Since its launch from the Gaza Strip on March 30, the continuing Palestinian ‘March of Return’ has been a source of confusion and embarrassment for the Zionist state, showing its floundering in the face of peaceful marches, while underscoring the impact of popular struggle against the military occupation.
Israel has so far implemented several measures in a bid to put an end to the marches, but to no avail, despite all the provocative statements made by some members of the Israeli extreme-right government and army commanders. All those measures proved ineffective in restraining the flow of thousands of Palestinians to join the rallies along the Gaza Strip border in particular and in several parts of the occupied West Bank.
Since the launch of the marches, the Israeli army took several salient measures/lines of action, week after week, trying to halt them:
n First: Israeli troops installed barbed wires, bulldozed and uprooted land, placing sand barriers along several locations of the Gaza border where the ‘five camps of return’ have been built. They became a scene of clashes with soldiers, particularly on Fridays, as the Israeli army tried to stop protesters from reaching the ‘security’ fence to cross it on the ‘day of march’ designated to coincide with and observe Nakba memorial on May 15. Recently, more military enforcements were also brought inside the boarders of Gaza Strip to keep Palestinians away from the fence.
n Second: With thousands of Palestinians joining the marches, and protesters hitting nearby Israeli fields with ever-growing ‘firebomb kites’, the Israeli army carried out more immediate executions and sniping acts ordered by the rightist government. But despite threatening to open fire on anyone trying to cross the border, the Israeli army’s reaction to the second march was less harsh apparently in response to growing international criticism. Troops used giant fans and water hoses to douse the fire and disperse smoke while observing new firing rules by the army in a bid to send the protesters away.
n Third: As part of a psychological war tactic, the Israeli army dropped leaflets near the fence, warning protesters of danger to their lives, and calling on them to stay away from the “leaders of the marches”, threatening to use all kinds of weapons to thwart any attempt to cross the border fence.
n Fourth: As the Palestinians approached the fence, erecting tents at a distance of 100-200 meters from the border and after the occupation authorities declared some areas in the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, the army resorted to targeting journalists in a bid to obliterate its crimes, despite their obvious badges and being in areas clear to the army when carrying out their professional work. Simultaneously, with the easing of the fire, the army tightened its grip on the Gaza Strip to deter its residents from taking part in the marches that are burdening and embarrassing the Zionist state. The blockade has even increased to the extent of prohibiting treatment of injured protesters outside the besieged Strip.
n Fifth: While the Palestinians maintained the momentum of the marches, the occupation forces resorted to reducing the number of Palestinian casualties, but turned to inflict injuries permanently by sniping at the legs of demonstrators with special fire as the ‘best solution’ to stop the marches. “What is unusual is that the wounds are very large, and the bones can be broken into several parts,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres mission in the Occupied Territories. On his part, Israeli journalist B. Michael wrote in Israeli daily Haaretz: “In recent weeks, dozens of armed snipers and those in bulletproof jackets fired at people who did not threaten the lives of any soldier. The entry point of the bullet is very small, but its exit point is very large, devastated blood vessels, crushed flesh and bones, as if there was a predatory beast. The hollow point bullet is internationally banned and a war crime since a 100 years ago, according to The Hague Charter, the International Criminal Court and the Red Cross.”
n Sixth: The Israeli army began to strike deep into the Gaza Strip. Troops bombed Hamas naval facilities with increased shelling of its positions deep inside Gaza as a message that the continuation of the marches would be the price of escalation. “Hamas must know that any attack on army commander on the Gaza border will immediately renew targeted killings of its leadership,” said Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Transport, Yisrael Katz. Again, Yediot Ahronot, an Israeli newspaper quoted a military official as saying “the growing involvement of the Palestinians prompted the army to adopt this policy as a message that any approach to the fence on the anniversary of the Nakba and the first Friday of Ramadan, the target will be deep in Gaza.”
All said, the extreme right-wing Israeli government continues to seek every means to stop the ‘March of Return’ out of fear of dragging it into a kind of war that is draining its energies, exhausting it and raising global condemnation against its army that faces an unarmed population.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.