Israel can allow the demonstrations that are expected to take place on the Gaza side of the Israeli border on Saturday to disperse without anyone being killed or wounded. Israel and the Palestinians share an interest in preventing the risk of a conflagration, especially at this explosive moment, when Israel is heading to elections and Gaza is experiencing social unrest, although the unrest has been suppressed for now.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must order the army not to use lethal weapons against the demonstrators. Defying all predictions, the weekly Marches of Return along the border have gone on for a year now, despite the heavy price they have exacted. According to UN statistics, since March 30, 2018, Israeli soldiers have killed 195 demonstrators, including 41 minors, while more than 7,000 people have been wounded by live fire. Gaza’s health system, which was in bad shape to begin with, is incapable of providing the injured proper care.
Even if Hamas is in command of the demonstrations along the border fence, it cannot force people to risk their lives. Some of the protesters near the fence have also participated in the socioeconomic protests that erupted in Gaza two weeks ago and were even arrested for it. The Hamas regime interpreted the demonstrations as being directed at the regime itself, and therefore moved quickly to suppress them.
The protests’ strongest message is that the Palestinians, and particularly the young among them, are not adjusting to their imprisonment in this besieged enclave. They haven’t become reconciled to lives devoid of any purpose or future, to their separation from the world and from the rest of their people, or to the high rates of unemployment and poverty. For a year now, they have been sending Israel and the world the message that they won’t allow themselves to be forgotten.
Given the dimensions of Gaza’s despair, the civilian casualties and the mass bereavement aren’t deterrent factors. Quite to the contrary. If the Israel Defense Forces intended to muzzle the protests by firing even at unarmed demonstrators inside Gaza, some of whom were far from the border fence, the goal hasn’t been achieved. On the contrary, the incendiary balloons and the nighttime demonstrations are seen as a Palestinian response to Israel’s deadly fire.
Casualty-free demonstrations on Saturday would first of all enable the sides to continue to negotiate in quiet via Egyptian and UN mediation on steps to prevent Gaza and its two million inhabitants from plunging into an even deeper abyss of hunger, poverty and despair. The next step — implementation of those measures — must happen immediately. After that, we must seek fundamental change in the policy of blockading Gaza and severing it from the world.