The hostile activities carried out by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip should be interpreted on three levels. Unfortunately, many conflate and obfuscate the complexity surrounding the issue, by mixing them.
First, the “March of Return” should be seen for its real purpose: It it is a declaration by the Palestinians that they are not ready to change the goals of their struggle, namely the annihilation of Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state. After all, that is the meaning of the word “return” in this context. The fact that many Palestinians in Gaza view this as their raison d’être can be seen by their ongoing attempts to strike Israel and to infiltrate its borders, even after Israel entirely withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The opportunity given then to the Palestinians to turn Gaza into a Singapore, as some naïve people were expecting, never materialized because most Palestinians were more interested in the battle against Israel than having better living standards for themselves.
The first response to the March planners’ motives must be a call to the Palestinians to conduct a reality check. They do not have the right to “return” and destroy Israel; and they will not be permitted to return and destroy Israel.
It is amazing to see how The New York Times gave space on its op-ed pages to Fadi Abu Shammalah, who declared that he is participating in the march to return and annihilate Israel. It is difficult to explain the logic behind the Forward’s Peter Beinart who wrote in his column “American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza—and the Truth” (April 26, 2018):
Israeli and American Jews find it frightening that the Gaza protesters have labeled their demonstration ‘The Great March of Return.’ But surely Jews, who prayed for 2,000 years to return to the land from which we were exiled, can understand why Palestinians in Gaza might yearn for lands from which they were exiled a mere 70 years ago.
But we should remind ourselves that those people who claim they want to “return” are not refugees. They are Palestinians living in Palestinian territory under a Palestinian government that denies them the ability to have a better life and better housing because of its commitment to the struggle against Zionism. Their grandparents left their homes 70 years ago in the context of a war, in which Arab armies expected to destroy the nascent Jewish state and bring the residents back to reap the spoils left behind by the Jews.
This entire Hamas campaign is supposed to reach its peak on May 14 and May 15 on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, which the Palestinian narrative defines as the “catastrophe,” or nakba in Arabic.
A second view from the fence
The second way to analyze the campaign is to focus on what is actually happening along the fence. The false claims about “peaceful demonstrators” brutally targeted by ruthless Israeli soldiers are very detached from reality.
The real story is that under the smokescreen of a civilian crowd, terror activists from Hamas and other terror groups, guided and motivated by the Hamas leadership, mobilizing brain-washed youth, and using children and women as human shields, are seeking to destroy the security fence. They knowingly ignore the security agreements between Israel and the Palestinian authorities that prohibit approaching the fence.
This protest tactic dispatches terrorists and hate-filled mobs to infiltrate across the border into Israel and harm Israeli citizens living in immediate proximity. This is accompanied by attempts to harm Israeli soldiers (mainly by planting bombs along the fence) and citizens, by using kites (sometimes painted with swastikas) that are carrying torches aimed at setting ripe Israeli wheat fields ablaze.
Forgotten in the media narratives is the fact that the Gazan protestors are standing just meters above the Hamas diggers excavating attack tunnels into Israel. The motives of the above-ground and below-ground attackers are identical.
The Palestinians are fully aware of the Israeli soldiers’ mission to defend the security barrier and protect the civilians and themselves. They know there are going to be casualties, and they embrace them because it helps build their victimhood narrative and fits their radical Islamist belief.
The March planners also know that the number of casualties will not be overly high, because they can count on the Israeli soldiers to exercise maximum caution and make all effort to minimize the damage. That determination reflects the nature of the Israeli soldiers and the IDF’s commitment to international law. Palestinian leaders demand that international legal standards be applied to Israel, which they contend only apply to Israelis but not to the Palestinians. For Palestinian leaders, terror is a legitimate way of action.
This riot/terror option, presented as “peaceful demonstrations,” is chosen because all other violent ways of promoting the Palestinian goals have been proven ineffective. The price of initiating a wide-scale terror campaign is considered too high, and Israel manages to blunt the subterranean option.
It is difficult to comprehend why so-called “progressive” Americans and Europeans identify with the Palestinian side seeking to eliminate Israel violently. Even the more pragmatic Palestinian leadership in Ramallah criticizes Hamas for deliberately sending Palestinian youngsters to be hurt and lose their lives in vain.
A third view of Gaza
The third view looks at the economic conditions and standards of living in the Gaza Strip. There is no connection between the hardships of the Gazans and the riots. The Palestinians in Gaza suffer from poor infrastructure, high unemployment, and restrictive mobility into and out of Gaza. They have severe shortages of fresh water and electricity. But these sufferings are the result of Hamas corruption, such as misappropriation of supplies, and the punitive denial of funds by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
But Gazans do not lack essential products of any kind. Israel makes sure that all the needs of Gaza, except for military or dual-use equipment, enter and meet the demand.
Rioters’ severe damage to the Kerem Shalom border crossing through which truckloads of supplies and gas pipelines pass will further worsen the situation for Gazans as it forced Israel to shut the crossing temporarily.
Yet many pundits and politicians tend to present the violent riots as if they are motivated by the poor economic conditions created by Israel. If this was the reason Palestinians would have not destroyed the crossing and chosen the “Nakba Day” for their riots. It is hard to understand what lies behind their myopia. Maybe it helps to justify the riots, and maybe it makes it easier to blame Israel.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly director general of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.