Last Friday’s rounds of violence happened as tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in a mass protest near the Gaza border fence as part of the “March of Return”. While there were reported instances of individuals attempting to breach the border fence and engage the IDF, the protests were largely non-violent. The IDF fired at the protestors and according to Palestinian officials fifteen people were killed and more than 750 wounded. Hamas subsequently stated that five of those killed belonged to its military wing, with the IDF claiming that 10 of those killed were members of Hamas and other militant organisations.
Attempting to cross the border fence constitutes a security risk and Israel has a duty to defend its citizens and borders. Yet Israel’s right and duty to defend its people and borders cannot come at the expense of the Palestinians’ right to protest. According to reports the IDF were given orders to shoot anyone coming within 300m of the fence and to use live fire in non-life threatening situations.
While Hamas has a great deal of responsibility for the miserable situation of the Gaza residents, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt are all responsible for the physical strangulation of Gaza too.
As long as the situation in Gaza is deteriorating and the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the strip is not lifted, Israel’s security is at risk. Indeed, IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot, recently warned that Israel may find itself drawn into another round of fighting with Hamas in 2018, if the humanitarian crisis in the strip continues to spiral. Even if it is not solely responsible for the crisis in the strip, it’s Israel that may find itself facing another round of fighting as a result.
Nonlethal means should be exhausted before employing snipers as a last resort to protect Israel’s security, and Israel should enter an immediate dialogue with the Palestinian leadership in order to stop the escalation ahead of protests planning for this coming Friday.
There is a serious risk that last Friday’s violence will deepen in coming weeks with further demonstrations leading to new rounds of violence. The Palestinian and Israeli leadership, as well as the international community, should immediately take measures to ease the crisis in the strip and avoid further bloodshed.