2018 Gaza border protests

2018 Gaza border protests

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Gaza_border_protests
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2018 Gaza border protests
Part of Gaza–Israel conflict
Map of the Gaza Strip
Date 30 March 2018 – present
(1 month and 3 weeks)
Location Gaza Strip, near the Israeli border
Goals
Parties to the civil conflict
Units involved
143rd "Fire Fox" (Territorial) Division
reinforced with two brigades and special units,[4] including Maglan.[5]
Casualties
112 dead, over 13,190 injured[6][7] (as of 21 May 2018)
1 slightly wounded[8]

On 30 March 2018, a six-week campaign composed of a series of protests was launched at the Gaza Strip, near the Gaza-Israel border.[9][10] Called by Palestinian organizers the "Great March of Return", the protests demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel.[11][12][13] They are also protesting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the moving of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.[14] Violence during the protests has resulted in the deadliest days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War.[15][16]

Organization of the protests was initiated by independent activists, and has been endorsed and supported by Hamas,[17] as well as other major factions in the Gaza Strip. It was planned to last from 30 March (Land day) to 15 May (Nakba Day). Five tent camps were set up 500 to 700 metres (1,600 to 2,300 ft) from the border and were to remain there throughout the campaign. In the first event on 30 March, thirty thousand Palestinians participated in the protest near the border.[18] Comparatively larger protests have been held on Fridays, 6 April, 13 April, 20 April, 27 April, 4 May, and 11 May—each of which involved at least 10,000 demonstrators—while smaller numbers attend activities during the week.[19][20] Most of the demonstrators at the tent camps hundreds of meters from the border demonstrated peacefully, but groups consisting mainly of young men approached the border, rolled burning tires towards the fence, used burning tires to provide smoke screens, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops.[21][22][23][24][25] In April, Palestinian protesters began to launch kites bearing incendiary devices over the border fence, causing damage to property on the Israeli side.[26][27]

At least 110 Palestinians were killed between 30 March to 15 May,[28][16] a number of whom have been members of various Palestinian militant organizations; 40 of those were killed in the course of the protests.[29][18][30][19][31] Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and live ammunition.[32] Over 12,000 Palestinians have been wounded.[7] No Israelis were harmed from 30 March to 12 May, then one Israeli soldier was reported as slightly wounded on 14 May.[8]

Protests and military violence escalated significantly on Monday, 14 May, as the United States formally opened its Embassy, one day before the planned culmination of the protest. The Israeli military estimated that 35,000 people participated in protests at 12 locations in Gaza, with thousands more approaching the border fence.[33] At the Gaza border camps, Israeli gunfire injured 448 Palestinians, while 41 protesters were killed, 3 of them were carrying an explosive charge to the fence.[34]

According to the United Nations, 30 March was the day with the greatest number of casualties in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict since the 2014 armed conflict. The Hamas-run[35][36] Gaza Ministry of Health stated the number of injured on 30 March as 1,416, from live fire, rubber bullets, or tear gas intoxication.[37][38][39] Nineteen Palestinians were killed on 30 March or died due to wounds sustained that day.[40] Overall, the Gaza Ministry of Health reported that over 5,000 people have suffered injuries as of 20 April, including 1,700 from live fire, 500 from rubber-coated bullets, and 1,950 from tear gas and smoke inhalation.[41] Among the dead were two journalists, Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein,[42][43][44] and two disabled men.[45][46]

Israeli officials stated that the protests were used by Hamas as cover for launching attacks against Israel.[47] In April 2018, the Israeli government and the Israel-based Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published an analysis of the list of casualties which stated that of the 40 Palestinians killed, 13 were members of Palestinian military or security organizations which they consider "terrorist organizations", and 19 had "membership or affiliation, or a link" with a Palestinian political party.[48] Hamas identified five of the dead on 30 March as Qassam Brigades members,[49] while Israel estimated the number at eight.[50] Two men killed on 30 March by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were armed with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades according to the IDF.[39]

Israel's use of deadly force has been condemned by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch,[51] B'Tselem,[52] and Amnesty International,[53] and criticized by United Nations officials.[54][55] Kuwait has proposed two United Nations Security Council statements, which have been blocked by the United States, calling for an investigation into Israel's killing of Palestinian protesters.[56] The Israeli government has praised Israeli troops for protecting the border fence.[54]

Background

Map of the Gaza Strip showing the border proximity restrictions with Israel (as of December 2012)
  No-go zone 100 metres (330 ft)
  Access permitted by foot and by farmers only 100–300 metres (330–980 ft)
  At-risk zone
The Israel-Gaza barrier seen from the Israeli side

The principal demand of the protests is the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to present-day Israel. A majority of Gaza's population consists of refugees from the 1948 Palestine War and their descendants.[21] Israel has rejected any right of return, at least in part because the demographic consequences of such mass in-migration would result in a non-Jewish majority, which would effectively end the Jewish state.[57]

Land Day is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians worldwide of events that unfolded on 30 March 1976. In response to the Israeli government's planned expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel, local Arab leaders called for a day of general strikes and protests against the confiscation of lands. In the ensuing strikes, six Israeli-Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces and about 100 others were wounded.[58][59][60]

In late 2005, after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli military imposed a "no-go zone" on the interior side of the Israel-Gaza border in response to rocket fire from Gaza falling on Israeli towns.[61] This zone restricts Palestinians from entering "about 17 percent of Gaza's territory, including a third of its agricultural lands", according to Human Rights Watch.[51] According to IDF, this is done "to prevent the concealment of improvised explosives and to disrupt and prevent the use of the area for destructive purposes."[62]

The border fence between Gaza and Israel (the separation barrier) is composed of a crude barbed-wire barrier, a brief gap, and then a 10 feet (3.0 m) high "smart fence" with sensors to detect infiltrators. A crowd surging towards the fence could cross the fence in some 30 seconds according to one of the contractors who built it.[63]

Protest organization

In 2011, Ahmed Abu Ratima (or Rteima) whose family originally came from Ramla, conceived the idea of Palestinians going peacefully to the separation barrier and protest for their right to return to the homes from which they had been driven, or had fled, in the past.[64]

In early 2018, Gazan journalist Muthana al-Najjar, whose family originally hailed from Salamah, pitched a tent near the border, where he stayed for over a month, while others began planting olive tree seedlings in the area.[65] He and others tried to keep the protest unaffiliated with Hamas or any other political group, but were overruled when Hamas took over the protest by mass mobilization of Gazans to join the march. Recruitment included calls on television, local media, social media and by word of mouth to join the protest. Hamas reportedly planned to keep the peace by having its security personnel dress in civilian clothes and move among the protesters to ensure no violence would occur.[66] It gained support from Gazan intellectuals like Atef Abu Saif and graduates of Gazan universities, who are said to have drawn inspiration from the example of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.[67]

By March, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the faction of Muhammad Dahlan (who was expelled from Fatah in 2011) had endorsed the protest.[68]

The organizers of the event, including the local government authority, Hamas and various Palestinian factions, had encouraged thousands of Palestinians to converge on the Israeli border for the 42nd anniversary, in what was dubbed the "Great March of Return".[69] While multiple factions have endorsed the protests, they have all participated under the shared symbol of the Palestinian national flag.[70]

Prior incidents

In February 2018, four IDF soldiers were injured by an explosive device concealed in a Palestinian flag placed on the Gazan border fence during a Palestinian protest.[71][72]

On 25 March, the IDF fired some ten Iron Dome missiles to intercept what the IDF sensors interpreted to be rockets, but which later turned out to be high-trajectory machine-gun fire from Gaza towards Zikim.[73][74][75][76]

In the week prior to 30 March, the IDF arrested a suspect who crossed into Israeli territory from northern Gaza; 2 Palestinians were spotted near the now-defunct Karni crossing container port trying to set fire to army engineering equipment close to the security fence; a group of four Palestinians infiltrated Israel near Kissufim; and 3 Gazans, armed with grenades and knives, crossed the border and were captured some 20 kilometers (12 mi) from the border, near Tze'elim.[77][78]

Timeline

According to The New York Times, prior to the protests the Israeli government began a campaign to hold Hamas responsible for any violence during the protests.[21]Preempt incidents along the border, Israel nearly doubled their forces stationed along there, deploying special units, drones, and some 100 snipers.[21][79] The Israeli Prime Minister's Arabic spokesman and Defense Minister's Arabic Twitter account warned Palestinians who approached the border of the risk of sustaining serious or life-threatening injury.[80]

30 March – "Great March of Return"

The first protest took place on 30 March, during the Land Day. Some 30,000 Palestinians took place in the protests[23] which were launched from five tent camps that were set up 500 to 700 metres (1,600 to 2,300 ft) from the Israel–Gaza barrier,[81] near the 300 metres (980 ft) no-go zone imposed by Israel. The majority of the demonstrators in the encampments were away from the border security and did not engage in violence.[21] Hundreds of young Palestinians, however, ignored warnings issued by the organizers and the Israeli military to avoid the border zone.[82] When some Palestinians began throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, Israel responded by declaring the Gaza border zone a closed military zone and opening fire on the rioters.[21] The events of the day were some of the most violent in recent years.[83] In one incident, two Palestinian gunmen approached the fence, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, and exchanged fire with IDF soldiers. They were killed and their bodies were recovered by the IDF.[38][39][84]

That day, 15 Palestinians were killed by the IDF, all males aged 19 to 32, in addition to one farmer who was killed apparently by artillery fire in the morning prior to the protests. The IDF said a tank fired at two men who "acted suspiciously" near the border fence and did not confirm one of them was killed.[23] The profile of the 15 men who were killed by the IDF was a subject of debate. The IDF published an infographic with the picture of ten of those killed, claiming they were members of militant/terrorist organizations, of them seven were Hamas militants and activists, one was a "global jihad activist" and one was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militant group.[38] Hamas on the contrary confirmed only five of its members were killed that day,[85] and one of the men the IDF said was a Hamas operative, was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, according to the organization it self.[86] According to the IDF, among those Hamas confirmed were its members were a company commander and a an operative in Hamas' tunnel warfare project.[38] Three other Palestinian men aged 29 to 34 who were shot on 30 March succumbed to their wounded in the next days. One of them was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The organization claimed he was unarmed when he was shot.[87][88]

One notable casualty and an example of this debate is a 19-years-old Palestinian who was seen in footage from the protest being shot in his back while holding a tire and running away from the fence. The IDF claimed he was a member of Hamas,[38] a claim Hamas did not confirm[85] and his family denied, stating he was a restaurant worker. The IDF claimed the footage was "edited and fabricated".[38] His funeral did not involve the honors usually given to slain Palestinian fighters.[89] Another 20-years-old man was shot, according to his brother, in the head, while smoking a cigarette while standing behind a group of stone throwers.[90]

Disagreement exists also about the number of those injured that day. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, over 1,400 Palestinians suffered injuries. According to various Palestinian medical sources, around 800 were wounded with live ammunition, while the rest were hurt in other ways, including rubber-coated projectiles and tear gas. The IDF on the other hand estimated only a few dozen were hurt with live fire.[91][37][92]

31 March – 5 April

Protests continued on a lower scale throughout the week following the 30 March events. The IDF continued to fire at rioters along the border fence.[93] A video was published in social media on Sunday, 2 April, shows a 19-years-old man among a group of rioters, placing a tire on another burning tire, to make it catch on fire, then waving his hands in celebration. He was then seemingly shot in the head by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian sources reported he was critically wounded.[94]

During this week, two Palestinians were killed in two different incidents. In the first, a Palestinian member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was shot by Israeli forces after he breached the fence and entered Israel. The IDF published a video from an observation camera, showing the man hitting the fence with what seems to be a metal pipe, when four other people stand behind him. He then breaches the fence and enters along with another man, which is when warning shots were probably fired. The video cuts before the man was shot and it is unclear in what circumstances was he shot and killed.[95] In another incident, an Israeli aircraft opened fire on an allegedly armed Palestinian who approached the fence.[96] The IDF published a video from an observence camera, showing the man walking slowly towards the fence, holding what appears to be an assault rifle. The army also claimed he was equiped with grenades and a suicide vest. The incident took place before dawn.[97] In addition to these events, the IDF arrested on 1 April four unarmed Palestinians who crossed into Israel through the fence.[98]

6 April – "Day of the Tire"

Protest organizers and Hamas called for renewed demonstrations on the Israel-Gaza border the following Friday, 6 April. The IDF stated that it intended to use the same force as the preceding week to prevent infiltrations of Israeli territory.[99]

Between 31 March and 6 April, demonstrators gathered tires in Gaza to be burnt on 6 April, in preparation for what was dubbed the "Day of the Tire" (Arabic: Jumat al-Kawshook)[100][101][102] Israeli officials have cautioned that the mass burning of tires along the border can produce environmental harm, calling on the World Health Organization to prevent, what they termed, an "ecological catastrophe".[102]

Thousands of Palestinians joined in 6 April demonstrations; the IDF estimated their number at 20,000 people.[103]

On 6 April, the Ministry reported that 9 Palestinians were killed, 1,350 were injured, and 25 were in critical condition; and that approximately 400 of those injured were hit by live ammunition.[40][104] The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported it had treated 700 injuries on 6 April, including 320 from live fire.[40]

  • Among those killed was Yaser Murtaja, a 30-year-old Palestinian photographer, who, according to Palestinian Health Ministry, was shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper despite wearing a jacket emblazoned with 'press' to identify him as a journalist. According to the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, seven other Palestinian journalists were injured by the Israelis during that day's protest.[104] Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said in response that "anyone who flies drones over IDF soldiers puts himself at risk."[105] According to Israeli security sources, Murtaja was an officer in Hamas security apparatus and attempted to smuggle a drone to Gaza in 2015.[106] Hamas, as well as Murtaja's family, denied the allegation.[107]

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported fatalities as follows:

  • "Mohammed Sa’ed Mousa al-Haj Saleh (33) from Rafah was hit with 2 live bullets to the abdomen and chest and died after few hours of his injury east of Rafah.
  • "‘Ala’a Eden Yehyah al-Zameli (16) from Rafah was hit with a live bullet to the neck , east of Rafah.
  • "Osama Khamis Musalam Qdaih (38) from ‘Abasan al-Kabirah in Khan Yunis was hit with a live bullet to the head east of Khuza’ah.
  • "Ibrahim Zeyad Salamah al-‘Aar (20) from al-Nuseirat was hit with a live bullet to the head, east of al-Buraij.
  • "Sedqi Taleb Mohammed Abu ‘Atawi (45) from al-Nuseirat was hit with a live bullet to the head, east of al-Buraij.
  • "Husein Mohammed ‘Adnan Madi (14) from Sheikh Redwan neighborhood in Gaza City was hit with a live bullet to the chest, east of al-Sheja’eyah neighborhood in Gaza City.
  • "Majdi Ramadan Mousa Shabat (38) from Beit Hanoun was hit with a live bullet to the neck, northeast of Jabalia."[108]

One additional protester was fatally wounded on 6 April:

  • Marwan Qudeih (45), from Khan Younis, who was wounded by Israeli fire east of the town, died of his wounds on 9 April.[109][110]

In addition to Murtaja, five other journalists were injured on 6 April, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: al-Aqsa TV cameraperson Khalil abu Adhreh, freelance photographer Ibrahim al-Za'noun, Sky Press Agency editor Ezz Abu Shanab, and Medi1TV cameraman Adham al-Hajjar were all struck by the Israeli military using live fire; European Press Photo Agency photographer, Saber Nureldine, was struck by shrapnel.[111]

6–12 April

  • On the evening of 8 April, according to the IDF, three Palestinians infiltrated the fence in the Northern Gaza strip, planted two explosive devices, and then quickly returned to Gaza. The IDF fired at the Palestinians with tank fire.[112]
  • In the early morning of 9 April, the IDF said it attacked a military compound belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza strip in response to the attempted infiltration with explosives. The IDF said Hamas "is solely responsible for what is happening in the Gaza Strip from above and below the ground".[113]
  • In the morning of 11 April, Palestinians set off a bomb near an Israeli construction vehicle adjacent to the Gaza fence. The IDF fired tank shells at positions that according to the IDF belong to Hamas.[114]
  • On 12 April, Mohammed Hamada Hijila (31), who reportedly "engaged in a military confrontation," was killed by an Israeli airstrike east of Shuja'iyya.[115][116]

13 April

Protests on a third consecutive Friday were smaller than prior weeks. The IDF estimated that 10,000 people protested on 13 April.[117] Palestinians attempted to breach the border fence, hurled molotov cocktails and explosive devices, and attempted to fly firebomb kites into Israeli territory.[118]

During the protests, IDF killed three Palestinians:

  • Islam Hirzallah, 28, who was hit by live ammunition to the abdomen.[117][119]
  • Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, 18, who is deaf, was fatally wounded, and died on 23 April.[46]
  • Ahmed Abu Hussein, a photojournalist wearing a protective vest marked 'press,'[120] was also fatally wounded and died in Sheba Hospital in Tel HaShomer on 25 April, after being transferred for treatment.[42]

The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that 969 people were injured by Israeli forces, and 223 people hit by live ammunition. Fifteen of the people sustaining live-fire injuries were in critical condition late on 13 April.[121]

14–16 April

  • On 14 April, four Palestinians were killed in a blast near one of the protest camps,[122] the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine said that they were members of the organization and that they died during "preparations".[123]
  • Several kites with firebombs attached were flown by Palestinians into Israeli territory, sparking several fires, with at least 3 fire bomb kites located on 14 April. No injuries were caused.[26]
  • On 15 April, the IDF said it destroyed a tunnel that crossed the Gaza-Israel border. There were no reported casualties.[124]
  • On 16 April, additional fire bomb kites were flown from the Gaza strip. One kite started a fire that burned a wheat field on the Israeli side of the border.[125]

20 April

Protests on Friday, 20 April, have been labeled the "Women's March of Gaza" and were intended to highlight the active role women are playing in the protest.[126] The IDF estimates that 10,000 people participated in protests.[127] At least four Palestinian protesters were killed on 20 April,[128] among them a 15-year-old boy, and over four dozen were injured by Israeli soldiers.[129] Another protester later died of wounds sustained that day.[130] Before the expected protests, the IDF dropped leaflets over Gaza Strip warning anyone against approaching the fence or attempting to damage it.[131]

Five Palestinians were fatally shot on by Israeli live fire on 20 April.

  • Mohammad Ayoub, 14, of Al Falouja neighborhood in Jabalia refugee camp, was fatally shot in the head.[132] His brother and cousin, who were eyewitnesses to his shooting, stated that Ayoub was sitting on the ground, then ran to escape the effects of tear gas, at which time he was shot.[43] He died at Al Shifa hospital.[133]
  • Ahmed Abu Aqel, 25, of Jabalia. Abu Aqel was shot a previous demonstration over US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017. He walks on crutches due to the injury and was on a sand dune 150 meters from the fence at the time of his shooting, according to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Israeli forces fatally shot him to the back of the head.[133]
  • Ahmed Al Athamna, 24, of Beit Hanoun, was fatally shot by bullet to the upper back, according to the Al Mezan Center.[133]
  • Sa’ad Abu Taha, 30, was fatally shot in the neck in eastern Khan Younis. He was approximately 100 meters from the border, according to the Al Mezan Center.[133]
  • Abdullah Shamali, 20, was injured by a bullet to his abdomen east of Rafah, and died on the night of 22–23 April.[134]

The Gaza Health Ministry reported that 445 people were injured in protests, including 96 who were shot with live ammunition.[135] 174 people were hospitalized while the remainder were treated at clinic tents at the protest sites.[135]

27 April

According to Israeli military estimates, over 10,000 people gathered to join the day's protest, themed the "Day of Rebellious Youth."[136][19]

For the first time in the five-week campaign, protesters reached the electrified border fence, having passed a smaller barbed wire barrier; Israeli soldiers fired shots and threw a hand grenade at a group of twelve men climbing the fence, hitting several in the head.[137] A large crowd (the IDF reported "several hundred"; The New York Times, "thousands") of people rushed toward the Karni border crossing, after a speech by Hamas leader Ismail Radwan. The IDF launched tear gas and opened fire with live ammunition at the crowd, injuring several people.[19][137] Israeli military sources state that at least two armed Palestinians, among the large crowd, approached the border and fired at least seven rounds at Israeli soldiers. According the New York Times, retaliatory Israeli fire, which included a hand grenade, wounded two unarmed protesters.[137]

The Gaza Ministry of Health initially reported that three Palestinians were killed, all of them by bullets to the head.[138] Two more Palestinians later died of wounds suffered on 27 April. Overall, Palestinian reports stated that 884 protesters had been wounded, some 174 by live Israeli fire.[139] Four medical staff and six journalists were among those wounded.[136]

  • Azzam Oweida (15), shot in the head, died on 28 April[140]
  • Anas Abu Asr, fatally wounded near Gaza City, died on 3 May.[141]

On the night of 27 April, the Israeli Air Force attacked six targets in the Port of Gaza belonging to Hamas naval commando forces, injuring four people. The Israeli army said it was responding to "terror acts and the major attempt to infiltrate the border into Israeli territory earlier in the day."[142]

29 April

Three separate incidents along the fence occurred during the evening of 29 April between the IDF and Palestinians.[143] In the first incident, the IDF said that two men "attempted to infiltrate" Israel from the southern strip, one was killed and the other captured after being wounded. In the second incident, the IDF said that two men who had crossed the fence "hurled explosive devices" at IDF soldiers before they shot and killed them.[144] In a third incident, two Palestinians with breaching tools and knives were arrested while attempting to breach the fence.[143]

2 May

A firebomb kite launched from Gaza caused a large fire in the Be'eri Forest, burning hundreds of dunams of woodland. Ten firefighter teams toiled to extinguish and contain the forest fire.[27]

Photos of Palestinians preparing incendiary balloons were posted on Twitter.[citation needed]

4 May

Protesters organized for 4 May as the "Friday of the Palestinian Worker," in honor of International Workers' Day earlier in the week.[145] Israeli officials estimated that 10,000 people participated in the protests.[20] Shortly after noon, confrontations began between protesters, who threw stones, burned tires, and launched flammable kites, and Israeli soldiers, who fired tear gas and live ammunition.[145]

By evening, medical officials estimated that 1,100 protesters were injured, including 82 shot with live ammunition, and 800 suffering from the effects of tear gas.[145][20] Two off-the-shelf drones used by IDF were shot down by Palestinian slingshots.[20] Protesters entered and damaged property used by Israeli forces at Kerem Shalom border crossing; Israeli officials said the property was on the Palestinian side of the border. The damage included burning a pipeline that Israel uses to supply fuel to Gaza.[20][146]

Palestinians had prepared hundreds of firebomb kites, intending to fly them as swarms into Israel exploiting the heavy heat wave to ignite fires, however since the wind was blowing in the wrong direction to the west. The wind also blew tear gas and smoke from burning tires westwards into the Palestinian crowd chasing many away.[147]

5 May

Six Hamas operatives were killed in an explosion in Deir al-Balah. A statement by Hamas' military wing blamed Israel – stating that it was a "heinous crime that has been committed against [its] fighters." The IDF spokesperson stated that "the IDF is not involved in this incident in any way." A Palestinian, a source for Haaretz, said that it was "an explosion resulting from the handling of explosives inside a building"[148]

The IDF struck a Hamas outpost in northern Gaza which was used to launch burning objects at Israeli territory. Maj Avichai Adraee tweeted "Attack kites are not a kids' game and we don't see it that way. Hamas is using you [Gazans] and is pushing you toward the circle of terrorism," while Shai Hajaj, head of Merhavim Regional Council in southern Israel, said "When the courts in Jerusalem are discussing petitions from left-wing organizations to tie the hands of the soldiers standing in front of the Gaza rioters who want to break through the fence, the arson continues in the field of farmers... We demand that the IDF stop this [Palestinian] violence immediately."[149]

6 May

Three Palestinians were killed, at the southern end of the Gaza border fence. According to the IDF, they were carrying petrol bombs, an ax, wire cutters, an oxygen mask and gloves.[150]

7 May

Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza strip set fire to a wheat field near Mefalsim and to the Be'eri Forest. Similar to the firebomb kites, the incendiary balloon lofted an already-lit Molotov cocktail. The normally prevailing westerly winds propel the balloons to Israel, and the burning Molotov cocktail causes the balloons to explode in midair, with burning material falling to the ground below.[151]

It was reported by Haaretz that Hamas found itself in an "unprecedented" crisis and "dire" situation, and attempting to enter negotiations with Israel about establishing a long-term truce in order to ease the siege of the enclave, and lower tensions, without, as far as it is known, obtaining any clear response from Israel. The Israeli reluctance might, according to defense correspondent Amos Harel, lead to an explosion of rage on the forthcoming occasion of Nakba Day.[152]

11 May

15,000 demonstrators took part in Friday protests. Some of them burned tires, in the hope the smoke would provide cover for saboteurs to destroy and cross the security fence, and threw grenades, pipe bombs and stones at Israeli troops. A 40-year-old Palestinian was killed and 973 were injured, seven of them critically. The IDF used new, small remote-controlled aircraft with knives on their wings to counter incendiary kites launched from Gaza, downing more than 40 kites.[153]

Palestinians broke into the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the main conduit of goods in and of the strip, setting a gas pipeline alight, damaging a fuel pipe, and torching a conveyor belt.[154] The Israeli air force destroyed an underground attack tunnel that reached just a few meters away from the border.[154]

12 May

Israel announced that the Kerem Shalom border crossing "will remain closed until the damage caused by the riots are repaired and will reopen in accordance with a situation assessment," opening only for humanitarian cases until such a decision is made.[154]

13 May

On 13 May, Israeli soldiers fired at protesters approaching within 75 feet (23 m) of the fence. Alaa Asawafiri, a 26-year-old woman who was part of a group of women shouting towards the fence, was shot in the stomach and hospitalised in critical condition.[155]

14 May

Protests and violence on 14 May coincided with the ceremony marking the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which international media regarded as the reason for increased tensions.[156] Both events were timed to mark 70 years since the foundation of Israel.[157]

During the protests, the IDF used live fire, leading to 52 Gazan fatalities and injuring more than 1200 (according to Gaza health officials), making it "the bloodiest day in Gaza since the end of the 2014 war."[158] By the end of the day, at least 60 Palestinian protesters were reported to have been killed.[159] Palestinian sources said that about 2700 were injured.[157][160] A senior member of Hamas stated that 50 of the dead that day were members of the organization,[161][162] Some of those who were killed or injured included health care workers providing medical care to the protesters.[163][164] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that during the day, a Hamas squad attempted to breach the border fence with Israel. All eight attackers were killed by Israeli troops in the exchange of gunfire.[165]

The IDF said three of those killed had attempted to plant explosives at the security fence, and that in two incidents Israeli troops opened fire after they were shot at.[166] The IDF Air Force attacked five Hamas targets in a Jabalia training camp in response to the attempt at planting explosives and shooting at IDF troops.[167] Israel said that "Most of the people killed belonged to the Hamas terror group, and some to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad” and that "at least 24" of the people killed were later identified as known members of terrorist organizations .[168] One Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by what was believed to be a Palestinian stone.[167] Likud's Avi Dichter reassured the Knesset that he was not concerned about any possible breach of the border fence since "the IDF has enough bullets for everyone."[169]

Hamas political bureau member Salah al-Bardawi said that 50 of the 62 killed in the protests of 14–15 May were Hamas members adding that these were "official numbers", though he did not specify whether they were members of Hamas' armed or political wing.[170][171][172] Speaking to CNN, a Hamas spokesman, Abdel Latif Quanau, said he could not confirm or deny these numbers, and that "The protests are peaceful and include all political and military factions."[173] Amira Hass viewed al-Bardawi's statement with skepticism saying that one her friends in Gaza told her that "This (figure of 50) is another typical exaggeration of ours".[174] Islamic Jihad said three members of its Saraya al-Quds military wing were among those killed. An Islamic Jihad official said those killed were unarmed and participating in a legitimate protest.[175]

Protest in San Sebastián, Spain, 15 May 2018 showing an Israel flag crossed out.
Solidarity with Gaza Palestinians in Pamplona, 15 May 2018

A spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Rupert Colville, called the killings an "outrageous human rights violation" by Israel.[176] Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said "Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account."[176] Numerous countries expressed concern with the killings, including Russia, France, Germany, and the UK.[157] Germany, the UK, Ireland, and Belgium called for an independent inquiry.[177] The United States said the deaths were tragic and placed responsibility on Hamas, stating that Israel has the right to defend its borders.[178] South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Israel, citing "the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack".[179] Turkey′s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, addressing Turkish students in London in a speech broadcast by Turkey's state television, said that Turkey would recall its ambassadors from Israel and the U.S, and said that Israel's action against Palestinian protesters was "genocide".[180][181][182]

This statement started a diplomatic row between Turkish and Israeli leaders, causing the Knesset to propose that Israel officially recognize the killing of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in the early 20th century as an act of genocide, which modern-day Turkey has never acknowledged.[183]

15 May

Protest organizers declared 15 May a day of mourning for those killed on the prior day.[184] Fewer people attended protests at the border. One protester was killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.[184]

16 May

Several houses in the Israeli city of Sderot were hit by machine gun fire from Gaza, causing damage but no injuries.[185] Israel said Hamas curbed Gaza protests after Egyptian pressure.[186]

Casualties and damage

As of 21 May 2018, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, the casualty breakdown was as follows:

  • Killed = 112
  • Injured = 13,190

The injured

  • Live ammunition or rubber bullets struck 7,618
  • Tear-gas causing symptoms of suffocation affected 5,572
  • Critically injured = 332
  • Moderately injured =3,422
  • Lightly injured= 9,436
  • Women injured = 1,029

Amputations =32.

Medical personal

  • Killed. I paramedic from the Palestinian Civil Defense
  • Injured. 223 medics, by either live fire or tear-gas suffocation

Material damage.

  • 37 ambulances partly damaged.

Journalists

  • 2 journalists were killed.
  • 175 journalists were injured.[6]"[187]

On 17 April 2018, The World Health Organization (WHO) voiced concern that nearly 350 people may be temporarily or permanently disabled.[188]

The head of WHO's office in Gaza, Gerald Rockenschaub, described the casualties as overwhelming an already weak health care system: "the deteriorating humanitarian situation is extremely worrying. Hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed with the influx of injured patients. With further escalations expected during the coming weeks, the increasing numbers of injured patients requiring urgent medical care is likely to devastate Gaza's already weakened health system, placing even more lives at risk."[189]

Hundreds of dunams of Israeli crop fields were burned by firebomb kites launched from Gaza, with an estimated economic loss of several million shekels.[190]

Medical situation

Doctors Without Borders released a statement on 14 May 2018 calling the Israeli response "inhuman and unacceptable" saying that the hospitals in Gaza were overwhelmed and in a chaotic situation comparable to the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. It stated that "most of the wounded will be condemned to suffer lifelong injuries".[191]

There have been several accusations of Israel attacking medical personnel. On 18 April, the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq accused Israel of shooting at civilians who were providing medical assistance to the wounded.[192]

The Palestinian Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip stated on 25 April that Israel had shot two paramedics working with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. It also stated that the situation has been compounded by Israel's refusal to allow personal safety equipment into Gaza including respirators.[193]

A Canadian doctor, Tarek Loubani, was one of 19 medical personnel shot on 14 May. He stated that he was clearly marked, and believed that he was targeted by the Israeli military. One of the paramedics who treated Loubani was killed later on the same day. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "appalled" at the shooting of Loubani and called for "an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground - including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force".[194][195]

Descriptions of casualties

Human Rights Watch (HRW) observers stated, with regard to 30 March, "while some protesters near the border fence burned tires and threw rocks, Human Rights Watch could find no evidence of any protester using firearms or any IDF claim of threatened firearm use at the demonstrations." The organization says there is evidence of Palestinians who did not pose any threat to Israeli guards being shot by the Israeli military.[51] B'Tselem described Israeli actions as unlawful and said that "shooting unarmed demonstrators is illegal and the command that allows it is manifestly illegal."[52]

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, with ties to the Israel Defense Forces and the American Jewish Congress, published an "initial analysis", in which it stated that 26 of the first 32 people killed belonged to Palestinian militant organisations.[196] The ITIC report identified thirteen of these as belonging to the military wings of these organizations, and six as members of the Gaza security forces. ITIC describes these identifications as "based on sources of varying reliability."[197]

On 29 April, with the death toll at 44 an Israeli officer stated that most of the deaths were unintentional, that the snipers aimed for the legs but sometimes missed, or the bullets ricocheted or the protesters suddenly bent over.[198] Hamas said of the 60 casualties on the 14 May protests, that 50 out of the 60 shot were Hamas members.[199]

Legal cases

Both Yousef Karnaz and Mohammad Al-Ajouri each had one of their legs amputated after Israeli authorities denied their requests to receive medical treatment at a better-equipped hospital in the West Bank. Israeli authorities issued a statement: "The main consideration for the refusal stems from the fact that their medical condition is a function of their participation in the disturbances."[200]

Adalah and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to grant an emergency hearing to consider the request on 12 April, but the Court decided to give the Israeli government three days to respond – due to this delay, doctors were forced to amputate their legs.[200][201]

On 15 April, Yesh Din, Gisha, HaMoked, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel jointly petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to revoke the rules of engagement used by the IDF in response to the protests. They argue that "there is no prohibition on demonstrating in Gaza and that if incidents of violence or attempts to cross the fence occur during demonstrations, they alone constitute civil disturbances of the peace. In such disturbances, the law permits live fire only in cases of immediate mortal danger."[202]

On 16 April, the Supreme Court ruled that Karnaz must be allowed to exit Gaza to receive medical treatment in the West Bank to save his remaining leg.[203]

In response, the Israeli government refused to disclose its rules of engagement publicly, but said to "comply with Israeli law and with international law."[204] The government indicated that it views the protests as "part of the armed conflict between the Hamas terror organization and Israel, with all that this implies." The Israeli Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides on 30 April.[204]

Investigations

On 5 April, the IDF announced that its Southern Command would conduct an internal investigation into the deaths of civilians during the prior week.[205] Brigadier General Moti Baruch was appointed to lead a second government investigation.[206] Press reports indicate that Baruch's investigation will focus on incidents which appear to have a cause for inquiry.[206]

Tactics

Palestinian tactics

Observers from the International Rescue Committee and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the majority of protesters acted nonviolently on 30 March[84] and 6 April.[40] Protest camps are set up 700 meters from the border. Protest actions near the camps have been large, diverse in participation, and peaceful.[207] protesters at the camps are engaged in a sit-in protest organized around their tents. Each tent is labeled with the town or village from which its occupants were expelled.[126] On both of the larger protest days, hundreds of primarily young men have approached or entered the 300-meter exclusion zone declared by Israeli military forces, thrown stones, hurled Molotov cocktails, and attempted to plant Palestinian flags.[40][84] A New York Times account describes the purpose of approaching the fence as "a powerful statement of defiance, bravery and national pride" among Palestinians.[208]

Palestinian protesters have used burning tires to obstruct the sightlines of Israeli snipers and T-shirts and masks to protect themselves from tear gas.[103] Palestinians erected earthen embankments near the 300 m mark to protect those further away from Israeli fire.[54] Tent encampments allow protesters to sleep, eat, and live on site. These spaces have hosted religious gatherings, weddings, and often have a festive atmosphere.[209][208] Protest organizer, Ahmad al-Najjar, has described the motivation as follows: "we are trying to practice a normal life here, I believe it is our right to do so."[209]

The Israeli military accused Hamas of using the protests as a guise to launch attacks against Israel, and warned about further reprisals.[47] Israel stated that Hamas is forcing bus companies to transport people to the border for 6 April protests.[99] Hamas has been offering payments to families of Palestinians who are wounded or killed during these events.[210]

A Hamas spokesperson promised US$3,000 to the relatives of those killed, while Palestinians who were injured by Israeli troops would get $200 to $500 in compensation, depending on the injury.[211]

Israeli politicians have accused Hamas of using protesters as human shields.[99] The United States' Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt stated, with regards to the planned 6 April protest, that "[they] condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed".[212]

Israeli tactics

The Israeli military has deployed soldiers, including snipers and tanks, to the border. Soldiers have opened fire on Palestinians approaching the fence with tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition.[103] Soldiers are firing from artificial sand berms that overlook the protests.[208]

Israeli tear gas canisters have penetrated more than 300 metres (980 ft) into the Gaza Strip.[54][99] An investigation by B'Tselem found that Israeli soldiers launched tear gas to the family tents, located 400 to 600 metres (1,300 to 2,000 ft) from the fence, causing hundreds of people to suffer injuries.[213] Protest participants interviewed by B'Tselem reported cases of suffering from tear gas inhalation and injury from tear gas canister impacts.[213]

While the IDF has not publicly disclosed its rules of engagement, press reports indicate that soldiers are permitted to shoot armed protesters within 300 metres (980 ft) of the fence and unarmed protesters within 100 metres (330 ft).[208] The IDF has stated that its soldiers are advised to first fire warning shots, then wounding shots, before taking fatal shots.[208]

On 6 April, the IDF used industrial-sized fans to disperse the smoke and then water cannons in unsuccessful attempts to douse fires from burning tires.[55]

Worldwide protests

Neturei Karta attending in support of a pro-Palestinian protest in London on 7 April

Protests, expressing solidarity with the protesters and condemning the use of lethal force by Israeli forces, have appeared across Israel, the US, UK, and Australia. Thousands of protestors gathered in Tel Aviv, Washington D.C., Boston, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol, and Melbourne.[214][215][216][217] Along with 250 others at a Tel Aviv protest, Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer and political activist, was quoted as saying: "As an Israeli, my duty is to protest against the evils that are done in my name."[214] On 2 April, "hundreds"[clarification needed] of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Yad Mordechai to protest the IDF's use of "deadly force" against the Palestinians on Gaza border. In Yad Mordecha, near the Israel-Gaza border, protesters had banners reading "Free Gaza," "Stop the Massacre", and "Gaza is Dying".[218]

In Boston, Massachusetts, eight protestors, who chained themselves to the exterior door of the Israeli Consulate, were arrested by police for being a disorderly person, disturbing the peace, and trespassing.[215] Naturei Karta anti-Zionism protestors joined some thousands in London, UK, to show solidarity with Palestinians.[216]

Reactions

The escalation of violence in Gaza concerned the entire Arab world. Jordan and Egypt condemned Israel's use of force, considering recent developments as harmful to brokering peace.[219] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged heated remarks over the border clashes; Erdogan labeled the Israeli response an "inhumane attack" amid growing international criticism of the Israeli military.[220]

Supranational organisations

  •  Arab League: The Arab League condemned the continuous discrimination and violence against peacefull Palestinian protestors, upon Saudi Arabia's request, the Organization held a summit on the 17th of May in its Headquarters in Cairo on a Ministerial level to discuss a proper response to the continuing human rights violations done by Israel. [221]
  •  EU: On 4 April, the European Union expressed deep alarm over "the use of live ammunition by Israeli Security Forces as a means of crowd control," and called on Israel to investigate every death and prosecute the perpetrators where appropriate.[222]
  • International Criminal Court: On 8 April, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, issued a public warning to Israelis and Palestinians that, "violence against civilians – in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza – could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "the Court"), as could the use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities."[223][224]
  •  UN: UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, observed that the situation "underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations."[15] Speaking to the UN Security Council in a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace, said that Gaza was about to "explode" and called for "actions to prevent another war."[225] Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned use of "excessive force" by Israeil and said that security forces had to be "held to account."[44]
    • Elizabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the use of deadly force was largely unjustified, since such force may only be used as a last resort when there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury. "An attempt to approach or cross the green-line fence by itself certainly does not amount to a threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of live ammunition," the office said.[55][226] The United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian territories echoed the argument and stated: "The killing of demonstrators in violation of these rules, and within the context of occupation, may amount to willful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as a war crime."[227]

NGOs

  • Amnesty International: On 27 April, the organization called for worldwide arms embargo on Israel for its "disproportionate response" to the protests.[44]
  • Shurat HaDin filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court against Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal, Saleh al-Arouri, and Zahar Jabarin for the use of children as human shields in the conflict along the border based on a clause in the Rome Statute that prohibits recruitment of children under the age of 15 to a militant organization. According to Shurat Hadin Director Nitzana Darshan-Leitner "The death of a 15-year-old boy near the Gaza border last week was a direct result of the war crimes committed by Hamas leaders against their own people".[228]

Individuals

Retired British Colonel Richard Kemp said that it was not a peaceful demonstration, but "a deliberate and specific intent by terrorist organizations to penetrate the State of Israel and kill civilians and the IDF has no option except to use lethal force to stop such a dangerous threat."[229]

Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell wrote that, "the weekly killing on the Gaza Strip border is a campaign of barbarism, exposing the mentality of the society in whose name the army acts: We can do anything we like."[230]

Five former IDF snipers, assisted by Breaking the Silence, published a letter expressing "shame and sorrow" for the killings and stating, "instructing snipers to shoot to kill unarmed demonstrators who pose no danger to human life is another product of the occupation and military rule over millions of Palestinian people, as well as of our country's callous leadership, and derailed moral path."[45]

Peter Beinart, reflecting on the succession of incidents marking the Land Day protests of 2018, wrote that Palestinians were rushing towards Israeli snipers because their land was fast becoming "uninhabitable", with the UN predicting it would be unliveable by 2020.[231]

On 15 May, a group of nine prominent Israelis wrote a letter to The Guardian in which they compared the killings on the previous day to the Sharpeville massacre, and called for international intervention.[232]

See also

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