Israel falls into Palestinian trap by killing protesters

A Palestinian demonstrator, holding stones in his hand, pauses during clashes with Israel troops in the Qalandia checkpoint, between Ramallah and occupied Jerusalem. (File Photo)

A Palestinian demonstrator, holding stones in his hand, pauses during clashes with Israel troops in the Qalandia checkpoint, between Ramallah and occupied Jerusalem. (File Photo)
By firing on unarmed Palestinian protesters seeking to breach Israel’s dividing line with Syria on the Golan Heights, Israel is signaling that it has learnt little in the last six months from protests against autocratic rule sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

If one thing has emerged from the protests it is that Arabs have found a new resilience irrespective of the degree of force employed against them and that leaders who use force to kill unarmed protesters become the world’s pariahs.

The question for Israel is whether that is the price it wishes to pay if Palestinians continue their peaceful protests aimed at ending the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
It is a price that Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad or Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi can afford. Messrs. Assad and Qaddafi never enjoyed much public support in the West nor did they rely on the US Congress or European parliaments for goodwill when it came to their political, economic and military needs.

That can hardly be said for Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu who have gone to great length to cultivate their ties not only to Western governments but also to Western parliaments. They have also gone to great length to influence Western public opinion.

And by presenting Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israeli leaders open the door to Israel being judged by tougher standards than its autocratic neighbors.

As a result, it is hard to see how Israel will be able to maintain its support in the US and ensure that its prestige in Europe does not slide further if continued unarmed Palestinian protests result in repeated Israeli killings. Israel says its forces killed six Palestinian protesters on Sunday while Syrian state media assert that the number is 20.

Sunday’s Palestinian protests were designed to mark the 44th anniversary of Israel’s conquest of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. They followed similar clashes on May 15 in which nine Palestinians were killed. The May 15 protesters were commemorating the Palestinians’ displacement in 1948 as a result of the creation of the state of Israel.

To be sure, the White House on Sunday blamed Syria for the killings on the Golan, arguing like Israel that the protests are an effort by Mr. Assad to divert attention from the two-month old mass anti-government protests in his own country. Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,000 protesters in recent months. The United States and Europe have condemned the brutal crackdown and slapped sanctions on Mr. Assad and his closest associates.

The White House, however, also said in its statement on Sunday that it was “deeply troubled” by the shootings, signaling that like in the case of the Bahraini crackdown on protesters the US was unhappy with the degree of force employed but chooses to make its views known privately rather than in public.

Nonetheless, if Bahrain is any indication, the Gulf State’s refusal to heed US advice prompted US President Barack Obama last month to take Bahraini leaders to task in a wide-ranging Middle East policy speech that put the United States squarely behind protesters demanding their rights peacefully.

The Palestinian protests indeed serve Mr. Assad’s purpose and Syria--unlike Lebanon, stopped dozens of refugees from approaching its fence with Israel -- certainly allowed the protesters to reach the dividing line with Israel, but that does not justify Israel’s excessive use of force. If anything it threatens to put Israel in the same corner as Syria and Libya are because of their brutal use of force against protesters.

The Israeli-Syrian frontier has been largely quiet since the 1973 war, in which Syria tried to recapture the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the Golan in 1982 in a move that has not been internationally recognized.

Syrian support for the Palestinian protests, despite Israel’s occupation of the Golan, is blatantly hypocritical and exposes the hypocrisy of Syrian leaders who have no qualms about killing their own people but seem to believe that is an exclusive right that should not apply to others.

Nobody, including the protesters, expected Israel to allow the Palestinians to breach its front line. And Israeli forces indeed warned the protesters several times before they opened fire. Yet, in a world in which crowd control is a highly developed science, using live fire against unarmed protesters constitutes an attempt to raise the stakes in the hope that intimidation will put a halt to the demonstrations.

Moreover, Israel’s handling of the protest on the Golan contrasts starkly with its use of tear gas on Sunday to confront 200 Palestinian stone-throwing demonstrators at the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank.

Use of excessive force hasn’t worked in Syria, Libya or Yemen, or for that matter in Egypt and Tunisia whose autocratic leaders were toppled earlier this year. In Bahrain, demonstrations erupted in this week within hours of the lifting of the state of emergency on the island.

There is little reason to believe that excessive force will work on the Golan or in Palestine.

By demonstrating peacefully, the Palestinians are effectively setting a trap for Israel that Israeli tunnel vision is leading it into. Sunday’s shootings suggest that the Palestinians are betting on the right horse.

Mr. Netanyahu warned that his country’s security forces would act with continued “determination” to prevent “extremist elements in the region” from penetrating Israel’s frontier.

It’s a warning that is likely to increase the dilemma the Palestinian protests create for Israel. The use of excessive force risks increasing Israeli isolation and further complicating its relations with its closest allies. It could also undermine Israeli efforts to persuade European nations, who are increasingly critical of Israeli policy, not to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations General Assembly this year.

The protests constitute as much a threat to as an opportunity for Israel. Israel would be far better served by turning the tables on the Palestinians and the Arabs with a bold peace initiative of its own that puts it in front instead of in back of the cart. If the Palestinian demonstrators drive that message home, they will indeed be able to claim a major achievement.


  1. Remember when you used to blog about football?

  2. Palestinians setting a ‘trap’ for israel!! What kind of logic are you employing here Mr. Dorsey?
    And what logic is the White House using asking ‘for restraint in both sides’? The murderous israeli army is killing civilians demonstrating against its illegal occupation and yet you are blaming the victims. Is this honest journalism and proper justice. Are you not embarrassed by your idiocy and stupidity!!

  3. I have indeed expanded beyond football but at least half of my postings remain soccer-related.

  4. I speak for myself and not for anyone else. Employing insults is a sign of defensiveness and weakness. Nowhere in my article is blame put on the protesters. It helps to interpret things in context and fully grasp a language to understand what is said. I suggest you Google the meaning and use of the phrase, 'to set a trap.'


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