What is happening?
Almost one week ago, Hamas started encouraging people in Gaza to attend a “Great March of Return” along the border with Israel. Around the same time, Hamas test fired a rocket and days before the protest, a number of armed and unarmed Arab Palestinians were caught infiltrating Israel.
The United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, warned both sides to “exercise restraint and to take the necessary steps to avoid violent escalation” and specifically cautioned against putting civilians and children at risk. Israel also warned civilians against attending the Hamas-organised event through social media, leaflets dropped from airplanes and statements to news outlets.
The Israeli Defence Forces deployed more than one hundred snipers to the border, anticipating violence. On Friday, the start of Easter and Passover, approximately 30,000 people gathered in five centres along the border with Israel with Hamas claiming it was to be a peaceful protest.
However, there was violence. Rioters threw Molotov cocktails, hurled stones, tried to destroy the border fence, and shot at Israel while others chanted “Kill the Jews”. The IDF response injured dozens and killed 16. Of those killed, the IDF has identified 10 as being known terrorists. One of the protesters not injured was a seven year old girl that was sent across the border – she was picked up by Israeli soldiers and returned to her parents.
Although the protests were less violent on Saturday, Hamas has vowed to continue encouraging people to rally for another six weeks and the IDF has warned that further violence will be met with an expanded response, possibly targeting terrorist infrastructure within Gaza.
Why is there a protest?
Hamas leaders at the riots have called on the Gazan people to continue “until the border is erased”. Indeed, the “Great March of Return” is named so to encourage Arab Palestinians to continue to believe they have a “right to return” to Israel – a false understanding of law that is also perpetuated by UNRWA.
In reality, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and forcibly removed Jewish inhabitants so that the Arab Palestinian territory would be Judenrein. There were hopes that Gaza would become “the Singapore of the Middle East” then and even in 2017 but a refusal of Hamas to end their terror attacks made that all but a dream.
Hamas violently took control of Gaza in 2006 and has continued its conflict with Israel at the expense of the welfare of the Gazan people. Instead of building infrastructure, Hamas has invested in terror.
Hamas laid out its clear objective sand strategies in the 1988 “Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement“ and these have remained unchanged:
“…a war to the death against falsehood, conquering it and stamping it out so that truth may prevail, homelands may be returned [to their rightful owners] and the call of the muezzin may be heard from the turrets of the mosques, announcing the [re]institution of an Islamic state… There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors… It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters…”Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement
The riot is also consistent with the Hamas strategy of using civilians in their jihad. During the 2014 conflict with Israel, Hamas hid missiles in United Nations schools and launched them from hospitals, and they encouraged civilians to act as human shields by ignoring IDF warnings of attacks against terror infrastructure.
Tragically, these tactics lead to civilian casualties. When those casualties are used to condemn Israel, Hamas’ strategy is successful as a public relations coup.
What has been the response?
Just as in the 2014 conflict and after terror attacks in Israel, the casualties have cynically been used to condemn Israel by many journalists and politicians with little context or condemnation of Hamas or the violence from protesters.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session at the request of Kuwait, despite requests to wait one day due to Passover. The closed-door UNSC session saw Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey accuse Israel of using “disproportionate force” against rioters and called for an independent investigation. There was no condemnation of Hamas or the violent rioters.
Headlines in New Zealand media also focussed on the Gaza casualties, with stories run by TVNZ, Newshub, RadioNZ, and Stuff taken from international sources. The impression from headlines like “15 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli army on Gaza border” is that the IDF has wantonly murdered innocent people. However, at least 10 of the 16 Gazans killed were terrorists.
The false impression of a murderous Israel is also given by Green Party MP, Marama Davidson, in a Facebook post that referred to Israel’s “disproportionate and brutal violent backlash against tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees marching peacefully inside Gaza”. When challenged with facts about the violent nature of the riots and commenters asked her to at least condemn Hamas, she refused to engage in what she called “meaningless debate” and promised to “continue to use [her] platform to call out the Israel State sanctioned violence”.
With news stories focussed on the Palestinian deaths with little context and politicians similarly reluctant to condemn a terrorist group for urging civilians to violently call for the destruction of a sovereign nation, there is no incentive for Hamas to stop their provocations. This protest is likely to continue, more people will be harmed, and there will be continuing violence.