A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling to hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City May 14, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
On Monday, more than 60 Palestinians were reported killed in Gaza and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. It was the deadliest single day of violence since the 2014 war and the worst day of rioting and protests since the “Great March of Return” began on March 30.
Hamas authorities in Gaza have been inciting masses of people to break through the border fence, promising that they will become “martyrs” and return to lands lost in 1948. This was all part of eight weeks of protests leading up to “Nakba Day,” when Palestinians mourn what they call the “catastrophe” of the founding of the State of Israel.
The protests in Gaza have been carefully planned and carried out at five points along the security fence.
On the first Friday, on Land Day on March 30, almost 20 Palestinians were killed by live fire. In subsequent weeks in April, however, the number of Palestinian casualties decreased. It appeared the massive protests and violent riots were becoming smaller. That all changed on Monday during protests that coincided with the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem. Thousands attempted to breach the fence. The IDF had warned Palestinians on Sunday not to approach the fence.
“Hamas is trying to hide its many failures by endangering your lives,” leaflets dropped over Gaza read.
“Do no approach the security fence and do not participate in Hamas’s life-threatening farce.”
Hamas leaders countered Israel’s calls for people to stay away from the fence by planning for and inciting them to breach the fence and get into Israel. By noon on Monday there were more than 35,000 protesters.
The large death toll from Monday’s violent protests show that the situation in Gaza is far more complicated than simply Hamas leaders inciting rioters to attack the security barrier. Even though the IDF defended the legality of using live fire against protests at a High Court challenge in late April, the larger question goes beyond what may be legal, to what may be in Israel’s best interests. That involves taking into account the international impact.
After the casualty figures became known, South Africa and Turkey withdrew their ambassadors from Israel. Turkey has also withdrawn its ambassador from the US in protest at the embassy decision. The juxtaposition of the violence with the gala celebrations held the same day in Jerusalem for the US Embassy move and in Tel Aviv for the return of Netta Barzilai from her Eurovision Song Contest victory only magnified the loss of lives in the global coverage and was manipulated by critics to portray Israel as callous and uncaring.
The best response now after the clashes is outreach to Gazans, not to Hamas, but to Gazans who are not being served by the prison that Hamas has created for them. The Trump administration said on Monday that it “continues to work to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Jason Greenblatt, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations, was in Jerusalem on Monday for the embassy event.
He wrote last week that “Palestinians in Gaza need to be reunited with their West Bank counterparts under a single, responsible Palestinian Authority.” He also says that Israel has indicated that it would do more to help the people of Gaza if Jerusalem were assured that “additional things they allow into” the Strip would not be re-purposed for weapons or otherwise used against Israelis.
Now is the time for a new push regarding proposals for Gaza. Only Palestinians can decide the future of the Gaza Strip. They should want a future without Hamas and with a functioning government that would receive widespread support. There is evidence that Gulf states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, would support the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Last year the PA was on the brink of achieving that. Now, with thousands injured and more than 100 killed in failed extremist attempts to breach the border with Israel, it is more imperative than ever that Gazans get a genuine leadership, rather than the dictatorship of Hamas.