Palestinians shout during clashes with Israeli troops, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30, 2018..
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
Palestinian organizers of the so-called “Great March of Return” said demonstrations along the fences that separate southern Israel from the Gaza Strip were intended to be peaceful – comprised of families of men, women and children camping in tents – with cultural events planned, including traditional dabke dancing.
But the reality was very different.
Thousands of young Palestinian men, many of whom were known Hamas terrorists, attempted to rush the fence. Some threw Molotov cocktails or rocks or burned tires. The IDF suspects that attempts were made to place explosives along the fence as well.
Hamas has changed tactics. With the advent of the Iron Dome missile defense system, lobbing rockets and mortar fire at Israeli civilians is no longer very effective. Israeli technology that uncovers underground attack tunnels has begun to neutralize that threat as well.
Now Hamas has latched onto a new, simpler strategy: Encourage throngs of Palestinians – including women, children and the elderly together with armed terrorists – to rush the fence separating the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip from Israel and wait for the inevitable civilian casualties. Hamas knows that no sovereign state can allow its border to be overrun by thousands of combative “refugees,” particularly when the crowds are probably nothing but cover for terrorists who are prepared to carry out an attack against Israelis. And Israel will inevitably be ostracized for killing “innocent” Palestinians.
Ostensibly, the violent “marches of return” that took place in at least six difference locations along the fence, coincided with Land Day, which commemorates those Palestinians killed on March 30, 1976, during demonstrations against Israeli expropriation of land in the Galilee. The rioting is planned to continue through May 15, the date on which Israel announced its independence 70 years ago, but which the Palestinians refer to as “Catastrophe Day.”
However, the riots come at a time when Hamas’s political leadership in Gaza is in crisis. The terrorist organization, which violently wrested control over Gaza Strip in 2007, two years after Israel evacuated, has failed to care for the Palestinians who live there. Islamists who came to power with the slogan “Islam is the answer” have realized after a decade that even running a tiny coastal enclave is impossible while clinging to a Muslim theology that leaves no room for compromise or pragmatism.
Hamas channels its limited resources into preparation for another failed war with Israel instead of investing in improving the lives of Gaza’s citizens.
The results of Hamas’s intransigence are tragically evident. Paralyzing electricity shortages leave Gaza’s inhabitants with just a few hours of electricity per day; running water is available only one day out of four on average and the over-pumping of aquifers has resulted in seeping of saltwater; unemployment rates are skyrocketing; and the rebuilding of Gaza after the 2014 conflict with Israel is stalled.
Attempts at reconciliation with the Fatah leadership in the West Bank have gone nowhere because both sides care more about their own aggrandizement than about the betterment of the Palestinian people. Hamas had hoped it would be allowed to continue to control Gaza militarily, while the Palestinian Authority, funded by generous foreign donors – mostly Americans and Europeans – would foot the bill for the day-to-day expenses of running an autonomous enclave. Mahmoud Abbas, PA president and head of Fatah, has reacted by stopping the flow of PA funds to Gaza. No one in the West Bank or Gaza even entertains the possibility of democratic elections, which were last held in 2006 and left Hamas with a plurality of the votes.
Under the circumstances, Hamas decided that its easiest option was to launch a series of violent demonstrations against Israel. This deflects attention from Hamas’s own resounding leadership failures. It also gives Hamas new relevance in the Palestinian resistance and upstages Fatah.
None of this has anything to do with real concern for the future of the Palestinian people of Gaza. Hamas is using the demonstrations to undermine and delegitimize Israel. It doesn’t want its people to have hope for a better future. It prefers they be shot and killed by Israelis.