November 15, 2018

Palestinians’ “March of Return” to Gaza Fence and Israel’s Response

Palestinians are now marching with the intent to enter Israel through the Gaza fence every Friday until May 15 corresponding to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and to their “Naqba” (The Great Catastrophe). They have done this twice already.

The first week’s demonstration included about thirty thousand Palestinians. Despite the demonstrations being billed as non-violent protests, some Palestinians (stirred up by Hamas) threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and set fire to tires thereby obscuring the view with smoke for Israeli shooters to see the perpetrators of violence. Israeli commanders told their shooters to fire warning shots in the air, then shoot in the dirt, and finally at Palestinian legs. Israeli snipers killed between 15 and 20 Palestinians and injured close to 1400.

On the second Friday there were fewer protestors, perhaps between ten and twenty thousand. The Palestinians called it a “Day of Tires” (note the photo of the massive amount of smoke). Israeli shooters killed nine Palestinians, including one journalist wearing a journalist vest.

To date, about thirty Palestinians are dead.

What’s going on? Israel has a right to defend itself but the death of unarmed Palestinians ought to be of great concern to all Jews in Israel and around the world.

The Israeli human rights organization B’tzelem called upon Israeli soldiers to defy orders to shoot unarmed Palestinians. All Israeli political parties refrained from protesting Israel’s actions except the Arab list and the left-wing Zionist party Meretz. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman charged that “Meretz has stopped representing the State of Israel and now represents Arab interests in the Knesset.”

What disturbs me is that Israelis and we American Jews have become so numbed to violence of this kind that we refrain from protesting the deaths of innocent Palestinians. We would not so refrain if the dead were Israelis.

Again, we don’t know if the shootings are wrong and we don’t know how difficult it is for the IDF to monitor the border, but B’tzelem isn’t wrong to encourage Israeli soldiers to refrain from firing on unarmed people even if they are ordered to do so. There are lots of other means of crowd control available to Israel than shooting with live ammunition.

Is Israel’s sense of the threat these Palestinian protests pose exaggerated? It may be that the shootings are meant to discourage future non-violent Palestinian demonstrations because the Israeli government doesn’t quite know how to handle them.

The Israeli Defense Forces have the duty to protect the State of Israel, but is the IDF doing it the right way? In Israel, there’s an ethical code that encourages soldiers not to follow unethical orders, and especially when orders are given to fire on unarmed Palestinians.

I would hope that every Palestinian killing is investigated by the IDF and if wrong-doing is discovered, those guilty are punished.