On April 3rd, Palestinian health officials said a 25-year-old man was killed in the Gaza strip near the Israeli border by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) troops. The man was shot after throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers.
This death comes following a Friday March 30th incident where 18 Palestinians were killed and another 750 were injured by IDF forces during a clash on the border with Hamas.
Thousands of Palestinians marched toward the fence separating Gaza and Israel, some threw fire bombs, tires, and rocks at IDF forces. Video from The Jerusalem Post show protesters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops. Troops also faced infiltration attempts and attacks on security infrastructure. IDF forces fired live ammunition at infiltrators, rubber bullets, and tear gas at those who approached the border fence. In one video an individual identified as an 18-year-old Palestinian is seen falling to the ground apparently shot, after running down a road carrying a tire away from the border fence. Protesters attempted to burn tires to block security forces line of sight. Those injured or killed during the protest were paid off by Hamas. Those who were shot got $200, those who were severely injured got $500, and the families of the dead got $3,000.
According to the Israeli government the IDF operated in accordance to strict engagement rules only firing when necessary and avoiding civilians. Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said that they will not change their tough response to the Hamas-led protests warning “anyone who approaches the border is putting their life in danger” and “we have established clear rules and do not intend to change them.”
On March 30th United Nations (UN) Security General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the clashes. The council however did not decide on any action or joint message after the United States vetoed the proposed condemnation of Israel.
The demonstration has been named the “Great March of Return” referencing the oft-stated demand by Palestinians of a “right of return” to the homes purportedly lost following the invasions of the newly-formed state of Israel by its Arab neighboring states in 1948. Camp-sites filled with tents have been placed at 5 locations along the border and will be moved closer and closer as May 15th approaches which is the Nakba anniversary.
Demonstrators plan to continue protests on Friday April 6th which could potentially lead to further bloodshed. This is yet another attempt from Hamas to provoke Israel, seeking a propaganda victory in the advance of any future conflict. IDF forces must be careful when targeting protesters as the situation is already extremely fragile. Israel does not want Hamas to successfully disrupt quiet, but useful relations between Israel and the Gulf states on the issue of Iran, which both view as an existential threat. While Hamas may perceive the ongoing border incident as attractive to help win over its base following a series of failed Palestinian reconciliation attempts, a false step could spark yet another war with Israel three have been fought since 2008, and which have left Hamas damaged and needing to rebuild its paramilitary infrastructure, including tunnels.
Hamas may however feel obligated to respond to the decision by the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. embassy would be moving to Jerusalem and he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, 2017.
It is not within the interest of Israel to get into yet another full-blown war with Hamas, given other looming threats on the Israeli border. Recently Hamas’ primary patron Iran violated Israeli airspace with drones, crossing Israel’s eastern border with Syria. A conflict with Hamas may be an unwanted distraction for the Israelis as they consider the challenges on multiple fronts.