Palestinian Protests Met with Violence From Israeli Military
Over 30 Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been wounded in protests along the Gaza-Israel border. These peaceful protests, which Palestinians are calling the “Great Return March,” have been met with violence from the Israeli military, which is using live ammunition and is acting on the command to shoot those who come within 300 feet of the border.
The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court’s office issued a statement on Sunday that said that Israel’s “violence against civilians — in a situation such as one prevailing in Gaza” may constitute war crimes. But Fatou Bensouda’s office also said that Hamas rulers’ “use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities” could also be a war crime.
Since Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political organization, took over Gaza in 2007, a United Nations report has found that Gaza’s rapidly declining living conditions put it on track to being unlivable before 2020. Gaza’s only water source is predicted to be depleted by 2020; access to critical materials for Gaza’s economy, infrastructure, and basic services remains restricted; the electricity supplied is at 90 megawatts per day out of the 450 megawatts needed. Hamas had historically blamed countries such as Israel and Egypt for the poor living conditions, with some degree of success, but after talks of reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority fell apart, Hamas’s approval ratings fell to unprcedentingly low levels.
Although Hamas has taken over the protests, it didn’t initiate the calls for the protests. Foreign Policy reports that Hamas’s strategy makes sense — it relies on Israel’s doctrine of disproportionate force, and is successfully rebuilding its nationalistic credibility with the Palestinian population. If Bensouda’s indication of the possibility that both Hamas and Israel have committed war crimes is found true, then both must be held responsible for their role in killing and injuring civilians and further decreasing the quality of life in Gaza.
Within Israel, the human rights organization B’Tselem has launched a campaign called “Sorry Commander I Cannot Shoot,” which pushes soldiers not to shoot unarmed civilians. But Israeli ministers continue to support the soldiers and maintain that the protesters pose a threat to Israeli soldiers. Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israeli soldiers had “warded off Hamas military branch operatives capably and resolutely...They have my full backing.”
The protests are scheduled to culminate on May 15, which is not only commemorated by Palestinians for their displacement in 1948 and celebrated by Israel for its independence, but also marks the date that the United States officially plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinians say that the ultimate goal of the “Great Return March” is to cross the border fence and return to their lands, which is something that Israel has said they won’t allow at any price.
De-escalation seems unlikely in light of the hardline stance taken by both Hamas’s leader and Israel’s prime minister, and by the lack of coherent action by the international community, especially as the United States appears unwilling to condemn the violence, blocking multiple statements from the UN which addressed the violence in Gaza. Unless leadership in Gaza and Israel is willing to take more conciliatory stances, and the international community puts pressure on both parties, Palestinians will continue to die and the threat of escalation will remain imminent.