One of the most notable aspects of the popular ferment that has swept the Arab world over the last years has been the singular absence of a Palestinian element.
Arab nationalism and its Islamist successor long presented the Palestinian cause as the great unifying focus for all Arabs and/or Muslims. Support for the Palestinians and vilification of Israel and/or Jews are indeed near ubiquitous throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Yet the demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain were all concerned with urgent local issues.
An initiative is now under way which hopes to change this, and to direct and focus the energies of Arab and Muslim popular agitation squarely at the hated Jewish state. The name of this initiative is the “Global March to Jerusalem.” It is set to take place on March 30th. Its organizers may well find, however, that popular ferment cannot simply be summoned at will.
The Global March to Jerusalem is an attempt to realize a dream often expressed in pro-Palestinian circles. This vision imagines millions of Palestinian Arabs and their supporters from across the globe simultaneously converging on the borders of the Jewish state. As Ribhi Halloum, one of the main organizers, put it: “the protest aims to move the right of return possessed by Palestinian refugees from theory to practice.”
The GMJ intends to assemble activists in all the countries surrounding Israel. They will then begin simultaneously to march in the direction of the border. This will take place to coincide with annual protest marches by Arab citizens of Israel.
One of the organizers expressed the aims of the march in the following terms: “Imagine a situation where we have more than a million people streaming in from four borders and Israel fails to stop the human tide. Once we have broken this mental barrier, then it’s all over. Next time we will have 5 million who will be marching in and it will only grow from there. This is exactly the nightmare situation for Israel.”
The hopes that the organizers are investing in the march are thus not modest. They think they are about to initiate a process that will lead to the end of Israel: the GMJ, the activist’s email continues, “will undermine the Israeli state like no other strategy and then it will all begin to unravel and the Zionist edifice, which is unraveling as we speak, will soon fall. It’s a matter of time now, as we well know.”
This initiative is the product of an international alliance that has emerged in recent years between mainly Sunni Islamists and Western leftist supporters of the destruction of Israel. Observation of the original “advisory” and “executive” committees for the march reveal a number of familiar names of individuals and organizations from within this nexus.
What sets the GMJ apart somewhat from previous initiatives of this kind, however, is the notable representation of Iranian and Iran-regime associated groups among its backers. This suggests Iranian government backing for the march. The Iranian-linked groups form a third pillar, alongside the Sunni, Muslim-Brotherhood linked groups and the less important Western leftist anti-Zionists.
The Society for Defense of the Palestinian Nation, the Quds News Agency, and the International Union of Unified Ummah are among the long list of Iran-linked groups that are among the organizers of this campaign. Even the Society of Iranian Jews has been coerced into supporting it.
The Iranian organizations are there alongside more familiar names, such as Mohammed Sawalha, the UK-based former Hamas military commander; the MB-linked Holy Land Trust; the British Muslim Initiative; and the Friends of Al-Aqsa.
Alongside these are both Israel-based far left groups such as the Alternative Information Center, and U.S.- and European-based leftist opponents of Israel, including the Stop the War Coalition, International Solidarity Movement, and a host of others.
How seriously should Israel be taking the threat represented by the Global March to Jerusalem? Firstly, the campaign to delegitimize Israel is a genuinely global project, bringing together Islamists and far leftists from across the world. As the experience of the first flotilla shows, complacency and failure to properly prepare for its activities can end badly.
This said, there is also no need to take the organizers of these protests at their own estimation. The Israeli authorities have made perfectly clear that no-one will be allowed to cross the border illegally. As with the demonstrations from Syria and Lebanon to mark the “Nakba” last year (catastrophe – the popular Arabic term used for the creation of Israel), Israel will seek to prevent loss of life and injury while ensuring the protection of its borders.
But current indications suggest that a far smaller number of participants than the organizers had hoped will be taking part in the march. Scant evidence has emerged of the kind of logistical undertaking which would need to precede a true mass mobilization.
The march is unlikely even to take place in Syria, where a civil war is currently underway. The authorities in Jordan and even in Lebanon evidently regard the Global March on Jerusalem as mainly an infernal nuisance. For different reasons, each of these countries is sensitive to the possibility of domestic unrest, and does not welcome the arrival of unruly crowds at the present time, whatever banners they may be waving.
In Lebanon, it has been made clear that the march will not be permitted to approach the border area. There also appears to be little enthusiasm for the GMJ in the West Bank itself, which is currently experiencing economic growth and relative stability.
The effort to use external political demonstrations and mobilizations to put pressure on Israel has been around for a while now. It has little to show for all its frenetic activity. The second flotilla to Gaza and the “flytilla” were failures that no-one now remembers. The “Nakba” and “Naksa” marches last year produced little of substance other than the loss of life of Palestinian refugees dispatched into border minefields by organizers in Syria.
There is no such thing as being too well-prepared, and Israeli authorities are carefully watching developments in the days leading up to the “Global March to Jerusalem.” This preparation, plus the inherent problems facing this campaign, may well ensure that its impact remains minor and limited.