Palestinians burn tires during protests along the Gaza-Israel border fence commemorating the “Naksa” on June 8, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians burn tires during protests along the Gaza-Israel border fence commemorating the “Naksa” on June 8, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

A day on the frontlines of the Gaza riot war

Seen from up close, the events on the Gaza border are clearly war, and despite criticism of its tactics, the IDF knows exactly where and why it is shooting. Its goal is to protect Israelis living near the border while minimizing Gazan casualties.

No Israeli soldier shoots live ammunition without a green light from the brigade commander. Meanwhile, incendiary kites and improvised explosives constantly fly towards the troops, and Hamas operatives constantly try to incite the masses of Gaza protesters into breaching the border fence and infiltrating Israel, while the terrorist leaders stay safely back.

This has been the reality for soldiers and officers deployed on the Gaza border for several weeks now. As they move from one position to another under the oppressive sun, they have one goal in mind: to protect the Israeli communities next to the Gaza border.

The Israel-Gaza border fence has been the site of riots for 11 consecutive weekends, and Hamas has made every effort to bring the Gaza masses right up to the fence. Hamas is calling the protests “million-man” demonstrations, although in fact, only a few tens of thousands are showing up.

Still, that is a lot of people. And as we Israel Hayom reporters make our way towards the forces posted along the fence, we spot dozens of burning kites and balloons rigged with explosives in the smoky sky.

Hamas promised hundreds of kites, and it has kept its promise. During the protests, they launch these flaming kites, hoping they will land and cause harm. In the hot, dry climate, these kites turn into fire machines, and they have burned thousands of acres of Israeli farmland and forests. The roads near the border are full of fire trucks and Jewish National Fund Jeeps trying to prevent fires. But it’s a hard job, and a tree that was alive and breathing one moment bursts into flames the next.

Through the smoke, one can see the mosques of Gaza. The closer you get to the fence, the blacker the smoke appears. The Israeli soldiers, who are being harshly judged by the entire world every day, tell us, “We can barely see anything. Everything’s black.”

Despite what people may think, the Israel Defense Forces’ guidelines for using live fire mean that the command chain—as high as the brigade commander—must give snipers a green light before they can pull the trigger. Tear gas is used to keep the crowds away from the fence, but it also affects our own troops, making their eyes burn. They don’t have the privilege of washing their faces. They move between posts, facing angry protesters, and exercise an impressive level of restraint. They are aware of the huge responsibility they shoulder. Their goal is to protect residents of the Gaza periphery while simultaneously minimizing harm to innocent bystanders.

But Hamas is sending the protesters on a suicide mission.

When the enraged mob armed with axes and knives reaches the fence, the criticism aimed at the IDF here and throughout the world suddenly seems incomprehensible and baseless. This is a war, and the soldiers and their commanders can account for the exact number of bullets fired, and where.

Protecting, not killing

The troops are not trying to kill; they are protecting the residents of nearby communities. A throng of protesters approaches the fence, shouting jubilantly—a sign that the fence is on the verge of being breached. Seven soldiers run toward them, using tear gas. Like a school of fish in the sea, the rioting mass suddenly changes course to try its luck elsewhere. There are about 3,000 protesters at this flashpoint, and the number of soldiers facing them appears minuscule.

The mentality prevalent here is different. For Hamas, casualties represent success. The blinking ambulance lights illuminate a collective loss of sanity. In the Western world, ambulances save lives, but on the other side of the fence, Hamas unscrupulously uses children and often the infirm, sending them charging towards the fence. I wonder if there can be hope for a place where ambulances bus sick people to a storm fence instead of recover in a hospital.

Europe, which is so quick to judge Israel, cannot see from there the things that we see from here.

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