Cease Fire on the Gaza Strip

The presence of journalists in the field is critical to understanding what is happening on the Israel-Gaza border. Shooting them is criminal, according to any criteria

Journalists take part in a protest against the killing of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja at the Israel-Gaza border, April 8, 2018.

It was another bloody and lethal Friday for the tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters along the border with the Gaza Strip. Nine unarmed protesters were killed by Israel Defense Forces snipers and some 300 people were injured by live fire, about 20 of them seriously to critically.

Even if the number of casualties was lower than the previous week’s tally, it is still high and very disturbing. The strategy of firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters has not changed and it seems like the IDF is determined to continue with this strategy.

Among those killed last weekend, the second in the series of “Marches of Return,” was a journalist who lived in Gaza, Yaser Murtaja, 30. Murtaja was wearing a blue vest that said “Press” on it in large and conspicuous letters in English. According to reports, he was standing about 350 meters from the border fence and had not crossed the line – set by the IDF– beyond which Gazans are forbidden to go. The sniper who shot him most likely saw he was shooting a journalist, who was unarmed and who was not in the prohibited area.

The IDF Spokesman tried to shirk responsibility for the killing of one journalist and wounding of six others, saying: “The IDF does not direct its fire at journalists. The circumstances in which the journalists were injured, purportedly from fire from IDF forces, are not known to us.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman used much harsher language: “I don’t know who he is, a photographer, not a photographer – whoever operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself.”

The presence of journalists in the field is critical in order to know what is really happening along the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Shooting them is criminal, according to any criteria. Lieberman’s attempt to belittle the killing of a journalist is particularly grave. It shows not only Lieberman’s indecent approach toward the lives of the Palestinians, but also his contempt for the role of the media in a democracy. “I don’t know who he is, a photographer, not a photographer” – this is not an appropriate statement for the defense minister to make when talking about a journalist killed by the army.

The Gaza protest is far from over. After two lethal weeks, in which the IDF killed 29 unarmed people by live fire, the army has made even more menacing threats. If the demonstrations continue, the army will respond with aerial attacks on Hamas military targets, according to Amos Harel’s report in Sunday’s Haaretz. These threats are inappropriate. Instead of looking for nonlethal means to deal with the tens of thousands of protesters, the IDF is threatening to attack Gaza from the air.

The role of the IDF is to preserve the sovereignty of the state and defend its residents. It has no authority or right to suppress nonviolent and unarmed demonstrations conducted behind the border fence. It must focus on its role and make an effort to do so with the minimum of loss of life.