Protest in the Golan Heights

Here I am, an hour-and-a-half's drive from the Golan, and I can't figure out what happened there on June 5. There were no independent journalists on either side of the border, and so we have only the reports from Syrian television and the response of the IDF spokeswoman. The Syrians say that Israeli soldiers fired at the advancing crowd and killed twenty-three people. The Israelis say that only a few marksmen fired live ammunition, that the Syrians are making up the numbers and possibly adding people killed by their army in nearby rebellious cities to the list, and finally that some number of protesters were killed when their Molotov cocktails set off anti-tank mines on the Syrian side of the border. Newspapers here and abroad, so far as I can tell, simply report the discrepancy, but 'Haaretz' warns, probably rightly, that the Syrians got there first and are sure to be widely believed.

It is also unclear who the protesters were—Syrians reclaiming the Golan or Palestinians “returning” to Israel. One dissident blogger from the Syrian opposition wrote that people were paid by the Assad government to join the march and promised compensation if they were injured. But that doesn't sound likely. It can't have been difficult to round up the 500 to 1000 marchers, given the spirit of rebellion in the Arab world, which has surely reached the Palestinian camps. On the other hand, the rest of Palestine was relatively quiet on the 5th, and neither Hamas nor Fatah sounded particularly enthusiastic about the Golan protests when they, more or less routinely, condemned the killings.

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Officials in Netanyahu's government must feel that they got off easy. They will also be grateful for the Molotov cocktails, which suggest that the discipline of nonviolence hasn't yet been fully established among the Palestinians (if that's who threw them, if they were thrown). But nonviolence is in the air, and it promises to be far more effective than terrorism ever was. Watching the Syrian video of the march, I couldn't help thinking that if all the people in the West who justified or apologized for Palestinian terrorism had been united in their condemnation, this moment might have been reached many years ago. And then there would be a Palestinian state, and so many lives spared.

Whether statehood is in the offing now is radically unclear. The Left's demonstration for a Palestinian state (in Tel Aviv on the 4th) was disappointingly small. There hardly seems to be a plausible opposition here, and so the government is on its own march, eyes closed, toward what looks to me like disaster. I imagine American and now French diplomats shouting at Bibi to open his eyes. A few Israeli notables, nonpolitical figures like Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, have joined the shouting. Dagan actually urged the government to accept the Saudi peace offer—a brilliant move, which nobody in power seems prepared to make.