JUNE 7, 2018 – Since March 30, tens of thousands of Gaza residents have gathered on Fridays at the Israel border. The protests, dubbed “The Great Return March” by writer and activist Ahmad Abu Artema, were initially intended to be nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. Abu Artema envisioned that the marches would empower Palestinians to move forward in achieving their goal of implementing “The Right of Return.” That ideology – the notion that as many as 5 million Palestinians (descendants of the original 500,000 displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) have the right to move to Arab villages that no longer exist in current day Israel – is sacred to Palestinians, and is part of all aspects of Palestinian culture and society. If implemented, it would be a death knell for the Jewish state.
While Israel has suggested that Palestinians permanently settle their refugees like Israel did with the 800,000 Jews that were forced out of Arab countries after the 1948 war, Palestinians continue to hold on to their dream. This ideology, which is taught to children as soon as they can speak, is on display throughout refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank in the form of a key (which, in theory, would open the doors to their old homes). At the top of the entrance of the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, a one-ton key sits and throughout the camps, posters and paintings of keys can be seen.
While the marches may have been intended to be nonviolent, Hamas and other terror groups also joined the protests and arrived with guns, knives, hatchets, Molotov cocktail-laden kites and balloons (that have set Israeli border communities on fire). About 120 Palestinians have been killed since the rioting began, including at least 50 Hamas-affiliated fighters on May 14.
While some unarmed Palestinians have been killed – including a young medic last week – a close look at the protests reveals an armed insurrection. This uprising is partially funded by Hamas, which pays about $14 per protester (or a lump sum of $100 per family) to rush the Israeli fence.
It’s easy to blame Israel for all of Gaza’s problems. But all parties have contributed: the Palestinian Authority, run by Fatah’s Mahmud Abbas, has cut salaries to its workers in Gaza, reduced medical assistance, and all but shut down the area’s electrical grid; until recently, Egypt had closed its border, citing terror concerns.
Few countries could face weekly riots by tens of thousands at its border without some casualties. Israel should be applauded for its restraint and commitment to finding a lasting peace.