For weeks since March, each Friday, thousands of Gazans have rallied at the border with Israel, leading to violent confrontations with the Israeli military. The objective is to build up to an incursion of such proportion that Israel’s military is unable to prevent an invasion into Israeli territory. The stated goal of the so-called March of Return is to catalyze the movement toward a “right of return,” which would have the not coincidental consequence of demographically threatening the Jewish nature of Israel.
Of course, even tens of thousands of Palestinians trying to breech the border will not result in this goal. Instead, there is an unstated goal: Hamas seeks to turn global opinion (further) against Israel. Shamefully, it seems that a few dozen Palestinian lives is a small price to pay, in Hamas’s worldview, for the PR benefits they deliver. As the New York Times reported Sunday, at least some of the protesters believe that they have nothing to lose. “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not,” said a 22-year-old protester interviewed by the paper. “Death or life – it’s the same thing.” That attitude will suit Hamas just fine.
To overseas audiences, march proponents depict it as an unarmed, peaceful, civilian-led mass action – and a peaceful protest is something we could accept, if not agree with. However, evidence shows that it is stage-managed by Hamas and anything but peaceful. Flying swastika-festooned kites with petrol bombs are sent over the border, massive tire fires are set to obscure the view of Israeli soldiers and tug-of-war lines are formed to pull down the border barrier, while crowds simultaneously hurl projectiles. At this past weekend’s action, there were reports of a few protesters armed with pistols.
Writing in the Times two days earlier, Fadi Abu Shammalah, executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centres in Gaza and a documentary film producer, insisted that he loves life, but that he is prepared to risk it to give his children a future with dignity.
A more effective means to ensure that Palestinian children live a life of dignity would be for Shammalah and others like him to write opinion pieces in the New York Times and to agitate elsewhere for the Hamas leadership to abandon both violence and their refusal to live in coexistence with the Jewish state. These are the two prerequisites to Palestinian self-determination. But such actions could well get Shammalah and others killed faster than marching against the border with Israel.
A sovereign country has the fundamental right to protect its borders from invasion. Ideally, this could be achieved without the use of live ammunition, and should minimize casualties as much as possible. Killing unarmed protesters is not acceptable.
Exclusively blaming Israel, however, is unjust. But this is more than misplaced blame: it has the precise consequence of rewarding Hamas’s strategy of sacrificing its own citizens. The more world media and activists condemn Israel and reward Hamas, the more Palestinians will be pushed toward the border. In such a scenario, the blame lies not solely with Israel or even with Hamas. The blame must be shared by these overseas enablers who, by rewarding Hamas, truly deserve part of the responsibility for the deaths and injuries.