Opinion

The Gaza Fence That Separates the Brave From the Cowardly

What is cowardice if not the decision to kill masses of unarmed detainees who are demonstrating against their prolonged imprisonment?

A Palestinian demonstrator reacts as others run from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border, May 15, 2018
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

In the Gaza Strip the border fence separates the brave from the cowardly. It separates those armed with empty hands, kites and burning tires from a military power and its soldiers. It separates detainees serving a life sentence from their wardens.

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land — who has been subjected to a 27-year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them. That policy has not been a total success, but it’s proved successful enough that so many people are willing to commit suicide with open eyes. In their death they are bequeathing to their friends and families the hope that someone there, in the world beyond the fences, will become alarmed and will finally understand.

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The arrogant cowardice demonstrated by the well-protected soldiers and commanders – when I began writing these lines on Monday they had already taken the lives of 18 human beings – is Israel’s real calling card. Because what is cowardice if not the decision to kill masses of unarmed detainees who are demonstrating against their prolonged imprisonment?

Journalists report that four of those killed by Israeli fire are commanders in the Palestinian security lookout posts. In that case, every Israeli soldier in every one of the hundreds of lookout posts in the West Bank and around the Gaza Strip should also be doomed.

The earlier report by the Israel Defense Force’s spokesman mentions three people who were killed by gunfire when they tried to place an explosive device near the border fence. Even if that’s true (and incidentally, if Gaza is sovereign and independent, as Israel claims – it has the right to defend itself from inside, from enemy invasions) – what is the IDF spokesman’s explanation for all the rest? At the moment of writing these lines the number of Palestinian dead has already reached 37, including two minors. How many soldiers were required to kill dozens and to wound hundreds with live fire?

Despite the clear Israeli warnings, and the signals that the army intended to kill and wound indiscriminately, tens of thousands of residents of the Strip attended the demonstration. They did so even though they knew that the hospitals in the Gaza Strip are incapable of treating the hundreds and perhaps thousands of additional wounded, and that more than ever, the snipers’ bullets wound and destroy tissue and bones and muscles to the point of permanent disability. This is a desperate demonstration of courage, addressed to the nations of the world and to Europe in particular, which to their shame enabled Israel, which they consider democratic, to turn the Palestinian enclave into this terrible prison facility.

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Despite the pleas of Israeli and international human rights organizations and of this newspaper that the IDF desist from the policy of slaughtering the demonstrators, despite their warnings that shooting unarmed civilians contradicts international law and will only add fuel to the fire — the army did as it pleased. Under the command of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF lawyers always say that we are the supreme interpreters of international law, because after all, U.S. President Donald Trump is on our side.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lieberman and Eisenkot gave the orders, and the commanders and soldiers are only obeying them. But in that sense we’re a democracy: Behind Netanyahu, Lieberman and Eisenkot stands most of the Jewish Israeli public, which gives them its full support. No fact and no demonstration will convince that majority that those who are jailed without trial are rebelling against their imprisonment. The warden is asserting his supremacy.

In that sense we are also a startup nation of manufacturers and profiteers and exporters of weapons, who make a living from the availability of the human laboratories on which we constantly test and develop our profitable and popular products for killing. And now, on Tuesday evening, we reach the last line and the number of dead is 61.