Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi extolled the activists for their "highly creative and legitimate nonviolent tool" to protect Palestinian land. But the failure of PA officials, including Saeb Erekat, to make it to the site before it was cordoned off by Israel only heightened the impression of a leadership too slow and unimaginative to respond to events.
By establishing Bab al-Shams, the activists visibly demonstrated the apartheid nature of Israel's rule in the occupied territories. Although one brief encampment is unlikely by itself to change the dynamics of the conflict, it does show Palestinians that there are ways they themselves can take the struggle to Israel.
Following the Israeli raid, that point was made eloquently by Mohammed Khatib, one of the organizers. "In establishing Bab al-Shams, we declare that we have had enough of demanding our rights from the occupier -- from now on we shall seize them ourselves."
That, of course, is also Netanyahu's great fear. The scenario his officials are reported to be most concerned about is that this kind of popular mode of struggle becomes infectious. If Palestinians see popular non-violent resistance, unlike endless diplomacy, helping to awaken the world to their plight, there may be more Bab al-Shamses -- and other surprises for Israel -- around the corner.
It was precisely such thinking that led Israel's attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, to justify Netanyahu's violation of the injunction on the grounds that the camp would "bring protests and riots with national and international implications."
What Bab al-Shams shows is that ordinary Palestinians can take the fight for the "state of Palestine" to Israel -- and even turn Israel's own methods against it.