Like anyone who cares for the state of Israel, I’ve been riveted on the events at the Gaza border. As far as I can tell from what I read, Hamas has called for a series of protests called the March of Return. The Hamas leadership busses thousands of Gazans to various border sites to protest the “occupation” of Gaza and the desire to return to the homeland from which in their view they were expelled using two distinct strategies.
One strategy is to have a crowd of peaceful Gazans sitting around blankets picnicking. What could be more peaceful, and photogenic, than a large Palestinian family seated on the ground eating lunch? This scenario constitutes the core of the public relations gambit. These are long-suffering people following the strategy of civil disobedience, attempting to persuade the Israeli oppressor of their non-violent intentions with the hopes of making some gains.
The second strategy is to deploy apparently specific Hamas members to the border to engage in a number of violent activities: Molotov cocktails, small bombs placed at the border, burning tires, and a new one, flying kites loaded with flammable material over the border in the hopes of setting fire to fields.
In a specific, I believe unplanned, event, several young Gazans on Friday crossed into the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and vandalized infrastructure doing damage in the millions. Until the damage is repaired, this will limit the ability of the international community, including Israel, to bring food and other goods into the Gaza Strip, and there are hundreds of such trucks daily. Thus does the March of Return do serious damage to the Strip they are hoping to liberate.
As is well known, the Israeli has reacted to this weeks-long series of protests by shooting live ammunition and rubber bullets into the group of protestors approaching the border. The death toll as of this writing is 45, with well over a thousand wounded. (Not to deny the existence of wounded, apparently, repeating old tricks, there are documented instances of so-called wounded miraculously rising from their stretcher when, it is assumed, the “wounded” and the stretcher bearers are out of sight of the media.)
In an op-ed in the NY Times on Friday, Yossi Klein Halevy argues the manner in which Israel is handling the protests is an instance of Israel standing over and against much of the rest of the world, whose writers and leaders argue that Israel’s behavior represents typical Israeli overreaction. Israel has an obligation to keep its borders intact, Halevy argues. Any attempt to breach the border creates an intolerable situation. Add to this the additional fact that those seeking to breach Israel’s international border are clearly intent on doing harm. This is not a cohort of civil rights activists demanding their rights.
But even if, Ghandi or MLK-style, these folks, with entirely peaceful intent, were to cross the border and hold a massive sit-in, they would still constitute an intolerable threat. Why? Because they would have crossed a sovereign border into another country. A reasonable analogy would be thirty thousand Mexicans crossing into America and demanding repatriation and money. Both Gandhi and Dr. King sought redress in their own country; these folks want to press an untenable agenda, namely repatriation of millions of refugees (as defined by UNWRA), onto a nation existentially unable to accede to such a demand.
The brilliance of the Hamas strategy in these Marches of Return is obvious. Create an untenable situation at the border against the background of picnickers, then holler and scream when the peaceful picnics of all of those beautiful families is interrupted by Israeli response to the folks at the border, who themselves appear weak and helpless compared to the IDF on the other side. The optics are brilliant. The oppressive, far better armed soldiers in uniforms are massacring the peace-loving Palestinians who only want to bring their impending humanitarian crisis to the attention of the rest of the world.
These highly favorable optics as the cause, then bring on the predictable effect of response from journalists, civil rights advocates, and political leaders accusing Israel of fascistic overreaction. For one example, have a look at the letters to the Times in response to Halevy’s article.
Let’s be clear. The situation in Gaza is dire. There is insufficient food, water is at a premium, unemployment is abysmally high. Gazans have little freedom of movement. It’s intolerable particularly with regard to water, as the aquifer that provides (or provided) fresh water is nearly damaged beyond repair.
But let’s continue to be clear. Israel bears some responsibility, but again cause and effect have to come into play. Israel certainly planned (hoped) for a porous border between Israel and Gaza, along with relatively open seas when they disengaged from the Strip in 2005 . But the Hamas takeover in 2007 brought about a radically different condition.
Add to that that Hamas and the PA don’t get along terribly well, resulting in bureaucrats not getting paid, goods not being shipped in, and general mayhem.
Add to that Egypt’s closure of its border with Gaza, ending a bountiful supply route.
Add to that the three times (2008, 2012, 2014) Israel felt compelled to go to war with Gaza over the matter of thousands of missiles launched into sovereign Israeli territory.
Put it all together and it spells disaster for this small strip of land housing nearly two million Arabs. This situation could have been entirely avoided had Hamas been more peacefully inclined. But their obsession with Israel has trumped what would have been a far more rational approach to living with Israel.
Creating brilliantly favorable optics and once again gaining the sympathy of world opinion does not beat progressive suffering, now made worse, at least temporarily, by the damage some misguided vandals perpetrated on the gateway to hundreds of trucks per day that bring in food to feed these hapless residents.