2018 Gaza border protests

2018 Gaza border protests
Part of Gaza–Israel conflict
OCHAoPT 2018 Gaza border protests 31 may 2018.png
UN OCHA map of the protests, 31 May 2018
Date30 March 2018 – present
(5 months, 3 weeks and 5 days)
LocationGaza Strip, near the Israeli border
Belligerents

 Gaza Strip

 Israel

Units involved
Unknown143rd "Fire Fox" (Territorial) Division
reinforced with two brigades and special units,[1] including Maglan[2]
Casualties and losses
168 dead and 17,259 .[3][4][5] or 15,000[6] injured (Gaza Ministry of Health, as of 5 July 2018)1 killed[7] and 11 wounded: 6 soldiers[8][9][10][11] and 5 civilians.[10][12]

On 30 March 2018, a six-week campaign composed of a series of protests was launched at the Gaza Strip, near the Gaza-Israel border.[13][14] Called by Palestinian organizers the "Great March of Return" (Arabic: "مسیرة العودة الكبري"‎), the protests demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to the land they were displaced from in what is now Israel.[14][15][16][17] They are also protesting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the moving of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.[18] Violence during the protests has resulted in the deadliest days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War.[19][20]

Organization of the protests was initiated by independent activists, and has been endorsed and supported by Hamas,[21] as well as other major factions in the Gaza Strip. It was planned to last from 30 March (Land day) to 15 May (Nakba Day). Five tent camps were set up 500 to 700 metres (1,600 to 2,300 ft) from the border and were to remain there throughout the campaign. In the first event on 30 March, thirty thousand Palestinians participated in the protest near the border.[22] Comparatively larger protests have been held on Fridays, 6 April, 13 April, 20 April, 27 April, 4 May, and 11 May—each of which involved at least 10,000 demonstrators—while smaller numbers attend activities during the week.[23][24]

Most of the demonstrators at the tent camps hundreds of metres from the border demonstrated peacefully, and Peter Cammack, a fellow with the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argued that the March indicated a new trend in Palestinian society and Hamas, with a shift away from violence towards non-violent forms of protest.[25] Nevertheless, groups consisting mainly of young men did approach the border, rolling burning tires towards the fence to provide smoke screens, and also throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in the direction of Israeli troops.[26][27][28][29][30] In April, Palestinian protesters began to launch kites bearing incendiary devices over the border fence, causing damage to property on the Israeli side.[31][32] Israeli officials said the protests were used by Hamas as cover for launching attacks against Israel.[33] Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, admitted in a interview to Al Jazeera "when we talk about 'peaceful resistance', we are deceiving the public. This is a peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies, and enjoying tremendous popular support."[34][35]

At least 110 Palestinians were killed between 30 March to 15 May,[36][20] a number of whom have been members of various Palestinian militant organizations; at least 40 of those were killed in the course of the protests.[37][22][38][23][39] Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and live ammunition.[40] According to Robert Mardini, head of Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from more than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded (as of 19 June 2018), the majority severely, with some 1,400 struck by three to five bullets.[41] No Israelis were physically harmed from 30 March to 12 May, then one Israeli soldier was reported as slightly wounded on 14 May,[9] the day the protests peaked, when 59 or 60 Palestinians were shot dead at twelve clash points along the border fence,[42] when Hamas claimed 50 of them as its militants[43][44] and Islamic Jihad claimed 3 of the 62 killed as members of his military wing.[45] Some 35,000 Palestinians protested that day, with thousands approaching the fence.[46][47]

Israel's use of deadly force was condemned on 13 June 2018 in a United Nations General Assembly resolution.[48] Condemnation has also been levied by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch,[49] B'Tselem,[50] and Amnesty International,[51] and by United Nations officials.[52][53] Kuwait has proposed two United Nations Security Council statements, which have been blocked by the United States, calling for an investigation into Israel's killing of Palestinian protesters.[54] The Israeli government has praised Israeli troops for protecting the border fence.[52] Media coverage of the events, and what has been termed the "PR battle", has been the object of analysis and controversy.[55][56][57][58]

Background

Map of the Gaza Strip showing the border proximity restrictions with Israel (as of December 2012)
  No-go zone 100 metres (330 ft)
  Access permitted by foot and by farmers only 100–300 metres (330–980 ft)
  At-risk zone

In 2005, Israel had withdrawn its forces from the Gaza Strip and allowed the Palestinian authority to take control. Despite the withdrawal, Israel still maintain direct external control over Gaza and indirect control over life within Gaza: it controls Gaza's air and maritime space, and six of Gaza's seven land crossings, it maintains a no-go buffer zone within the territory, and controls Gaza's population registry, and Gaza remains dependent on Israel for its water, electricity, telecommunications, and other utilities.[59][60][61] According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinians in Gaza still remain protected persons under the articles of the Geneva Conventions. [42]

Following the Battle of Gaza in 2007, Hamas took full control over the strip and expelled its rival and current ruler of the West Bank, Fatah. The takeover by Hamas has led Israel and Egypt to impose a land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The Israel-Gaza barrier seen from the Israeli side

After the 2014 Gaza war, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has worsened. Hamas has struggled to manage the civil life in the Gaza Strip, and the new leadership under Yahya Sinwar has hoped to get the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza's civil issues, through the 2017 Fatah–Hamas Agreement, but the agreement failed. According to Israeli analyst Amos Harel, Hamas, which failed to lift the blockade for years, sought to use the protest as a means to get out its strategical crisis, as it found an armed conflict to be ineffective.[62] The Gaza Strip, measuring 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi)[63][64] and with a population of 1.9 million, is one of the most densely populated places in the world.[65] It is often described as the "world's largest open-air prison".[66] The territory has a continuous shortage of food, water, power and medicine. In talks with Angela Merkel, Israeli PM Binjamin Netanyahu stated that the Palestinians were crashing the fence because they were 'suffocating economically', a situation he blamed on Hamas.[67]

Near Gaza Strip's border with Israel in 2018

In January 2018, it was reported that 97% of the territory's tap water was undrinkable because of sewage pollution or high salinity levels, forcing Gazans to purchase water from local desalination facilities at excessive prices.[68] The Palestinians are unable to pay Israel for the electricity it provides and, as a result, Gazans receive electricity only for to four hours a day as of 2017[69] which impairs the functioning of Gaza's health services.[70] The Gaza Strip's unemployment rate reached 44% in 2017 (71% for women, 36% for men).[71] It is reported that, 40% of Gazan children suffer from anemia and malnutrition.[72] The despair from the economic and humanitarian situation, along with the inability to leave the territory has further contributed to public support and participation in the protests.[73][74]

Gaza's "no-go zone" and border barrier

In late 2005, after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli military imposed a "no-go zone" on the interior side of the Israel-Gaza border in response to rocket fire from Gaza falling on Israeli towns.[75] This zone restricts Palestinians from entering "about 17 percent of Gaza's territory, including a third of its agricultural lands", according to Human Rights Watch.[49] According to IDF, this is done "to prevent the concealment of improvised explosives and to disrupt and prevent the use of the area for destructive purposes."[76]

The border fence between Gaza and Israel (the separation barrier) is composed of a crude barbed-wire barrier, a brief gap, and then a 10 feet (3.0 m) high "smart fence" with sensors to detect infiltrators. A crowd surging towards the fence could cross the fence in some 30 seconds according to one of the contractors who built it.[77]

Protest organization

The principal demand of the protests is the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to present-day Israel. A majority of Gaza's population consists of refugees from the 1948 Palestine War and their descendants.[26] Israel has rejected any right of return, at least in part because the demographic consequences of such mass in-migration would result in the country having a non-Jewish majority.[78]

In 2011, Ahmed Abu Ratima (or Rteima) whose family originally came from Ramle, conceived the idea of Palestinians going peacefully to the separation barrier and protest for their right to return to the homes from which they had been driven, or had fled, in the past.[79]

In early 2018, Gazan journalist Muthana al-Najjar, whose family originally hailed from Salama, pitched a tent near the border, where he stayed for over a month, while others began planting olive tree seedlings in the area.[80] He and others tried to keep the protest unaffiliated with Hamas or any other political group, but were overruled when Hamas took over the protest by mass mobilization of Gazans to join the march. Recruitment included calls on television, local media, social media and by word of mouth to join the protest. Hamas reportedly planned to keep the peace by having its security personnel dress in civilian clothes and move among the protesters to ensure no violence would occur.[81] It gained support from Gazan intellectuals like Atef Abu Saif and graduates of Gazan universities, who are said to have drawn inspiration from the example of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.[82]

By March 2018, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the faction of Muhammad Dahlan (who was expelled from Fatah in 2011) had endorsed the protest.[83]

The organizers of the event, including the local government authority, Hamas and various Palestinian factions, had encouraged thousands of Palestinians to converge on the Israeli border for the 42nd anniversary, in what was dubbed the "Great March of Return".[84] While multiple factions have endorsed the protests, they have all participated under the shared symbol of the Palestinian national flag.[85]

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