It’s now been a month. An entire month of Palestinian organized, initiated and funded violence at the border with Gaza. What began with a promise of non-violence has cost some 35 Palestinian lives and hundreds of reported casualties.
But the leaders of Hamas keep promising us that the worst is still ahead. Indeed, we are now looking forward to May 15, the Nakba Day, as the climax of the latest wave of Israel-Palestinian lethal exchanges.
What is disturbing is that almost all of the lives lost could have been avoided. Israel announced that it intends to protect its sovereignty, defending the border fence because the consequence of a breach of that final line of defense puts thousands of Israeli civilians at risk. It’s a risk no Israeli leader rightfully is willing to accept.
Subsequently, Palestinians armed with swastikas, incendiary kites, tires, fire bombs, rocks, explosive devices and even automatic rifles have approached the border at each of the Friday protests. Their intentions cannot be ignored, even if they have been well hidden at protest tents.
And yet, the deadly intentions of these armed protestors have failed to make a dent in the news. Instead, the diplomatic and media game-plan were set when the Palestinians announced that they were going to gather non-violently at the border, all the while knowing that they would only get air-time and the convening of the UN Security Council if there was carnage. As one senior bureau chief once said to me “If it bleeds it leads, everything else is bullshit.”
In the last month, we have seen vast media coverage, live broadcasts, emergency Security Council meetings and Human Rights organizations condemning Israel for using lethal force to protect its civilians.
After the distressing images from this past Friday’s exchange that left four dead, including a fifteen-year-old, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, tweeted his outrage:
🔴 It is OUTRAGEOUS to shoot at children! How does the killing of a child in #Gaza today help #peace? It doesn’t! It fuels anger and breeds more killing. #Children must be protected from #violence, not exposed to it, not killed! This tragic incident must be investigated.— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) April 20, 2018
While this is exceptional language for such a senior diplomat, he is human, and obviously I believe genuinely moved by the images.
However, what is clearly missing is the broader understanding that the death of fifteen-year-old Mohammad Ayoub and the others were completely avoidable.
This is why I believe that the UN Special Coordinator failed when he tweeted. Indeed, he, along with all of the diplomatic senior officials, Human Rights activists and pundits cannot be observers that condemn. They must contribute to the protection of Gaza’s people.
Here are some practical things required for the coming weeks that might save lives.
The UN and the diplomatic community must conduct and exert extreme extensive diplomatic pressure on Hamas to control the protests. Hamas has proven in the past that they can stop violence if they wish by arresting rogue would-be terrorist rocketeers. I can only conclude that by letting the horses out of the stable, that they want these deaths.
The International Community, lead by the UN, must establish an on the ground operations room to work with the Gaza leaders to prevent the protests from becoming violent. That violence is the source of Israel’s forceful and legitimate response.
I suggested to Mladenov in a tweet that if all else fails, make a human chain of UN Gaza employees to demarcate the safe perimeter. This could serve as a protest line and also limit the violence. It could also be coordinated with the IDF.
Israel has been clear and has extensively distributed its red lines for the protests. Even when the red lines have been crossed, thousands of times, the IDF has limited its use of lethal force. Still, the IDF needs to be more selective in its action, and yes, we must expect mistakes. But the onus of these events cannot lay on the shoulders of the sniper that is charged with protecting the last line of defense.
The time now is for action, not condemnation, and certainly not outrageous tweeting. Action. While the leaders of Israel are being clear that the use of force will be permitted against those that wish to destroy Israel, Hamas needs to send a clear message that they don’t want people to die during their protests.
If they don’t, we can assume that they want the opposite. And that is what’s really outrageous.
Lieutenant Colonel (R) Peter Lerner is a Communications and Strategy Consultant, Israel Advocate, and a former IDF Spokesperson.