The March of Return: A Hamas PR stunt which trades the lives of Gazans for headlines

Over 50,000 Gazans participated in Hamas-led riots along the Israeli-Gaza border on Monday. In the chaos of events, and in response to blatant violations of Israel’s sovereignty, Israel was forced to defend her border, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Palestinian rioters. The death toll rose to 62 overnight, of which 50 so far have been confirmed as members of known terrorist organizations.

Hamas official Dr Salah Bardawil acknowledges that 50 of 62 Gazans “martyred” during Monday’s violent riots belonged to Hamas. An additional three casualties were claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It was the deadliest day since the start of the weeks-long Palestinian riots and coincided with the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

During the riots, which took place on 13 different locations along the border, rioters hurled firebombs and stones at Israeli troops, set hundreds of tires ablaze, and tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the riots. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released videos and images showing rioters setting fire to the border fence, shooting at soldiers, and trying to breach the fence to infiltrate into Israeli territory.

Yesterday, Israel was bracing for a second day of violent riots as Palestinians commemorate “Nakba Day” to mark the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Riots, however, dwindled down on Tuesday with only 4,000 participants gathering at the border. The IDF said it arrested several suspects who attempted to infiltrate into Israel as part of riots on Tuesday afternoon.

Who’s to blame for the violence?

The full responsibility lies solely with Hamas, the terrorist group which exercises complete control over the Gaza Strip. The group has turned the citizens of Gaza into hostages and human shields. Hamas has created a press trap for the international media in which the terror group is in a win-win situation: If Israel allows the border to be overrun by those who would infiltrate Israeli communities, it wins. But if Israel prevents this, and Gazan civilians die in the process, it wins.

The high casualty rate on Monday was a direct result of Hamas inciting rioters to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers. On Tuesday, an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled on Monday.

  • White House press secretary Raj Shah said that the “responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” and stated that the group was “intentionally and cynically provoking this response.” He added: “Look…this is a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence, and we find it very unfortunate (…) Again, we believe Hamas is responsible.”
  • At an emergency meeting at the U.N. on Tuesday, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the riots at the border had nothing to do with inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem: “Rather, the violence comes from those who reject the existence of the state of Israel in any location,” Haley said. “The location of the embassy has no bearing on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. (…) It does not undermine the prospects for peace in any way.”

Buses and trucks collected people from the streets to bring them to the border area, organized and paid for by Hamas. The terrorist group also promised financial rewards for rioters seriously injured ($500) or moderately injured ($200) in the riots, as well as paying the families of anyone killed a reward of $3,000.

  • Col. Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesman, said hundreds of protesters carried out “concerted, coordinated” attacks on the border fence” and caused “significant damage.”Conricus added that Hamas terrorists disguised as rioters planted explosives along the fence and tried to infiltrate into Israel. The IDF reported at least three instances of armed Hamas gunmen trying to carry out attacks.

Hamas’s role in the riots

Hamas claims the “March of Return” is a legitimate protest against the decision by the U.S. to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem on May 14 – a move which enjoys bipartisan political support in the U.S. and Israel. The riots, however, are just a cover for Hamas to pursue the group’s true intention: the “complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea,” as stated in their official Charter.

The violence on Monday was driven as Hamas urged Gazans to attempt to tear down the border fence with Israel. Hamas, on Facebook, urged rioters to breach the fence in order to cross into Israel and kidnap Israelis. A new Hamas video was broadcast on Hadashot TV, which portrayed Gazan children saying that they would be “returning to our homeland.” The report also said that Hamas was urging Gazans to participate in the riots and assuring them that those killed would be assured of a place in paradise.

  • At a press conference last week, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar envisioned “hundreds of thousands of people” storming the border fence with Israel. Earlier he had said that the riots “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.”

Hamas’s motive behind the riots

Hamas sees the riots as an opportunity to deflect from its crushing failures in Gaza and redirect anger within the coastal enclave towards the border with Israel. The group is running out of ways to attack Israel, faces intense financial strains, and popular dissent in Gaza.

  • Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s lead negotiator, wrote in an op-ed published in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that “Hamas continues to exploit protests to foment violence against Israel.” He charged that “Hamas has managed to bring the people of Gaza, a people with a proud history and great potential, nearly back to the Stone Age.” He added: “What an embarrassment, what a desolation, what a failure.”
  • Greenblatt called on the international community to “get real about this – Hamas, and its enablers, such as Iran, are squarely to blame for the desperate situation in Gaza. Hamas has consistently put its own destructive priorities above those of Gaza’s weary and increasingly desperate population.”
About the Author
Julie Lenarz is Director of the London-based Human Security Centre and speaks widely across the media on terror and radicalisation.