Worldwide BDS proves its irrelevance

International “peace activists” confront Israeli police during the Land Day protests at the Kalandia checkpoint

International “peace activists” confront Israeli police during the Land Day protests at the Kalandia checkpoint

The failure of the Global March to Jerusalem has not come as a surprise to Israeli diplomats and IDF officers.

Pro-Palestinian organisations had been planning to march hundreds of thousands of supporters towards Israel's borders and embassies last Friday but, despite clashes on the border of the Gaza Strip and in a few events in the West Bank, the day passed with relatively little incident.

The Global March was to be held on Land Day, an annual day of protests for Israeli Arabs which commemorates the killing of six Israeli Arabs during protests in 1976 over land rights.

It was heralded by pro-Palestinian groups around the world, especially those affiliated with the BDS (boycott, sanction, divestment) movement, as a mass-event in which hundreds of thousands would march from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to the border crossings, overwhelming the Israeli soldiers.

Supporters unable to reach the region would take part in simultaneous protests outside Israeli embassies across the globe.

In the event, other than an incident in which Palestinian medics said a man in the Gaza Strip was shot dead by Israeli security forces before Hamas members dispersed the marchers, the most serious action of the day took place at Kalandia, one of the main checkpoints on the border between the West Bank and Israel.

The checkpoint is the location of routine clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers and, on Friday, Israeli security personnel used tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and the "skunk" machine - which fires putrid water out of a vehicle-mounted cannon - to disperse protesters, many of whom were throwing rocks.

On Israel's other borders there were no marches, with Lebanese and Syrian security forces dispersing small gatherings before they had a chance to get near the border.

Only a handful of protesters gathered outside a few Israeli embassies including one small group in London. Instead of drawing the masses, the Global March turned out to be a virtual organisation with no grassroots support or backing by any of the region's governments.

Israeli police and army units deployed reinforcements along the northern border and at other points but, by and large, were not needed.

An IDF officer at Central Command said that while the army had been monitoring the Global March plans since its inception, there had been little expectation that it would materialise as planned.

Over the past year, the Israeli security establishment has learnt the lessons of the Arab Spring, closely following initiatives on social media networks, in an attempt to spot mass-protests and riots in advance.

"In many cases, we have seen that even if hundreds of thousands pledge their support on the web," said the officer, "in the field, at the most only a few hundred show up. Ninety per cent of the people who support these events on the web are not from the West Bank.

"The local Palestinian population does not have the appetite right now for another intifada and it's not in the interest of the Palestinian Authority either. That doesn't mean we are not going to carry on monitoring the situation and preparing for the worst, but we keep things in perspective."

An Israeli diplomat who follows the attempt to delegitimise Israel says: "We are reconsidering our response to these initiatives. The BDS movement with its Israel-Apartheid events is failing to convince wider circles, beyond their own activists.

"The mainstream media, which isn't known for being especially pro-Israel, does not seem to be paying them much attention. We have to ask ourselves whether by responding them in a public way we are not giving them undue public attention and making them into something bigger than they really are."

Anshel Pfeffer and Ben Hartman

    Last updated: 6:31pm, April 4 2012