The ongoing protests connected to the March of Return are quite simply not non-violent protests. I know that certain protest leaders are saying that they would like the protests to be non-violent and certain advocacy organizations are trying to help promote the idea that they are “non-violent,” but they are not remotely non-violent.
Hamas militants will attack the border. They will use guns, bombs, burning tires, and molotov cocktails. The Israelis will have to respond with force appropriate to discourage attempts to breach the border because the consequences of the border being breached by any significant number of people are exceedingly bad. Keeping the border intact will limit both deaths and injuries as it will prevent a much more severe confrontation between the IDF and militant groups in Gaza.
Note particularly that the purpose of this “march” is to “return” all of Israel to the Palestinians. The expressed purpose of the marches is to eliminate the Jewish state. Thus, their purpose isn’t non-violent at all.
The international community will predictably condemn Israel for responding in the only way that it possibly can, by using crowd suppressing deterrents such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and even if necessary live fire. The ultimate reality is that the more real the threat to breach the border and the more significant the potential harm to Israelis, the more force will be needed to be used to stop it and the sooner it will be used.
1,000 people sitting on the ground having a picnic 1,000 meters from the fence is not a threat. 30,000 people marching at the fence while several hundred people hurl stones and molotov cocktails and burn tires in order to cover dozens of people firing rifles at IDF troops and trying to place explosives to blow up the border fence is a whole different story.
Historically, there is little to no political benefit that any country can gain by supporting Israel at times like this, but a lot that can be lost in terms of relations with the Muslim world or, for many countries, in terms of upset to their own populations. This is why the results of any conflict involving Israel are easily predictable.
We can predict UNSC votes condemning Israel, vetoed by the US. We can predict a UN General Assembly vote condemning Israel in the aftermath of the failed UNSC votes. We can predict condemnation from the Arab League. We can predict the EU urging restraint. We can predict calls for investigations. And we know that all of this means absolutely nothing and will have no impact at all. It’s all blather.
What’s really going on here is that Hamas is attempting to change a dynamic in which the Palestinian Authority seeks regime change in Gaza [ousting Hamas], the Egyptians are enemies of Hamas’ parent, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Israelis whom Hamas despises, are the closest things to friends they have. Hamas only sees one way to possibly change any of this, namely international community pressure, and they only see one way to achieve that, with high death and injury totals.
This might be a good time to point out that their hopes are misplaced. There is no chance, even with high death and injury totals, of changing the dynamics for the better through violence. In fact, the relatively tepid response in the Arab world, much less in the broader international community, to what has happened to this point is evidence of that.
Hamas keeps trying war and bloodshed. They’ll keep it up as long as the world keeps rewarding them with concessions while pretending that “non-violent action” involves guns, bombs, knives, burning tires, molotov cocktails, barrages of rocks, and attempts to breach a security border that prevents terrorists from murdering Israeli civilians.
What about the “non-violence” part of this? Well, there are several problems.
First, breaching the security border is an existential threat against Israel. Israel knows that terrorists will accompany any non-violent “marchers” and therefore cannot view any mass of people crossing the border as “non-violent” to begin with.
Second, while the IDF’s goal at the border is simply to keep those on the Gaza side of the border there, the reaction threatened Israelis, especially civilians, on the Israeli side of the border facing a mass of people that may include armed militants and terrorists shouting genocidal slogans will be to shoot to kill upon sight. The amount of bloodshed that could be expected from a significant breach of the border would be extensive.
Third is something that no one is discussing. Hamas, and really the Palestinians as a whole, cannot allow non-violence to be the answer. It cannot be allowed to succeed even in part. Why? Because one of the primary values of Palestinian society is the honor of martyrs, those who died fighting Israel and particularly those who sacrificed their lives deliberately. To argue that non-violence would accomplish more is essentially an insult, an argument that an alternative would have accomplished more than their sacrifices did, that potentially those martyrs died for nothing. And should non-violent action actually succeed in accomplishing anything substantial that violence has not, that fact will be proven true.
Thus, if non-violent action ever appears to be working, we will often see Palestinian militant organizations engage in violence so as to prevent non-violence from being seen as successful. In fact, they may not even be willing to allow those wishing to make use of non-violence to try without interference. Hence, in the March of Return, we have the mixed protest/riots we are seeing now in Gaza, wherein many march peacefully, but others engage in violent action and functionally sabotage any possibility of the success of non-violent action, just as during negotiations, we often see rocket fire or attempted terrorist attacks.
The greatest sacred-cow so to speak of Palestinian society is that shahids, those martyrs who died for the Palestinian cause, especially those who died during acts of violence, either terror attacks or in war, died because it was necessary and noble. If the reality is that they could have accomplished more through non-violent action and negotiations, it would disprove that fundamental societal value. Worse, that reality would demonstrate that decades efforts, thousands of deaths, the suffering of generations, and the massive expenditure of funds to pay families of martyrs was without real value. It might even lead to the understanding that such efforts were harmful or even dishonorable. Hamas, in particular, cannot accept that as a possibility.
Nice analysis, David. Thanks.