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Gaza protests explained

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George Washington University

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Gaza protests explained

Hamas efforts to spread violence to Palestinians and Israelis

Max Skidelsky

Matthew Fuzi

4.6.18

This week, a sizeable protest gathered outside the White House to protest the violence in Gaza. Some groups at GW have issued condemnations, while others have attempted to distort the incident as an act of unprovoked violence against peaceful, unarmed civilians.

Undeniably, this was not the case.

The issue

As many as 30,000 protestors were bused in to within a few hundred yards of the Gazan border with Israel. Most of these protestors remained well away from the border fence and did not participate in the violence.

The protestors sought the “right-of-return” (the right for Palestinians to be able to return to their homeland) for refugees—however, it should be noted that the UN defines a Palestinian refugee as the descendant of a refugee. As such, even if all the protestors were allowed to return to Israel—a state many had never lived in before—they would still be classified as refugees. Even if they find homes outside Israel, they remain refugees.

Hamas promoted the protest and urged participation. Among the planners of the protest was Khaled al-Batsh, the leader of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group. Hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organizers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier, where Israeli soldiers across the border kept watch from dirt mound embankments.

Even before the protests started, the Israeli Defense Minister had warned Gazans that Hamas was playing with Palestinians’ lives, and urged Gazans to stay at home. Israeli officials repeatedly warned not to try to breach the security fence during the protests—they made it clear they would consider force to prevent a “deliberate charge on its borders.”

Brigadier General Ronen Manelis told journalists that Hamas was using Palestinian protests as a cover for launching attacks on Israel. In recent weeks, Palestinian militants had planted explosives along the border, set fire to Israeli military equipment, and cut through the fence. In one case, Hamas urged a seven-year-old girl to cross the fence to draw Israeli fire, but soldiers understood what was happening and returned the girl to her parents unharmed.

Ahead of the protests, Israel’s military said it doubled the standard troop level at the border, deploying snipers, special forces, and border police units, again warning that they would act to prevent any breach of the border fence.

The protest

An estimated 17,000 Palestinians were rioting in six locations in the Gaza Strip (none on the Egyptian border). As these riots broke out, Palestinians began hurling stones, rolling burning tires, and tossing Molotov cocktails. The Israelis said they also exchanged fire with two gunmen across the fence and fired at two others who tried to infiltrate Israel.

The head of Israel’s Southern Command, Major General Eyal Zamir, warned that militants were using the cover of riots to plant explosives for terror attacks along the border fence. The IDF said some of the Palestinians fired on by the IDF were suspected of trying to place improvised explosive devices along the border fence. The IDF said troops were "firing towards the main instigators" to break up rioting. The Israeli military said its troops had used live fire only against people trying to sabotage the border security fence.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said 17 Palestinians were killed, and 1,416 were wounded—most, Hamas claimed, from live bullets, some from rubber bullets, tear gas, and other injuries. Other sources have varied estimates of 12-17 killed, and 500 to 1,400 wounded. The Israeli military said most of the injuries were in fact caused by rubber bullets—the Hamas figures have not yet been independently verified.

An Israeli spokesman said all those who were killed had been trying to breach or damage the border fence, the Jerusalem Post reported. The IDF used pinpoint fire wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. Ten men with bullet wounds were seen being carried away on stretchers. All had been shot in the legs. All fatalities were aged 18-30, several of the fatalities were known to the IDF.

Hamas admitted that five of those killed were members of its military wing (the IDF identified ten as being Hamas militants). Two other terrorists had been spotted and neutralized by the IDF near the border fence during Friday evening. Israel’s ambassador to the UN blamed the bloodshed on Hamas. Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force. The UN Secretary-General called for an independent inquiry into the violence.