I believe that under the circumstances Israel’s conduct along the border with the Gaza Strip throughout the days that thousands and of Gazans stormed the fence in an attempt to break through it, set off fires on the Israeli side by means of kites, and harass the Israeli forces by other creative means, was worthy of praise.
The Palestinian activity has been anything but “peaceful demonstrations.” It has been a deliberate provocation, to try to gain maximum international media attention for the Palestinian cause in general, and that of the Gaza Strip in particular, and the organizers would have been very disappointed had no one been killed in the process. Some of this activity – such as burning installations designed to serve the population of Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing – was simply counterproductive vandalism.
The Israeli goal in confronting the riots has been to prevent anyone from crossing the border into Israel, and to prevent a situation in which Israeli soldiers would be shot at or kidnapped. The instructions given to the Israeli snipers placed along the border were to shoot to kill only in the above circumstances.
Altogether, fewer than 100 Palestinians were killed in these incidents, though many more were wounded at various levels of severity. It might have been possible to prevent some of these deaths, but the majority of those killed were Hamas fighters, not innocent citizens (as of last Monday the numbers were 50 out of 62), and if children and youths were among those killed – they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Anyone who refers to what went on at the border as “genocide” (as did Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) either doesn’t know the meaning of the word or is simply lying. One hundred persons being killed is not genocide – the slaughter of over one million Armenians by the Turks during the First World War was genocide.
With regard to those who have not gone so far as to accuse Israel of genocide, but merely of having over reacted, and demand that an international investigation take place, I suspect that had any of their states been confronted by a similar situation along their own borders, the number of casualties would have been much higher. The hypocrisy of many of the international reactions has been most aggravating.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last Monday that Hamas had sent thousands to break through the border into Israel in order to realize its goal of exterminating the Jewish state. This statement is almost as ridiculous as the claim that Israel carried out a genocide along the border. Netanyahu must know that the Hamas has as much chance of exterminating the Jewish state as Israel has of beating the Palestinians once and for all. We expect our prime minister to make level-headed statements. (We have given up on his son.)
While, as I said at the outset, there was nothing wrong with the Israeli reaction to the riots along the border, there is a lot wrong with the Israeli policy – or rather lack of policy – vis-à-vis the Palestinian population in Gaza. True, it is Hamas that has decided to concentrate all its efforts on preparing to attack Israel – by means of tunnels, rockets and masses of humanity – rather than on turning the Gaza Strip into a Middle Eastern Singapore.
However, Israel’s apparent apathy with regards to the socio-economic and humanitarian situation of over 1.8 Palestinians in Gaza (of whom Hamas managed to get only around 40,000 to participate in the riots), as if it is of no consequence to us, its leaving the initiative to Hamas without developing a strategic initiative of its own, and its total lack of a clear and coherent plan regarding the future of the relations of the Jewish state with the Gaza Strip on the one hand and the West Bank on the other, are all part of one big policy vacuum.
True, any serious Israeli initiative is bound to be rejected out of hand – at least initially – by Hamas on the one hand, and the Palestinian Authority on the other. However, if it is a reasonable initiative, that does not only take Jewish/Israeli interests into account, it will certainly help bolster Israel’s very problematic image in most of the enlightened liberal world today, and might take some of the wind out of the Hamas’ propaganda sails.
Finally, there was no way that Israel could have avoided the split TV screens which last Monday showed the festive celebrations of the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem on one side, and the onslaught of the Palestinian crowds and accompanying smoke and gunfire on the border on the other side. The latter came officially as a reaction to the former event, and was to be expected.
What was more disturbing was the split screen between the events along the border on the one side, and the festive reception of Netta Barzilai, after she had won the Eurovision song contest in the name of Israel, on the other.
There was no causal relationship between the two events. What it emphasized was the contrast between the wretched situation of the Palestinian population in Gaza on the one hand, and the and the almost banal normalcy of life in Israel on the other. The organizers of the partying on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv were reportedly aware of the anomaly of the situation, but decided to ignore it.
The situation reminded me of an experience I had sometime in the late 1980s, when I was visiting a close friend in Gaza exactly on the evening of the Eurovision contest. My friend’s brother, a small business owner who was later to become the chairman of the industrialists’ association in Gaza, watched the Eurovision with me on TV, and suddenly said: “I envy you that you can be part of all this merriment. Do you think we [the Palestinians] shall ever reach such a state of normalcy?”
Though we were at the time in the midst of the First Intifada, and Oslo wasn’t even a vision, I answered that I certainly hoped so – for the sake of all of us. Little did I know at the time that Israel was already acting to bolster Hamas as a contra to the secular Palestinian national movement, which 20 years later would ensure that no matter what happened, normalization of the life of the Gazans would not be on its agenda.
I don’t know whether the businessman from Gaza watched the Eurovision this year. If he did the Israeli merriment on his TV screen must have been a painful eyesore to him – not because he begrudges Israel its little pleasures, but because he and his people are denied them, both by their Hamas regime, and by us, their replete neighbors. They don’t even have running water or electricity 24/7.