March 29, 2012.
On March 30th a ground-breaking event will take place. I had not
expected it would ever happen when I first heard about it. While
teaching at the Summer University of Palestine last July in Beirut, I
met a group of Indian Muslims taking the course. They told me they were
organizing a people’s march to Jerusalem to bring to the world’s
attention to Israel’s assault on the city’s history and culture, and its
impending loss as a center for Islam and Christianity. They explained
how they and their friends would set out from India, drawing in others
to join them as they passed through the various countries on their way
overland to Israel’s borders.
They seemed fired up and determined, and I could not but admire their
zeal and dedication to try and rescue this orphan city which has been
abandoned by all who should have defended her. But I thought their
ambitions would be thwarted by the harsh reality of trying to implement
their dreams. It would never succeed, I thought, but I was quite wrong.
The movement they and their fellow activists spearheaded, called the
Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ), is now in its final stages. A
distinguished group of 400 advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu
and Nobel Laureate, Mairead Maguire, are promoting the GMJ. The marchers
will head for Jerusalem or the nearest point possible on March 30th.
This date also commemorates Land Day, a significant anniversary for
Palestinians. On that day in 1976 six Palestinian citizens of Israel
were killed by Israeli forces.
They had participated in a peaceable
general strike to protest against Israeli confiscations of privately
owned Palestinian land, and paid with their lives for this act of
non-violent resistance. Since then this tragic event has been
commemorated annually by Palestinians everywhere. Today, it is a fitting
reminder of Israel’s other confiscation of Jerusalem’s land, ongoing
No one knows the exact numbers of marchers who will make it, but they
promise to be large. Land caravans have been traveling for weeks from
India, Pakistan and other Asian countries towards the meeting places in
the countries bordering Israel. At the same time, marches towards
Jerusalem will take place from within the occupied Palestinian
territories. “Palestinians and their international supporters will
attempt to get as close to Jerusalem as they can, whether at the borders
of Lebanon and Jordan, at checkpoints in the West Bank or at the Erez
crossing with Gaza”, the organizers have announced.
In tandem with this, solidarity protests and rallies are planned in
64 countries around the world, centered on Israeli embassies in each
place. In London a mass rally is planned opposite the Israeli embassy.
All the protests aim to be strictly peaceful, bearing in mind Israel’s
brutal reaction on Nakba day in 2011, when 13 refugees were killed close
to the border with Israel. This time the signs are that the army is
preparing to behave similarly. Israel has already warned the neighboring
states they must prevent protestors from reaching the border. Israeli
troops have been deployed along the borders with Syria and Lebanon. The
Israeli cabinet has met urgently to discuss security arrangements
against the marchers at the borders and in the West Bank. In a sign of
panic, they have accused Iran and Islamic fundamentalism of being behind
However it turns out on March 30th, it will have been a brave and
admirable attempt to awaken the world’s conscience. Jerusalem is unique
and irreplaceable, and its pillage and destruction at Israel’s hands
ever since 1967 has been tolerated for far too long. Governments,
institutions and official bodies have signally failed to halt Israel’s
encroachment on the holy city. They must now make way for ordinary
citizens to take charge and come to Jerusalem’s aid. That is why the
Global March to Jerusalem matters and why it must succeed.