2018 Gaza border protests

2018 Gaza border protests
Part of Gaza–Israel conflict
Gaza Strip map2.svg
Map of the Gaza Strip
Date30 March 2018 – present
(3 weeks and 2 days)
LocationGaza Strip, near the Israeli border
Belligerents

 Gaza Strip

 Israel

Units involved
Gaza Division, reinforced with two brigades and special units.[2]
Strength
Tens of thousands (mostly unarmed)[3]As above
Casualties and losses
39 dead, 4,279 injured (Gaza Health Ministry statements)Damage to border fence

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.[4][3] Called by Palestinian organizers the "Great March of Return", the protests demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel. Organization of the protests was initiated by independent activists, and has been endorsed and supported by Hamas,[5] as well as other major factions in the Gaza Strip. It is supposed to last between 30 March (Land day) and 15 May (Nakba Day). Five tent camps were set up 500 to 700 meters from the border and were to remain there throughout the campaign. Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians since 30 March, a number of whom have been members of various Palestinian militant organizations.[6][7][8][9] No Israeli soldiers or civilians have been injured or killed, as of 13 April.[10]

In the first event on 30 March, thirty thousand Palestinians participated in the protest near the border.[8] Most of the demonstrators at the tent camps hundreds of meters from the border demonstrated peacefully, but groups consisting mainly of young men approached the border, threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and rolled burning tires at Israeli troops.[11][12][13][14][15][11] The camps have remained in place since that day. Comparatively larger protests have been held on Fridays, 6 April and 13 April, while smaller numbers attend activities during the week. Beginning on 6 April, Palestinians brought large numbers of tires to create smoke shields for the protests. According to witnesses, Palestinians used stones and Molotov cocktails, while the Israeli military used tear gas and live ammunition.[16]

According to the United Nations, 30 March was the day with the greatest number of casualties in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict since the 2014 armed conflict. The Hamas-run[17][18] Gaza Ministry of Health stated the number of injured on 30 March as 1,416, from live fire, rubber bullets or tear gas intoxication.[19][20][21] Nineteen Palestinians were killed on 30 March or died due to wounds sustained that day.[22] On 6 April, the Ministry reported that 7 Palestinians were killed, 1,350 were injured, and 25 were in critical condition; and that approximately 400 of those injured were hit by live ammunition. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported it had treated 700 injuries on 6 April, including 320 from live fire.[22]

Israeli officials stated that the protests were used by Hamas as cover for launching attacks against Israel.[23] According to Israel, eight members of Hamas' Qassam Brigades were among those killed;[24] Hamas has identified five of the dead as Qassam Brigades members.[25] Two men were killed on 30 March by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), about 150 meters from the fence; the IDF said they were armed with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades and were trying to breach the fence.[21]

Israel's use of deadly force has been condemned by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch,[26] B'Tselem,[27] and Amnesty International,[28] and criticized by United Nations officials.[29][30] 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.[31]

Israeli military and civilian leaders have praised Israeli troops for their actions, which they describe as necessary defensive measures.[29]

Background

The principal demand of the protests is the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their own homes, villages and lands in present-day Israel. A majority of Gaza's population consists of unvoluntary refugees from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and their descendants.[11] Israel has rejected any right of return.[32]

Land Day is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians worldwide of events that unfolded on 30 March 1976. In response to the Israeli government's planned expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel, local Arab leaders called for a day of general strikes and protests against the confiscation of lands. In the ensuing strikes, six Israeli-Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces and about 100 others were wounded.[33][34][35]

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.[36] 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.[26] 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."[37]

Border fence

The border fence between Gaza and Israel is composed of a crude barbed-wire barrier, a brief gap, and then a 10 foot 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.[38]

Protest organization

In 2011, Ahmed Abu Ratima, a Gazan whose family originally came fromRamla, conceived the idea of mustering people to go peacefully to the separation barrier and call out for their right to return to the homes from which they had been driven, or had fled, in the past. This idea did not take root until 2018, when an event called the Great March of Return was prepared, which would consist of a 6-week period of regular pacific sit-ins, the start coinciding with the annual Land Day commemoration that began on 30 March and continues until 15 May, which mark two events in 1948 on the respective dates: the anniversary of Israel‘s declaration of independence, and Nakba Day, the day of commemoration of the mass Palestinian exodus during the Palestine war.[39]

By March, Hamas, 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.[40]

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 "March of Return".[41] While multiple factions have endorsed the protests, they have all participated under the shared symbol of the Palestinian national flag.[42]

Prior violence

In February 2018, four IDF soldiers were injured by an explosive device concealed in a Palestinian flag placed on the Gazan border fence during a Palestinian protest.[43]

In the week prior to March 30, the IDF arrested a suspect who crossed into Israeli territory from northern Gaza; 2 Palestinians were spotted near the now-defunct Karni crossing container port trying to set fire to army engineering equipment close to the security fence; a group of four Palestinians infiltrated Israel near Kissufim; and 3 Gazans armed with grenades and knives crossed the border and were captured some 20 kilometers (12 mi) from the border near Tze'elim.[44][45]

On 25 March, the IDF fired some ten Iron Dome missiles to intercept what the IDF said was high-trajectory machine-gun fire from Gaza towards Zikim.[46][47]