On Friday, March 30, 2012, tens of thousands of Palestinians and their supporters will converge on Israel’s borders, demanding the right to march to Jerusalem. It’s a publicity stunt that promises to turn into a PR nightmare for Israel.
By declaring a “million man march to liberate Jerusalem,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh can ignite the Palestinian street, which was largely dormant during the Arab Spring, as well as rally the support of the West’s radical left. If the march is peaceful, Haniyah will have depicted himself as a true leader of the masses, replacing a tired and humiliated Abbas. If demonstrators are shot by the IDF on their way to “liberate” Jerusalem, it could be very hard for Israel to stop a violent reaction.
The Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ) is a problem partially of Israel’s own making. Israeli public diplomacy has always demanded that Palestinians end violence and move toward a political resolution of the conflict. Mass marches will be perceived worldwide as meeting this demand.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry seems unaware of the potential scale of the Global March to Jerusalem and of how easily it has fired up the imagination of anti-Israel activists worldwide.
The marches coincide with Land Day, which annually commemorates the death of six Israeli Arabs who participated in a general strike in 1976.
This isn’t the first attempt to challenge Israel’s sovereignty by marching on its internationally recognized borders. In June 2011, several protesters were injured when they attempted to cross Israel’s northern border at Majdal Shams.
Last year, the deaths resulting from the botched attempt to take over the Mavi Marmara led to a crisis in Israel’s image abroad. The March to Jerusalem will, organizers promise, be even more effective:
Our plan is to organize massive marches towards Jerusalem, or to the nearest point possible according to the circumstances of each country, in Palestine (the 1948 seizures, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and the four neighbouring countries: Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Internationals will participate in land caravans or fly directly to one of the main sites for the march.
Compounding Israel’s public relations nightmare, there are simultaneous rallies planned in 60 countries worldwide, many outside Israeli embassies. In addition, organizers are preparing intercontinental marches; some have already marched through Tehran en route to Jerusalem. The official website of the GMJ promises:
Massive marches will be organised from Asia, Africa and Europe to and in neighbouring countries to Palestine (Jordan, Eygpt, Syria and Lebanon) and towards Jerusalem or to the nearest point possible according to the circumstances of each country and through coordination between all groups and institutions of civil society taking part in the march, in coordination with the official and national bodies concerned.
The group boasts a familiar list of supporters, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils and Dr. Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University.
Inspired by changes brought about by the Arab Spring, the Global March to Jerusalem is being advertised throughout the Middle East. Even Al Forat TV in Iraq recently featured it:
Like their counterparts in the Arab Spring, organizers of the March to Jerusalem are utilizing the Internet to spread their cause. A recent YouTube video advertising the day has ratcheted up over 20,000 views.
Campaign videos are sleek and often evoke the images of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. On March 30, 2012, they claim, Jerusalem will be liberated:
The brilliance of the campaign is that it strengthens the so-called “red -green alliance” against Israel. To those on the Western liberal left, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh can depict himself as a present-day Gandhi, peacefully resisting the occupation. To his Islamic supporters he can appear as the defender of Jerusalem against the infidels.
When Israel demanded that the Palestinians stop their terrorist activities and develop a political protest movement, perhaps it should have been more careful about what it was wishing for.
On March 30, Israel will face a new PR nightmare. And on the day after, Israel will wake up to a new reality.