Last Saturday, the New York Times reported, in a front page article on the fifth weekly Gaza protest against Israel’s continuing violation of their right to return to their ancestral homes, now occupied by Israel, that Israeli soldiers had shot to death three men who had breached a barbed wire fence on Palestinian land near Israel’s Gaza fence. Their weapons had been “wire cutters, hooks and winches.”
In addition to the three deaths, IDF soldiers also reportedly injured nearly 1,000 protesters, of a total estimated by the IDF as between 12,000 to 14,000. The IDF asserted: “‘This is not a peaceful demonstration… They’re trying to infiltrate into Israel, damage our infrastructure and kill Israelis.'”
In 1987, President Reagan, standing on the West side of the Berlin Wall, famously appealed to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.” Mr. Gorbachev did tear it down, ending both the Cold War and the separation of East and West Berlin. Israel, having no knowledge that the Palestinian protesters killed on Friday had intentions any other than symbolic ones, brooks no ambiguities.
The implication of the New York Times coverage of the “Great Return March” in Gaza is that the weekly protest demonstrations by tens of thousands of desperate people must be entirely peaceful to be deserving of our support. This is a demand for a superhuman response to the conditions of daily life in Gaza. The people of Gaza were recently told by the UN that the Gaza Strip, their place of refuge from their expulsion from their ancestral homes, will itself become uninhabitable by 2020. By 2020, the people of Gaza will be facing what will amount to their indirect genocide: the clearly foreseeable environmental and human health consequences of Israel’s destruction of their water purification and electrical plants, schools, homes, hospitals, farmlands, and economy — their civil infrastructure — by catastrophic and sustained bombings, including massive use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium, unlawful weapons of war, and, most recently, explosive bullets. Israel enforces a blockade of fishing waters that belong to Gaza, in violation of international law, leaving no choice but the overfishing of the narrow band of shoreline water still allowed for fishing; still refuses to allow the importation of cement needed to rebuild homes, apartment buildings, and civil infrastructure that was destroyed in 2009 and further decimated in 2014, including hospitals; and often delays entry into Israel for emergency life-saving medical attention that is no longer available in Gaza, until after patients die.
Final ironies, as Israel destroys the habitability of the entire Gaza Strip and its soldiers shoot unarmed protesters like targets in a shooting gallery, are that the people who are entitled by law to use deadly force are the people of Gaz, against the soldiers of the occupying state, and that an occupying power’s soldiers — the IDF, in this case — are fair game for the occupied people to attack. And an occupier that rapes and pillages the occupied lands and resources and kills its unarmed people is acting in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
We cannot reasonably demand that an entire people facing the imminent destruction of their refuge, one that has been called an “open air prison,” because Israel has barricaded the Gaza Strip by land, sea, air, and even underground, must prove their worthiness for global support by responding only peaceably and politely to their looming demise.
With the population of Gaza facing environmental collapse within less than two years, as well as continuing inhumane and unlawful persecution, acts arising from the depths of despair may reasonably be expected. And we would be wise to ask ourselves, “What would we do, in such circumstances?”