On the first day of Passover the Palestinians marched for what they call the March of Return. The left wing blog +972 explained this as a; 45-day-long series of events and protests planned to culminate on May 15 — Nakba Day. Nakba Day is held the day after Israeli Independence Day.
The demonstration in the Gaza Strip saw crowds as large as 40,000 strong approach the border with Israel. The Israel Defense Force was deployed in relative strength along the Gaza fence. Over the course of a day of demonstrations 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and 1200 were wounded according to figures supplied by Hamas. There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about Gaza border disturbances that have resulted in 16 Palestinian dead (so far). The Independent reported that the demonstrations were organised by Hamas;
The Associated Press said thousands of Palestinians attended funerals for 14 of those killed – two were buried on Friday – with mourners holding Palestinian flags and some chanting “revenge” and firing into the air. The protests were mainly organised by Hamas, the group which won power in Gaza and which it said was the start of a six-week-long protest campaign against a stifling decade-old blockade of the territory.
They added that;
The Gaza Health Ministry said as many as 70 Palestinians were injured by live Israeli fire and tear gas, according to Reuters. The AP said in two separate incidents, a reporter for the news agency saw two men who walked close to the fence get shot in the legs by soldiers. Palestinian health officials said at least 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and more than 750 hit by live rounds on Friday, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas.
The Twitterati have been quick to react;
Whenever I see unarmed Palestinian protesters being shot or beaten by Israeli troops and it’s met with silence from all the self-styled ‘liberal interventionists’ in the West, it reminds me how morally bankrupt – and hypocritical – the whole ‘liberal intervention’ schtick is.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) March 31, 2018
I couldn’t help but imagine that Freedland breathed a sigh of relief that after criticising Corbyn about antisemitism he had the opportunity to prove he isn’t a knee jerk supporter of Israel;
He later seemed to walk this back however by tweeting;
Lots of important detail in that piece by @AnshelPfeffer, who was on the ground yesterday – including that much media coverage has conflated “the peaceful demonstration of the majority that held back with the much less peaceful rioting nearer the fence”
— Jonathan Freedland (@Freedland) March 31, 2018
The piece in Haaretz Freedland refers to by Anshel Pfeffer offers an eye witness account of what happened along with the analysis of a seasoned local journalist. It is worth reading in full here but I have quoted a large chunk below;
The large majority of the nearly 30,000 Palestinian protesters was groups of families who remained around 500 meters from the fence, around the tents that had been pitched on high ground, out of harm’s way. Some of them ventured as far as the dirt road, just outside the 300-meter range. That was the “peaceful demonstration.” But the narrative of a non-violent event eroded closer to the border.
Much smaller groups consisting mainly of young men, some throwing stones and rolling burning tires, pushed forward toward the fence. These were met mainly by tear gas grenades dropped from mini-drones. And every few minutes, individuals darted forward to reach the fence and other border installations, trying to wreck them or set them alight, and were hit by sniper fire.
In the first hours of the clashes, as the army assessed the situation, it was clear that there were not going to be masses at the fence, but there would still be plenty of violence. “Hamas want to boost the number of casualties,” one senior IDF general told me, “but they’re not going to go all the way either. They’re building it up to peak on May 15.” At the time, two deaths had been reported.
No one had any doubt that whoever went into the zone 200 to 300 meters from the fence would get hurt. Badly. The IDF snipers had orders to aim for ankles, and only shoot to kill at individuals with weapons. How closely they all adhered to the orders is unclear. Footage from the scene shows that in at least a handful of cases, Palestinians were also shot when trying to run out of the buffer zone, and there are those who claim to have been shot farther away. But it was clear that even if Israeli soldiers scrupulously stuck to the rules of engagement, with the policy of firing at anyone in the zone, the number of casualties would be a result of how many tried to get into it.
Also pertinent to the conversation is the fact that of the 16 killed by Israel Hamas have claimed five them were their own fighters;
Israel has claimed another five were also terrorists. So if you believe that Israel was firing indiscriminately into the crowd then you’re tacitly arguing that at least a third of the crowd were Hamas terrorists according to the Hamas ratio or that two thirds were according to the Israeli ratio. I find the Israeli intelligence provided compelling. If however you accept that the IDF took more aimed shots at violent protestors nearer the border the fact that so many of those killed are known militants makes more sense than any argument about Israeli mass fire.
I had assumed that this demonstration was organised by Hamas. I was right. However I saw an Israeli programme featuring an Israeli Arab commentator called Rami Younis arguing that the whole thing was organised by a collection of Fatah and Left Wing elements in Gaza and that they were explicitly calling for non violence. Hebrew speakers can find the video here. Younis works for the blog Local Call which is the Hebrew version of the left wing blog +972, note what the journalist for +972 Lisa Goldman says about his interview;
Two things made Younis look like a liar to me, the first was that there demonstrably was violence on the border from the side of the demonstrators which has been widely reported. The second was that the heads of Hamas, Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh were there making speeches. Sinwar is reported by the Times of Israel to have said;
“The March of Return will continue,” Sinwar said. “It will not stop until we remove this transient border [between the Gaza Strip and Israel].” Friday’s protests, he said, “mark the beginning of a new phase in the Palestinian national struggle on the road to liberation and return [of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel].” The “March of Return,” Sinwar added, “affirms that our people can’t give up one inch of the land of Palestine. The protests will continue until the Palestinians return to the lands they were expelled from 70 years ago.”
There is more to this I think. I’m struck by this idea of Land Day or this talk of non violent demonstrations. Land Day is a period of demonstrations focussed on changing the social fabric of Israel.
And here lies the crux of the matter. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s guerrillas breaking into Israelis homes to murder them, suicide bombers on buses, terrorists popping out of tunnels, rockets being fired on Israel indiscriminately or demonstrators on Israel’s borders. Israel is not going to disappear. Israel is not going to allow the nature of the country to be changed by people who are so racist that they refuse to live in peace if Israel also exists.
I have seen plenty of statements from people who think the below and that is logical for Westerners to think if when they see Gaza and learn a little about the conditions Gazans live through;
Bluntly, the situation in Gaza – intolerable for its inhabitants – needs to be sorted out, then events like those of yesterday wouldn’t happen. Both sides share the blame, but it is Israel which is seeking to preserve by force an inequitous status quo. There are no excuses pic.twitter.com/EFOshdn20G
— Edward Anthony Rayne (@rayne_ea) March 31, 2018
But this doesn’t begin to get to grips with what Hamas and all the Palestinian groups are actually saying about why they call for the actions they call for and why they make the attacks they do. This is now and always has been about the existence of the Jewish state in the Middle East. They want it gone. Israelis want otherwise.