Last week, what started as a protest by Palestinians in Gaza for their Great March of Return became the bloodiest confrontation since the conflict in 2014. Attempts to storm and break through the Israeli border fence were met with gunfire from IDF troops which killed 60 Palestinians. But protests had been going on for days leading up to this, so why was Monday especially violent? The answer is less than simple.
Gaza’s history with the Israeli state is itself a rocky one, to say the least. The United Nations approved the formation of a Jewish State in 1948, but only in 1967 during the successful Six-Day war did the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) extend this state into Gaza. In 2005, Israel ended its formal occupation of Gaza by withdrawing their troops and settlers, but the UN still recognise Israeli control of Gazan airspace as occupation. Nowadays, the Gaza Strip is one of the two parts of Palestine (the other being the West Bank), and is administered by Hamas, an militant Islamist group whose founding principles call for the destruction of the Jewish state and all the Jews who live in it while dismissing the Holocaust as ‘a lie made up by Zionists’. Hamas is internationally recognised as a terrorist organisation and their leadership condemned by mostly Western states in the international sphere. The consequence is that the Palestinian people often get caught in the middle by Hamas’ deliberate efforts.
The BBC claims that the protests started peacefully, with people gathering on the border fence that separates Israel proper from Gaza, but events escalated when the US embassy officially moved to the Israeli capital Jerusalem after Trump declared the move last December. The events unravelled when some tried to break through the fence, with Hamas terrorists throwing rocks and explosives at the soldiers guarding it. The soldiers, part of the Israeli Defence Force, then fired on protesters. Israel claims three people planting bombs by the fence were killed as well as Israeli retaliations launched on Hamas military installations in northern Gaza. With so many dead and many more wounded, was Israel justified in its action?
Let us be absolutely clear here: it is never okay to take life on the scale that life was taken last week and to that end, Israel was wrong. Let us also be clear about another thing: Hamas were not peacefully protesting, they were infiltrating a peaceful protest to try and storm Israel’s sovereign territory and attack, injure and potentially kill Israeli troops. The fact that no Israeli troops were killed raises the added question of whether the response was measured.
Disproportionate amounts of wounded (c.24,000) against dead (c.60) comes from the fact that IDF troops were using mostly rubber bullets against an overwhelming amount of people burning tyre piles to cover their approach in smoke, throwing explosives at soldiers and trying to break in. Option one in this situation is as follows: the IDF let Hamas surge their fence and run in, massacring Israeli civilians in the name of eugenic genocide and destroying towns as has been their aim since their inception. Not ideal. Option two: the IDF try and gun down everyone charging the border, the death-toll would have been monstrous, even more than it was, international condemnation would have been unanimous. Equally horrifying. The ideal result lies somewhere in the middle, and Israel can’t quite seem to find it.
This isn’t a condemnation of Israel, or their right to defend their borders. I support the state of Israel completely, its people are now mostly second generation, born there, raised there, with complete right to exist. Hamas does not understand this, and what many people in the West also fail to understand is that Hamas infiltrates peaceful protest from Palestinians struggling to get by and turns them into attacks. There is a reason that Israel has the most sophisticated missile-defence system in the world, why the IDF is so effective and the Mossad so feared: it’s because, since their formal establishment in 1948, it has been assailed by anti-Semites scared that a nation benefiting from democracy and a European mind-set exists in the Middle East. However, Israel need to be careful how they defend themselves. The tactics employed on Monday by Hamas were well considered, they used innocent Palestinians as shields, obscuring, threatening and confusing IDF soldiers in such a way that they struggled to effectively manage the surge and took far too many lives in the process. Hamas produced martyrs and its media-friendly hospitals were full of international camera crews snapping the hundreds of badly wounded civilians that Hamas could squeeze into one shot.
There is a reason why the Palestinian protestors have received condemnation with a caveat and likewise for Israel; no-one is exempt from blame here. Except maybe those civilians trying to express their peaceful desire to return to the land that their fathers and grandfathers lived in. In peace. Without Hamas hijacking their lives and turning them into martyrs without permission on the off-chance that one day they’ll win support. But that will never happen, Israel will keep being supported abroad, and rightly so, but they need to start applying restraint. Flying high off the back of the US embassy recognising Jerusalem as their capital and Russian deference to their wishes over Assad does not make them invincible, and the international community will start to become irritated. It is because I am a friend of the only truly democratic state in the Middle East that I hold it to a higher standard than it showed last week. Take note Mr Netanyahu.
Photograph: zeevveez via Flickr