Israel prepares for weeks of military and international tension

Jerusalem rejects accusations of ‘disproportionate’ force, says Gaza fence separates state from terrorists.

UN condemns Israel after over 15 Palestinian casualties in Gaza Land Day protests, March 31, 2018 (Reuters)
Israel is bracing for several weeks of military and diplomatic confrontation that began with Friday’s march in the Gaza Strip. The march left 17 Palestinians dead and hundreds more injured, and its protests are expected to continue until May 15, which the Palestinians mark as Nakba Day, the “Day of Catastrophe,” marking Israel’s founding as a modern nation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night congratulated the IDF for defending the borders and making it possible for the country’s citizens to celebrate the Passover Seder quietly.
“Israel acts with firmness and determination to defend its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” he said in a statement.
An estimated 30,000 Palestinians took part in the Hamas-organized protests, with the IDF saying that those who were shot were either attempting to cross over, plant bombs at or physically harm the fence.
Israeli sources said that except for one “problematic” incident, there are photos and videos to back up the IDF’s claims. This material, the sources said, will be shown to those in the international community who condemned Israel for Friday’s incidents, and accused it of using disproportionate force.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip “separates a sovereign state from a terrorist organization.”
This fence, the statement said, “separates a state that protects its citizens from murderers who send their people into danger. The fence separates an army that uses force in self-defense and in a focused and proportionate manner, from Hamas, which has for years – including yesterday – been trying to harm millions of Israelis, and which sanctifies murder and death.
“Anyone who errs in seeing in this murderous spectacle even an iota of ‘freedom of expression’ is blind to the threats Israel faces,” the statement read.
A demonstration of “freedom of expression,” however, is how EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described Friday’s events.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected,” she said in a statement.
“The EU mourns the loss of life.” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims. The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation. While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times.”
AMBASSADOR TO the United Nations Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post that although the Palestinians were unable – because of US opposition – to get a “press statement” from the Security Council denouncing Israel on Friday, they will try in the coming days “to do something else in the UN.”
He said he did not believe this would succeed, because of US opposition.
Kuwait, according to Danon, tried to get the Security Council to meet behind closed doors and issue a statement. When it became clear that the council would be unable to agree on a statement, the Kuwaitis demanded an emergency public session of the Security Council on Friday night, knowing that – because of the Passover Seder – Israel would not be able to participate.
“While Jews around the world gathered with their family at the Seder table to celebrate the Passover holiday, the Palestinians sunk to a new, deceitful low so that they could use the UN to spread lies about Israel,” Danon said after the meeting.
“This shameful exploitation of our holiday will not succeed in stopping us from speaking the truth about the Hamas terror-gatherings that aim to destabilize the region,” the envoy added.
Because the meeting was called so quickly, the 15 member states were mostly represented by lower level delegates, Danon said.
US representative Walter Miller said “bad actors” were using the demonstrations as a cover for violence.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life today. We urge those involved to take steps to lower tensions and reduce the risk of new clashes,” he said. “Bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence endanger innocent lives.”
PLO Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour told the council that “these peaceful demonstrators posed no threat whatsoever to Israel or its heavily armed soldiers, yet its trigger-happy soldiers used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets.”
Danon said that during that session Kuwait and Bolivia issued predictably incendiary statements, with Sweden also coming in with a “very bad statement” that said Stockholm was “appalled” by the loss of life and called for an immediate investigation. The Swedish delegate said that it appeared that Israel’s use of live fire only aggravated the situation, and that Israel must respect the right to peaceful protest.
Following the meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called in a statement for an “independent and transparent investigation” of the incidents.
The statement also said he “appeals to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and, in particular, any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, made little mention of the violent clashes.
In a message on Twitter, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert wrote: “We are deeply saddened by loss of life in #Gaza today. We urge those involved to take steps to lower tensions. Int’l community is focused on taking steps that will improve the lives of the Palestinians and is working on a plan for peace. Violence furthers neither of those goals.”
One day before the march, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, previewed his expectations: “Hamas is encouraging a hostile march on the Israel-Gaza border,” he tweeted. “Hamas should focus on desperately needed improvements to the lives of Palestinians in Gaza instead of inciting violence against Israel that only increases hardship & undermines chances for peace.”
The White House has not commented on the violence since. Greenblatt and the rest of the White House “peace team” working on a comprehensive proposal to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, say that solving the situation in the Gaza Strip and wrestling it from the control of Hamas is the key to a lasting peace agreement.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.