Pales­tinian de­spair re­sults in car­nage

Civil­ians who were be­ing maimed or killed in Gaza Strip were will­ing vic­tims

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Global Af­fairs Gwynne Dyer’s new book, ‘Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)’, was pub­lished last month by Scribe in Canada, the United States, the United King­dom, Aus­tralia, and New Zealand.

When all is lost, en­tire com­mu­ni­ties some­times en­gage in sui­ci­dal ges­tures. It hap­pened as re­cently as 1906 in Bali, when the lo­cal royal fam­ily and thou­sands of their fol­low­ers, knowing they could not de­feat the Dutch con­querors, dressed in their best fin­ery and walked straight into the Dutch gun­fire. Thou­sands were killed.

It has been hap­pen­ing again in the past six weeks in the area in front of the border fence that di­vides the Gaza Strip from Is­rael. It reached at least a tem­po­rary cli­max on Mon­day, when some 2,000 Pales­tini­ans were wounded, around half by gun­fire, and 60 were shot dead by Is­raeli sol­diers.

That’s at least a thou­sand un­armed Pales­tinian civil­ians struck by Is­raeli bul­lets in a sin­gle day. One Is­raeli sol­dier was slightly in­jured by a rock or a piece of shrap­nel.

Even be­fore the ‘March of Re­turn’ be­gan in late March, the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment said that the march was just a cover for ter­ror­ists to cross into its ter­ri­tory and carry out ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Sol­diers would there­fore be al­lowed to fire live am­mu­ni­tion against any­body try­ing to dam­age the border fence, which in­cluded any­body com­ing within 300 me­tres of it.

There have been un­con­firmed re­ports that the army was later told to shoot only peo­ple com­ing within 100 me­tres of the fence, which would in­volve maybe only half the peo­ple in the crowd.

But the ba­sic story was un­changed: those clever Ha­mas ter­ror­ists had fig­ured out that the best way to sneak into Is­rael is to break through the border in broad day­light and make their way past thou­sands of heav­ily armed Is­raeli sol­diers on full alert.

The French gov­ern­ment has called on Is­rael to “ex­er­cise dis­cern­ment and re­straint in the use of force that must be strictly pro­por­tion­ate.” The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment said that “the large vol­ume of live fire is ex­tremely con­cern­ing. We con­tinue to im­plore Is­rael to show greater re­straint.”

The com­ments of Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, who was in Is­rael to cel­e­brate the open­ing of the new U.S. em­bassy in Jerusalem, were even more an­o­dyne. He just ig­nored the car­nage hap­pen­ing at the border and re­stricted him­self to say­ing that “The United States stands with Is­rael be­cause we both be­lieve in free­dom.”

But the prize for Most Re­veal­ing Re­mark must go to Khalil al-Hayya, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Ha­mas party that rules the Gaza Strip: “We say clearly to­day to all the world that the peace­ful march of our peo­ple lured the en­emy into shed­ding more blood.” Note the word ‘lured.’ At the lead­er­ship level, both sides see this ghastly event mainly in terms of po­lit­i­cal the­atre.

Ha­mas wanted the Is­raelis to com­mit a mas­sacre of in­no­cent civil­ians for its pro­pa­ganda value. The Is­raeli army, well aware that this was Ha­mas’s goal, or­dered its sol­diers to shoot to in­jure, not to kill, when­ever pos­si­ble.

The fi­nal score shows that they largely obeyed: if they had just ran­domly fired into the crowd, around one in five of the vic­tims would have been killed, not one in 40.

Nev­er­the­less, it was a mas­sacre, but the Pales­tinian civil­ians who were be­ing maimed or killed were will­ing vic­tims. The mostly young men and women in the crowd milling around in front of the border fence, which peaked at an es­ti­mated 40,000 peo­ple, knew they stood a fair chance of be­ing killed or crip­pled, but they just didn’t care any­more.

It’s 70 years now since the grand­par­ents of these young Pales­tini­ans were driven from what is now Is­rael, and they know that they are never go­ing back to their an­ces­tral homes. In­ter­na­tional law says that refugees have that right, whether they fled vol­un­tar­ily (as Is­rael in­sists) or were ex­pelled by force or the threat of force (as most other peo­ple be­lieve), but in prac­tice it’s just not go­ing to hap­pen. Is­rael is far too strong.

Most of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion know that they are never go­ing ‘home,’ and will have to live out their lives in what amounts to a not-very-large open-air prison: the Gaza Strip. It’s only nat­u­ral that they are in de­spair, and invit­ing death or in­jury at the hands of Is­raeli troops seems like an hon­ourable way out.

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