It was my birthday this week and the last thing I wanted was a bunch of balloons. Definitely – and in this case, sadly – a matter of being a year older and a year wiser. Last year, balloons were child’s play. Not environmentally friendly, but on the whole, innocent fun. What a difference a year makes. In Israel in 2019, the first association I have with balloons is one of danger.
For the past year, Palestinians in Gaza have been waging a new method of war. Every Friday, thousands gather on the border with Israel, try to breach the fence, throw explosive devices at troops and threaten to kidnap and kill Israelis. The protests are being portrayed as nonviolent rallies, although their slogan “The Great March of Return” makes their aim clear. It is part of the Palestinians’ war on Israel.
Last summer, the Gazans took their campaign to new heights, sending hundreds of kites across the border. Some were decorated in the colors of the Palestinian flag, others with swastikas. But the Hamas-affiliated Palestinians didn’t rely on the decorations alone to get their message across: The kites were attached to incendiary devices, which landed in neighboring fields, nature reserves and woods, burning thousands of acres, killing wildlife and destroying natural habitats.
Hamas’s scorched-earth war plans were so successful that the Gazans “improved” their methods, attaching flammable devices to balloons, helium-filled condoms, and – in at least a couple of cases – to kestrels. “Let’s go fly a kite,” à la Mary Poppins, it ain’t.
The recent heavy rains have been a blessing. They replenished the country’s natural water resources and encouraged new growth. Fields of anemones reappeared in what had become charred, crying fields. The ash from the fires provided extra fertile soil.
The rain also dampened plans to continue “The Fire War” for a while. Hence the upgrade in balloon warfare. Balloons that burst into flames are a summertime fare. The rainy weather has seen an increase in explosive devices attached to huge bunches of balloons, released over the border to wreak as much havoc as possible. In some cases, a cluster of balloons was attached to a drone. Somehow, the impoverished Gazans have drones to spare – the same way they found the funds and means with which to dig attack tunnels.
The terrorist organization specializes in using women and children as human shields, so it makes sense, in its own twisted way, to use children’s toys as well. Israeli children living in communities close to the border have already internalized that they should not go near – and certainly not touch – any balloons or kites they happen to find.
These are the same children who grow up and look for the nearest safe room in the event of a rocket attack. Or, multiple rocket attacks. In November, in case you’d forgotten, some 500 rockets were launched on southern Israel within a 24-hour period. Local residents won’t forget. According to the IDF, 1,300 rockets and missiles have been fired from the Gaza Strip since March 30, 2018.
LAST WEEK, The Jerusalem Post
military reporter Anna Ahronheim published details from an IDF report on the year-long Great March of Return protests. According to the document, more than half a million people – about a quarter of the Gaza Strip’s population – have attended the protests since they began. The number of Palestinians congregating at points along the border reaches between several thousand to 45,000 each day.
Far from being peaceful rallies, rioters have used high-velocity slingshots to hurl what they can at soldiers. Grenades, burning tires and improvised explosive devices are routinely slung at IDF troops.
The report states that “dedicated units, established with the active support of Hamas, are responsible for particular activities, such as the ‘Nighttime Disturbance Unit,’ the ‘Tire Unit’ and the ‘Balloons Unit.’ These units openly include Hamas and other operatives.”
It notes that mines and booby-trapped explosive devices with delayed detonation mechanisms are laid along the fence during the riots under the cover of smoke and crowds, and “pose a direct threat to the lives and safety of IDF forces operating in the border area.”
The report determines that thousands of aerial incendiary devices have landed in southern Israel, leading to 2,000 separate fires resulting in over 3,500 hectares (some 8,500 acres) of land going up in flames.
Local residents have long complained that there are even more incidents, and some have queried whether the authorities haven’t deliberately downplayed the figures. An official of the Fire and Rescue Service who spoke on a radio interview a while back, explained that firefighters can only report as arson those cases in which there is solid proof. With flaming balloons, the evidence often literally goes up in smoke.
Finally this week, after incendiary-laden balloons exploded close to homes in Israeli communities, the IDF started to respond to the balloon launchers with firepower, shooting at the launchers and other Hamas sites in Gaza.
Hamas, meantime, is demanding Israel transfer it more money, reportedly to the tune of $20 million, or face an escalation in attacks: more proof that the “protesters” belong to a terrorist organization rather than to civil society. Egypt, which also has a border with Gaza and an Islamist terrorism problem, has been trying to mediate a solution.
THE UNITED Nations Human Rights Council has responded to the events in Gaza with its own declaration of war against Israel. On March 18, the council is expected to pass five resolutions condemning Israel, continuing its tradition of singling out the Jewish state. In addition, according to the NGO, UN Watch, a special commission will present seven separate reports alleging Israeli war crimes. In a warm-up act, on February 28, the UNHRC presented preliminary findings of one of the reports, alleging that some of the Israeli response “may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
Keep in mind that the incendiary and explosive-laden balloons, not to mention the rockets, are being launched on Israeli civilian targets. But that apparently is no war crime, according to the UN.
On Wednesday, March 6, as I was celebrating my birthday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was a party pooper.
“The end of this month will mark one year since the start of demonstrations which – as the Council’s Commission of Inquiry reported – have been met with deadly, disproportionate force by the Israeli security forces, leading to a very high toll of killings and injuries,” Bachelet declared from the comfort of a Geneva conference room.
She probably thinks that this is a safe distance from where Gazans are launching their explosive devices, but in the age of global jihad, when an ill wind blows, it carries the threat of terrorism both near and far.
Israelis now talk of “balloon terrorism.” The explosive-laden balloons have become a daily occurrence. But they are not something people should have to get used to. Action needs to be taken now, before – like the weekly riots – they grow too big to control.
You could ask how any other Western country would respond to thousands of rioters – nearly all of them members of a recognized terrorist organization – rallying along a border, attempting to provide cover for a terrorist infiltration. Or, how to handle a war where the weapon of choice is balloons attached to bombs. The answers aren’t blowing in the wind. It’s the potentially lethal balloons that are floating in the air. And they’re not about to burst; they’re about to blow up.
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