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Palestinian protesters carry tires to burn them during clashes with Israeli troops at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip April 5, 2018. .(Photo by: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
Four weeks and six controversies in recent Gaza clashes
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
04/21/2018
Amid the clashes several important incidents involving stand out as symbolic of the conflict.
Four weeks of clashes on the Gaza border have resulted in thousands of wounded Palestinians and dozens killed.

Despite the decreasing numbers present at the weekly Friday rallies, the “Great March of Return” has been sustained by the residents of the Strip.

Amid the clashes, several important incidents stand out as symbolic of the conflict, even before Friday’s killing of 15-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ayoub. Here they are in chronological order from the start of the demonstrations four Fridays ago.


Israel warns Gazans to stay away from security fence


In the lead-up to the first mass rallies on March 30, Israel announced it was deploying snipers to the border.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman urged Palestinians via Twitter to stay away from the border. “Those who approach the fence today are putting themselves in danger.”

The IDF has continued with the messages to the present time, warning in leaflets dropped over Gaza that Hamas was using the protests as cover to carry out terrorist attacks. “Avoid approaching the fence and damaging it,” the leaflets read.


Live fire against demonstrators


Israel has used live fire against the protesters who approach the fence. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 1,000 have been shot by live fire. B’Tselem called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to fire on unarmed Palestinian protesters.

“The use of live ammunition against unarmed persons who pose no danger to anyone is unlawful,” the human rights NGO statement said on April 3. The United Nations human rights office urged Israel on April 6 to refrain from using excessive force.

On Thursday, Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Middle East envoy, tweeted that Palestinians in Gaza have the “right to protest their dire humanitarian circumstances.”

He added that organizers of the protests must “not stoke the potential for more violence with firebombs and flaming kites, and must keep a safe distance from the border.”

The EU also called on the IDF to refrain from using lethal force against unarmed protesters. Although the number of Palestinians injured by live fire decreased over the four weeks of protests, Israel’s policy did not appear to change and Israel continued to insist that the protests are primarily cover for terrorist attacks.


Yaser Murtaja


On April 6, Yaser Murtaja was shot and killed in Khan Yunis. He was wearing a blue journalist-style flak jacket marked with the word “press.”

Friends recalled a 30-yearold journalist who wanted to travel abroad and had worked with international media. Israel asserted that Murtaja was a terrorist. The Prime Minister’s Office spokesmen claimed that Murtaja held the rank of captain, had once been associated with the military wing of Hamas and was on its payroll since 2011.

The International Federation of Journalists, which had documented a case where Murtaja was assaulted by Hamas members in 2015, accused Israel of “fabricating lies to justify murder.”


Swastikas


On April 6, a video showed that Palestinians had hosted a swastika flag along the border. The images and video spread rapidly on social media and many pro-Israel voices used it as an example of the real nature of the protest.

More images of a swastika on the border were released on April 20, showing Palestinians flying a kite over the border with the Nazi symbol on it. Palestinians didn’t appear to respond to the images, while Israeli media sought to highlight the use of the Hitler-era symbol.


The sniper video

A video of Israeli soldiers cheering as a Palestinian was shot by a sniper emerged on April 9.

Although the video allegedly depicts a shooting that took place months before the major protests, it was seen as symbolic of what was taking place in Gaza. It was greeted with mixed reactions in Israel. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said he had full faith in the IDF to investigate the video.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticized those who were outraged by the video. “To sit in Tel Aviv and criticize combat soldiers is illegitimate, to judge them while they protect our borders is illegitimate.”

The Palestinian shot on the video said he was not instigating violence when he was shot.

Although some commentators predicted the video would result in a prosecution of the soldiers similar to the Elor Azaria “Hebron shooter” case, the army said it would investigate but did not indicate that any criminal activity had taken place.


The 15-year-old


On April 20 a fifteen-year old-Palestinian named Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub was filmed being shot and killed during protests in Gaza.  UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov tweeted shock at the shooting. “It is outrageous to shoot at children! How does the killing of a child in Gaza today help peace?” The European Union also said that a full investigation should be called in the aftermath of the killing. Greenblatt noted that Israel was carrying out an investigation “so we will be able to understand what happened.”

The death of Ayoub came after two weeks in which the protests appeared to have decreased in size and in which Israel appeared to have emerged unscathed from calls by the Arab League for the International Criminal Court to probe shootings in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority had also accused Israel of a “shoot to kill” policy in Gaza.
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