With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history. But criticism from global statesmen such as Desmond Tutu has bolstered the recent launch of a campaign by Palestinian groups and European and American solidarity activists for a sporting boycott of Israel, modelled on the international campaign that targeted apartheid South Africa.
Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has done little to capitalise on his recent diplomatic success at the UN. So instead, it was left to a group of 250 ordinary Palestinians to show how the idea of a “state of Palestine” might be given practical meaning. On Friday, they set up a tent encampment that they intended to convert into a new Palestinian village called Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun.
If there was a moment defining the shift in Israel’s strategic position over the past year, it occurred in September when the Israeli embassy in Cairo was overrun by hundreds of Egyptian protesters, some armed with sledgehammers. It was not quite the fall of Saigon. But it indicated how in a few months Israel had gone from a state adept at shaping its regional environment to one increasingly buffeted by forces beyond its control.
The Palestinian application for statehood, handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last week, has now disappeared from view — for weeks, it seems — while the United States and Israel devise a face-saving formula to kill it in the Security Council. Behind the scenes, the pair are strong-arming the Council’s members to block Palestinian statehood without the need for the US to cast its threatened veto.
Film shot on mobile phones captured the moment when at least 1,000 Palestinian refugees marched across no-man’s land to one of the most heavily protected borders in the world, the one separating Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Waving Palestinian flags, the marchers braved a minefield, then tore down a series of fences, allowing more than 100 to run into Israeli-controlled territory. As they embraced Druze villagers on the other side, voices could be heard saying: “This is what liberation looks like.”
Paradoxically, during the street protests and political upheavals that rocked the Arab world in recent months, the Palestinians were mostly invisible. Far from leading the regional convulsions, the Palestinians saw their own struggle eclipsed. Belatedly, however, the first shoots of the “Arab Spring” have appeared in the divided Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
More than a thousand Palestinians who staged a day of rage in the West Bank city of Hebron last week were left with few illusions about how their struggle for liberation differs from that of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans. The protesters were confronted, on one side, by massed ranks of Israeli paramilitary police, while Palestinian security forces assisted by blocking the entry of demonstrators from the other side. Squeezed into their own little Tahrir Square, the protesters suffered tear gas and baton attacks from the Israeli police while the Palestinian forces mutely stood by.
Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces across East Jerusalem yesterday in the worst rioting in years, after Hamas called for a “day of rage”. Police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at protesters who hurled stones and set up barricades with rubbish bins and burning tyres. In one neighbourhood, Israeli police officers disguised as protesters wrestled demonstrators to the ground and handcuffed them. Sixteen Palestinians were taken to hospital with broken bones, eye and stomach injuries.