Do Israelis understand what was going on in Gaza?

I’m not a cabinet member so I don’t know why they decided to use live fire on the demonstrators, many of whom were non-violent, but it seems to me that Israelis don’t understand what was going on in Gaza, maybe intentionally so.

Israel said it was a march organised by Hamas in order to infiltrate Israel, destroy the border and liberate Palestine. In fact it was organised by civil society groups as a festival of Palestinian identity, to remember the land they lived in before 1948, what they call the ‘nakba,’ or catastrophe. They had Palestinian dancing, lessons for the young, events to raise national awareness. It also included a march to the border, for which Hamas said ‘no weapons, no ammo, no flags other than the Palestinian flag,’ to let other groups like Fatah join in. So in Gaza it was seen as a popular national event. Participants wrote about it in all the world’s press, like the New York Times, but I didn’t see anything about it in Israel.

So, either the Israelis didn’t get it, or they spun it as a Hamas event, because in the Israeli discourse Hamas is evil. It was wrongly perceived as an existential threat to the state, a self-defence event, with anyone coming close to the border to be shot.

Yes, a small number of protesters were violent, but this cannot explain why more than 100 were killed and 2,000 injured – most shot – but no soldier even wounded. The disproportion in casualties cries out that this was wrongly done. The IDF should have used non-lethal means against the protesters.

The damage is done now, diplomatically too. There is a huge discrepancy between the British and European perception of events and those of Israelis. Most of the criticism is coming from outside Israel, not within. In world public opinion, the Israeli image has been seriously hurt. Whether it will be forgotten remains to be seen.

This week the holy month of Ramadan starts, when tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, come to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Fridays, so this is a very tense day in Jerusalem. Also, we may face a resumption of protests or marches on 5 June, the anniversary of the start of the Six Day War, another commemoration day that may build up with demonstrators, especially because it falls in Ramadan. So we have to wait and see.

About the Author
Menachem Klein is professor of International Relations at Bar-Ilan University and visiting professor at King's College London
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