, the armed groups in Gaza remained silent; not a rocket was fired, nor an anti-tank missile, drone or bullet.
In addition to the threats issued by Hamas and the other Palestinian groups, the Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, also issued a threat of a “regional explosion” in the event of Israel’s desecration of Jerusalem’s Holy sites. Israel went above and beyond what was expected of it, as Israeli occupation forces were ordered to crackdown on demonstrators brutally and even attacked women, children and the elderly.
Yet, after all of this, not a single armed group anywhere, in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Yemen fired a shot or stated that they would do so. This led many to speculate as to whether these threats issued to the Israelis were simply bluffs or that perhaps mediators had convinced the Palestinian factions to remain silent and not escalate. These, however, are not feasible explanations.
To begin with, there are so many different Palestinian armed factions based in the Gaza Strip, which have in the past caused problems for bigger groups — like the Al-Qassam brigades of Hamas and Saraya al-Quds of Islamic Jihad. If the major armed groups are indeed planning on not following through with their pledges to respond to Israel, it would be highly unlikely for the smaller factions to withhold their own rockets from being fired at Israel as well.
It is clear that Hamas and the other groups, which have come together to be part of what is known as the ‘Joint Room’ of resistance factions, had no problem over the past year firing a few rockets to escalate tensions when Israel provoked them. So why would they not have just fired a few rockets into Israeli settlement areas, or even Tel Aviv, in order to at least save face if they were not planning a large response? If you follow the psychology of those on the ground, as well as the armed groups, it is clear that this sort of escalation by Israel will cause Palestinians to completely rejected the political parties they now support if there is no solid reaction. The political parties and armed groups know this well, they are not stupid enough to make massive threats of regional war, of firing 1111 rockets at Israel and fighting a long drawn out conflict for 6 consecutive months, if they weren’t prepared to do so. This would crush the morale of those in the occupied territories and be the equivalent to committing political suicide.
The silence of the armed groups, especially in the face of Israeli attempts to draw their fire, suggests something much greater is being planned. This strongly suggests that the nature of the Palestinian armed groups is not simply emotional, but rather it is strategic.
Allowing Israel to follow through with its ‘flag march’, desecrating al-Aqsa and attacking civilians, has proven a point to the Arab world, as to what Israel actually is. It has also directed a lot of rage towards the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. The PA’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, was even reported to have handed in his resignation, to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, over the incidents in Jerusalem. “What happened yesterday is a dangerous shift in the conflict, and Israel has crossed all red lines and agreements with its repeated aggression and its attempt to impose a reality that contradicts the historical status-quo,” Shtayyeh stated.
By not reacting emotionally to Israel’s provocations, the armed groups have left Tel Aviv’s officials scratching their heads and in a state of anxiety. They have also exposed the weakness of the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah and shown the Arab world what Israel’s intentions are for the Holy City. Next, we can expect a calculated response which will be in line with the threats made and this will be part of the plan to put Israel on the back-foot, instead of taking a reactionary stance and allowing the Zionist regime to dictate the course of the next battle as it had planned.