Media outlets around the world reported this weekend that tens of thousands of Gazans were marching toward the Israeli border to demand the alleged right of return of Palestinians to the land where Israel was established. These protests have been deemed peaceful demonstrations by journalists, politicians, and activists, and yet, nothing could be further than the truth.
Held on the one-year anniversary of Hamas’ “March of Return,” itself misrepresented as peaceful demonstrations by pundits and commentators, the turn of events over this past weekend transpired in the same violent spirit as its predecessor.
Rather than rallying with flipcharts, banners, and protest songs – as demonstrators are wont to do – the Palestinian activists engaged Israeli border forces with firearms, stones, and improvised explosives.
In the days leading up to the protest, the world witnessed unprovoked missiles launched from Gaza to Israel, one of which struck in a civilian residence in Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, wounding seven people, including two children. This was the furthest a Gaza rocket has reached since the 50-day Operation Protective Edge war in 2014. In the hours and days that passed, the rockets continued to fly onto Israel’s southern border, forcing children and their families into bomb shelters.
Critics of Israel interviewed by international news channels often correctly point to the fact that many Gazans live under extenuatingly difficult circumstances stemming from regular power cuts, high unemployment rates, and overall inadequate infrastructure.
Yet, Israel’s detractors place the blame on the Jewish state’s doorstep, claiming that it is Israel’s blockade of Gaza that solely accounts for the misfortunes of the Palestinians. While conditions in the strip are regretful, the emotional images shown by many broadcasters do not portray the whole picture. In fact, attention is rarely given to anti-Hamas demonstrations within Gaza, who hold their political and military rulers to task.
Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007 following a violent takeover that included the assassination of political opponents. In this regard, Hamas constitutes an Islamist regime which continues to suppress public descent through force, cracking down on civil liberties and rights. Only a few days ago Hamas officers clubbed unarmed protesters and fired live round ammunition to disperse activists. Dissidents are promptly and regularly accused of being Jewish sympathisers or collaborators, frequently subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture.
Over the years, Hamas has systematically mismanaged international monetary aid aimed at improving the lives of civilians, diverting most funds to pay for its war against Israel. Instead of building hospitals or schools, Hamas has procured rockets to kill Israeli civilians and built tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks on the other side of the border. As a result, Hamas has not done anything to bring about stability in its domain and continues to resort to anti-Israel sentiment to seek legitimisation in the eyes of its people, albeit at a terrible cost.
Let’s recall that Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza only after Hamas took the Strip by force, and that unlike Palestinian Authority (PA), the Islamist organisation refuses to embrace the principles and conditions laid out in the Oslo Peace Accord. Take note that the tensions and rocket fire notwithstanding, Israel rarely closes border crossings with Gaza, and routinely allows trucks to carry fuel, groceries, medicine, and other goods to reach the Palestinian populace.
When Israel is forced to intervene in the Gaza amid upticks of rocket barrages, as it did during the 2008 and 2014 wars, Israeli security forces utilise every mean at their disposal to plead with the civilian population and warn about upcoming strikes. These measures include telephone calls and the dropping of leaflets, advising civilians to evacuate and take cover.
As might be expected, armed operatives exploit such information to reallocate themselves before an Israeli strike is launched. Consequently, during the wars in question, these precautions often turned into liabilities, directly translating in Israeli casualties.
Experience shows that Hamas has taken urban warfare to a grotesque level, using civilians as human shields, capitalizing on Israel’s moral values and self-imposed obligations as a liberal democratic country to inflict maximum damage, regardless of on which side.
The ‘March of Return’ is no different. At last year’s demonstration Hamas operatives embedded themselves amongst crowds, manipulating border tensions to try to infiltrate Israel by cutting the border fence. These breaches are intended for the sole purpose of murdering Israeli civilians.
The recent demonstrations along the Gaza-Israeli border are expected to continue over the coming weeks and perhaps months, yet it is evident these are not the types of protests one would expect from as self-declared act of peaceful resistance.
Like all sovereign nations, Israel has the obligation and right to defend its borders and protect its civilians from terrorism. Whilst the international community has the bad habit of singling out the Jewish State for alleged human rights violations whenever Palestinians clash with Israeli security agents, the truth of the matter is that any state would react the same way if faced with the same threat to their citizens.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is committed to a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict; one which can only be attained through direct negotiations between the parties. To restore calm and advance peace, Israel must be treated fairly and the incitement to hate and terrorism against Israeli citizens must come to an end.
At a time when even countries which are sympathetic toward the Palestinians have warned the terrorist masterminds in Gaza, as well as their sponsors in Iran, to cease their destabilizing efforts, it is imperative that the international community and society make every effort possible to pressure Hamas and its handlers to end the violence and terrorism, for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike.