Canadian Friends of Peace Now is deeply concerned about the potential for the escalation of violence at the Gaza border. We are alarmed and saddened by the killing and wounding of unarmed protesters last week. We call on both sides – Palestinians and Israelis – to exercise restraint and act responsibly to prevent further bloodshed.
Israel has a right to defend its border from infiltration, but this does not justify lethal force against anyone who poses no credible threat. Some Palestinians – reportedly only a few – did approach the border fence in a manner that indicated an intention to breach it. Apparently, there was at least one case of such a breach. There were armed Hamas operatives leading the charge and there was one reported case in which IDF soldiers were shot at. However, the IDF used lethal force, including sniper fire and even tank shells, not only against those attempting to breach the fence but also at Palestinian demonstrators who did not. Israel can and must find better ways of controlling demonstrators rather than respond disproportionately to provocations.
The Palestinians have the responsibility to stay back from the border and not test the IDF’s limits on restraint. Unfortunately, the opposite seems likely to happen. One of the plans for the next mass protest day is the large-scale burning of tires that will create a literal fog of war.
As both sides put their own spin on the casualty figures, we should not forget what this mass protest is all about. Gaza citizens suffer terrible deprivations because of a severe blockade of their territory. However, they are not massing at the Egyptian border to protest Egypt’s role in the blockade; they direct their anger only at Israel. And their Hamas-led action is called the March of the Return. They are demanding, not just a lifting of an unjustifiably harsh blockade, but also a return to pre-1948 Israel. It is this maximalist stance, this rejection of Israel’s right to sovereignty within any borders, accompanied by decades of violence, that brought about the blockade in the first place.
For its part, despite warnings of an explosive humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israel has not attempted to ease conditions. It has done nothing in recent years to advance the goal of a two-state solution. By supporting rampant settlement growth on the West Bank and treating moderates – both Israeli and Palestinian – with contempt, it has undermined the possibility of territorial compromise. It has no plan or vision for resolving the conflict, only short-term management of crises that will only get worse. The playing of zero-sum games by both parties benefits neither side.