Was the Palestinian “March of Return” a propaganda success for Hamas? If you think Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a reliable barometer of international opinion, then maybe the answer is “yes.”
On Sunday, Sanders—the former and possibly future Democratic presidential contender—illustrated the vast difference between the Trump administration and the left wing of the Democratic Party when he tweeted his support for the march, as well as his criticism of actions by the Israel Defense Forces at the border: “The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response.”
As far as Israel’s critics are concerned, the Gaza march was a return to past Palestinian propaganda successes, in which the IDF could be accused of a “disproportionate” response to an attack. The more Palestinian corpses, the better for the Palestinian cause. And the worse for Israel as Western liberals, including many American Jews, shrink in horror from the tough tactics used by the Jewish state.
Sanders’s sentiments echoed those of others in the international community, such as France, which also issued a statement defending the Palestinians’ right to “peacefully demonstrate” and calling on Israel to show restraint. Had the Trump administration not vetoed a one-sided Security Council resolution calling on an investigation of Friday’s bloodshed at the Gaza border, the United Nations would also have handed a diplomatic victory to the Palestinians.
Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu think Hamas’s tactics—hurling demonstrators at the border instead of firing missiles over it—was a big success. But the truth about what happened tells us more about the value of international opinion regarding the conflict than it does about the wisdom of Israel’s policies.
The assumption on the part of Israel’s critics is that so long as the conflict can be portrayed as one in which soldiers are shooting civilians, the Palestinians are winning. Since the first intifada, the claim that Israel is the “Goliath” oppressing the Palestinian “David” has been an effective image that damns the Jewish state as an oppressor.
Still, it is by no means clear that the border riots turned out to be the great propaganda triumph Israel’s enemies were hoping for. Most of the Arab world is responding with the same perfunctory protest as they put forward after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nor is Egypt lifting the blockade. While European governments demand Israeli restraint, they won’t be applying any real pressure on the Jewish state to strengthen the terrorist regime in Gaza.
Yet even if we were to concede that Hamas won the standoff in terms of public relations, perhaps what we should be pondering is the worthless nature of international opinion, rather than Israeli perfidy or foolishness.
The purpose of the march was not—as Sanders and others who have accepted Hamas’s propaganda claim—a march for “a better future.” It was explicitly a march to demand the so-called “right of return” for descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees into Israel. As such, it is a call for war without end since no Israeli government of any political stripe could ever concede this claim, which would effectively end the Jewish state.
The notion that Israel and the rest of the world should allow the free entry of people and goods in and out of Gaza is also absurd. A terrorist group that continues to openly avow its desire to destroy Israel runs Gaza. Ending the blockade wouldn’t mean prosperity for its people, but the free flow of arms, ammunition and other such materials, largely from Iran, to Hamas. Gazans have the right to demonstrate against what they perceive as the regime’s enemies (Israel), but not against the terrorists whose misrule has plunged Gaza into even deeper misery than it previously experienced.
Nor was the march non-violent. The border was charged by large numbers of people armed with Molotov cocktails and rocks. Their purpose was to breach the barrier that protects Israeli citizens. Under the circumstances, it was the responsibility of the IDF to repel their efforts.
Israeli fire appears to have killed 15 Palestinians, although at least 10 of them were known Hamas fighters. Even Hamas admits that some of those killed were from its “military” wing. While there is a video that purports to show that one person was fleeing at the time of being shot, it’s not clear that even that was the result of IDF misconduct. The purpose of the protest was to produce Palestinian corpses, not to highlight any grievances. Given the numbers of those assaulting the border—and the way Hamas characteristically employed women, children and other civilians as human shields—the IDF showed its commitment to a limited use of force.
It’s possible to criticize Israeli policies without joining forces with those who desire its destruction. Yet the opinions of individuals willing to swallow an obvious Hamas ploy devised to sacrifice Palestinians in order to promote an effort that makes a two-state solution—or peace of any kind—impossible can’t be taken seriously as a reasonable critique of Israeli behavior.
If you call for open borders for Gaza, you’re not so much advancing a humanitarian cause as you are advocating the arming of an Islamist terror group. If you think a demonstration for “return” is a march for peace or a “better future” for the Palestinians, you are either ignorant or lacking sincerity when you say you want Israel to live in peace as part of a two-state solution.
If a violent “March of Return” can generate sympathy from the international community, then the good opinion of those expressing such views is worthless. If the march lost Israel any friends or helped Hamas, then it’s not clear that those who are either so easily deceived or filled with malice against Israel as to think this way are worth persuading.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.