Has the Region Become Inured to Violence in Gaza?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

April 8, 2018

The killing of dozens of protesting Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces has heightened tension locally, but has been met with a shrug by the region. Israel’s choice to meet the protesters with violence has been condemned, and the usual articles have been written about economic development and self-determination, but for the most part the reaction by regional governments has been muted. Few in the region have any expectations of meaningful breakthrough in the decades-long conflict. Meanwhile, signs of complacency and disregard for the value of the lives lost is evident especially among some commentators who lament the optics of the killings, rather than the deadly violence itself.


Following the killing of 16 Palestinian protestors, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, characterized the Israeli actions as illegal, especially in light of the warning directed at the Israeli government just the day prior to the protests: “‘Live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants’…. According to the group, on Thursday, the day before 16 Palestinians were shot dead along the border with Gaza, Adalah and the Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Israeli Military Advocate General ‘demanding they act to prevent the use of sniper fire against protesters or for crowd dispersion, and to clearly and directly order Israeli forces to refrain from use of live ammunition of any variety – including sniper fire’.”

Israel’s targeting of unarmed civilians in Gaza has also drawn criticism from B’Tselem, which, according to Ma’an News in the aftermath of the shooting, “launched a campaign entitled ‘Sorry Commander, I cannot shoot’… urging Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza. The organization is taking the unusual step of calling directly on Israeli soldiers to refuse orders in the wake of last Friday’s deadly protests in Gaza, when Israeli forces heavily used live fire on civilian demonstrators, killing 16 Palestinians in a single day and injuring hundreds of others.”

In an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Hagai El-Ad decries the violence used against the Palestinians, pointing out that Israel must come to terms with the moral consequences of the occupation: “Israel’s leadership is gradually admitting a basic fact of life—and death: That Israel’s ongoing control over millions of Palestinians is impossible without committing war crimes. This is the meaning of controlling another people: not ‘merely’ a matter of usurping its land, imposing a regime of masters and subordinates, denying political rights, or deploying an endless maze of oppressive bureaucracy. It is also a matter of repeated killings…. Israel is not “attempting to realize the one-state agenda.” One-state is not an agenda—it is reality. It is not being realized solely by ‘members of the military and the Shin Bet’, but also by Israeli judges, civil servants, voters, and politicians.”

Fearing that more violence is likely to follow in the coming days and weeks, Gulf News’s Hussein Ibish warns that the Palestinians may be left with few alternatives short of armed uprising: “With Hamas’s militancy and Abbas’s diplomacy both thoroughly discredited, Palestinian civilians are desperate for a new political dynamic…. Both Palestinian Islamists and nationalists are out of options, out of ideas, and out of luck. The Palestinian public is out of patience and nearly out of hope. That’s a combustible formula. A series of demonstrations in the coming weeks has already been scheduled in Gaza. But the mid-May commemorations, set against this backdrop of frustration and despair, look incredibly dangerous. When an entire people, at almost every level of society and across the political and religious spectrum, seem to have concluded they have nothing to hope for and nothing to lose — that all their dreams will remain deferred for the foreseeable future — an explosion may be inevitable.”

The situation is made worse by doubts regarding the political future of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose popularity, according to Arab News, has plummeted even further in light of perceived lack of success in delivering better conditions for the Palestinians: “Abbas, who turned 83 recently, has little to show for his efforts, with peace talks moribund and U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration taking a hard line on issues such as Jerusalem, which Washington has recognized as the Israeli capital…. A recent opinion poll found that 68 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, while just 33 percent said they were satisfied with his performance…. Concern over Abbas’s future has led to the Israeli authorities preparing for the possibility of a prolonged succession struggle that could threaten the relative calm in the West Bank.”

The Khaleej Times editorial, meanwhile, highlights the difficult conditions under which Palestinians in Gaza live on a daily basis, while urging the international community to come to its aid by providing a long-term solution to the crisis: “Daily indignities are inherent to the life of Palestinians, and survival is often dependent on the mercy of international donors…. A majority of Gaza’s two million residents are either refugees of the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation, or descendants of those refugees. Palestinians need support of the world leaders, not provocation. Only peace and dialogue can end this conflict; use of brute force and violence will only make the situation worse. The United States and other world powers should help in securing the two-state solution, and not pander to the brute Israeli regime’s plans.”

According to Press TV, the Iranian government, reacting to news of the Gaza killings, warned that Israel felt “emboldened” due to the warming of relations with Saudi Arabia and the unequivocal support of the United States: “Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has censured the United States and its regional allies in the Middle East for adopting ‘short-sighted’ policies that encourage Israel to continue its criminal activities against the people of Palestine…. The remarks came days after a controversial interview by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, where he appeared to publicly recognize the Israeli regime’s existence…. While both Riyadh and Tel Aviv had admitted to having established secret ties over the past years, the young prince’s announcement was a slap in the face for Palestinians in the wake of a brutal Israeli crackdown on peaceful anti-occupation protests in the Gaza Strip.”

Then there are those who, like Times of Israel’s Fred Maroun, cynically draw attention to the instrumentalization of those lost lives for political purposes: “The Hamas media show at the Gaza borders with Israel is a direct result of these huge discrepancies in the way Palestinian civilian lives are valued. The strategy is simple and effective: Place Palestinian civilians in mortal danger in a situation where Israel is forced to defend itself, make sure that the international media has front seats, then sit back and enjoy the rewards. Unlike the strategy of directly attacking Israel, also used extensively by Hamas, this strategy requires no supplies of heavy weapons…. As long as the international community continues to value Palestinian lives only when it can find a way, no matter how far-fetched, to blame Israel, Hamas and other terrorists will continue to use Hamas’ Gaza border strategy, and to refine it and expand it, resulting in increasing numbers of Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries.”

A similar disregard for the loss of life is evident in Nachman Shai’s op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. Shai is concerned about the optics of the violence and killings, lamenting the fact that Israel has not learned the important lessons from the past: “The IDF realized that the Palestinians seek to win a victory in the battle for consciousness: breaching the fence, violating sovereignty, embarrassing the stronger side, and if possible incurring casualties, and harming the resilience and national unity of Israel, which is quick to engage in moral stocktaking and discuss its quandary, as in any liberal-democratic society…. Unfortunately, Israel last week repeated some of its mistakes from the past. It was prepared operationally, but the relatively high number of casualties immediately drew international attention, just as it did in early 2000. Moreover, the battle for consciousness should incorporate tools of statecraft, economics and information. Israel failed to employ these tools. The use of force, force and more force – is insufficient…. In this conflict, the battle with the media and over the media is essential.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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