Human rights groups and left-wing American politicians have been heavily critical of Israel’s use of force to stop Palestinians from breaching the fence along the Gaza-Israel border. Their criticism fundamentally mischaracterizes what is happening at the border.
Amnesty International accuses Israel of using “excessive, deadly force against protesters, including children, who merely demand an end to Israel’s brutal policies towards Gaza.” Human Rights Watch demands that Israel follow rules of engagement for police officers, which it claims limits the use of deadly force to circumstances where the Israeli soldier is in imminent danger from a demonstrator with a firearm. To Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal MORE (I-Vt.), the issue at stake is “the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response.”
What the Palestinians call the “March of Return” is not the March on Selma, Alabama. This is a violent confrontation encouraged and led by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza and is bent on Israel’s destruction.
Since the end of March, tens of thousands of Palestinians have gathered weekly at the border. The majority stayed several hundred yards back, but hundreds approached the border fence, hurling stones, rolling burning tires towards the fence, throwing Molotov cocktails, grenades and pipe bombs, at one point planting plastic explosives, and launching kites attached with incendiary devices into Israel. Ten fire teams in Israel had to put out a forest fire started by the kites. Demonstrators tried to tear down the fence so that tens of thousands of Palestinians could pour through, a nightmare scenario for Israel, but were stopped by fire from snipers positioned behind berms on the Israel side.
The confrontation is part of a long running, armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. In the last 10 years, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars proximately caused by rocket fire from Gaza into Israel (2008-09, 2012 and 2014); and even after the 2014 war, which devastated Gaza, Hamas attempted to dig tunnels under the border from which to launch attacks and kill as many Israelis as possible. In mid-April, Israel destroyed a new Hamas tunnel that had begun just a few yards from the site of the border confrontation and which by then had reached into Israel.
To be sure, even though it is defending an internationally recognized border from a violent assault, which gives it more leeway than in a police action, Israel is not entitled to use indiscriminate deadly force. Whether that happened is in dispute.
Many of the casualties were Hamas operatives but Palestinian children have been killed as well. Israel would be wise to heed the recommendation of Amos Yadlin, the former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Intelligence Directorate, that it “carry out a professional and thorough investigation of the events, including those that appear to contradict the rules of engagement.”
At the heart of the border confrontation is the “right of return.” Palestinians in Gaza who originally lived in the part of Palestine that became Israel, and their descendants, demand to return to their former homes. The human rights groups cite, inter alia, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which was passed in the wake of the Israel war for independence against Arab countries seeking to destroy it. It states, “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date . . .”
One pities the Palestinians in Gaza. Their living conditions are horrific but they are led by a ruthless terrorist organization that prefers to expend resources on terror tunnels instead of improving Gazans’ lives. On Monday, Palestinian worshipers at a midday prayer service rushed the border fence after Hamas leaders — evidently falsely — told them that the fence had been breached.
But the right of return for Israel is an existential issue. If millions of Palestinians flooded into Israel, the Jewish state would cease to exist.
Human rights groups nonetheless insist that Israel commit national suicide and, when Israel declines the invitation, accuse it of violating Resolution 194. But the human rights groups self-servingly ignore the part of the resolution stating that Palestinian refugees must be willing to “live at peace with their neighbors,” a requirement hardly met by three wars, the tunnels and now the violent Gaza border clash.
Simply put, the human rights groups and Sanders are willfully blind to the fact that Hamas has no interest in living at peace with Israel and instead wants to destroy it by whatever means it can, including the confrontation at the Gaza-Israel border.
Gregory J. Wallance is a former member of Helsinki Watch, which later became part of Human Rights Watch. Wallance was also a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.