- Palestinians using a combination of violent and non-violent tactics have been the subject of extensive news coverage
- In Israel, they are depicted to be willful or unknowing Hamas militants helping terrorists infiltrate into Israel
- They are deemed terrorists and the protests labeled as terror
- Their deaths, when acknowledged, are seen as obstacles for the IDF rather than humanitarian failures
By Ty Joplin
As the protests in Gaza continue, narratives are being spun to paint the protests as either violent riots or largely peaceful protests. These narratives, ostensibly meant to illuminate the true nature of the protests, function more to sure up audiences’ suspicions about what the Palestinians in Gaza are doing and what they want.
One of the most fascinating and telling examples of such narrative-spinning stems from right-wing Israeli media, politicians and official IDF statements.
Taken together, they corroborate a kind of conspiracy that Hamas, a militant group who currently governs Gaza, has manipulated and paid tens of thousands of Palestinians to essentially stand near the border fence to form a massive human shield in order to obfuscate Hamas attempts to infiltrate Israel and terrorize it from the inside, smuggling in bombs, weapons and people.
Let’s take a look at how this narrative developed and spread to become the dominant portrait of the Gaza protests for many.
Palestinians as Militants: The Israeli Take
On March 30, about 30,000 Palestinians marched toward the border with Israel, in an organized demonstration set to continue until May 15, which is the day recognized to memorialize the Nakba—or the expulsion of nearly one million Palestinians from their lands in order to establish Israel.
In the violence, the IDF deployed a combination of lethal and non-lethal force, injuring as many as 1,600 with live ammunition and rubber-tipped bullets and killing 19 Palestinians. Videos surfaced of the protests and the Israeli army’s response, which showed precise targeting of some Palestinians.
One notorious example is the video of a Palestinian running from the border before being shot in the head and collapsing.
Another is of a Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach despite wearing a flak jacket with ‘PRESS’ written on it.
The slain Palestinia journalist with his PRESS vest draped on his body for his funeral procession (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)
The IDF immediately began a counter-campaign to justify their decision to use lethal force.
Map Showing the IDF’s take on the protests in Gaza (IDF, Twitter)
This picture, released by the IDF, distills its point of view on the protests. With the map itself, Israeli communities and their proximity to the border is highlighted, showing just how urgent it is to keep Gazans on the other side. At the top, Gazans are portrayed as one massive human shield deployed by Hamas.
“Under the cover 15,000 Gazans swarming the border,” Gazans demanding the right to return to lands which were slowly taken from them over time in conflicts with Israel is merely a ‘cover’ for Hamas. They are also not protesting but rather ‘swarming,’ which makes them out to be a monolithic, inhuman mass of rage. This puts Palestinians in the same company as bees, wasps and locusts.
Israel’s own defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said in a radio interview that “it has to be understood that there are no innocent people in Gaza.”
“Everyone is affiliated with Hamas, they are all paid by Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are operatives of its military wing,” he added.
Major General Eyal Zamir, who is in charge of the IDF’s operations near the border, corroborated this view in a motivational talk with his soldiers, saying, “Hamas is carrying out a [widespread] manipulation. These manipulations will not be ignored,” while praising his soldiers’ conduct near the border fence.
An IDF tweet furthers: “The IDF views with great severity any attempt to damage the security fence or security infrastructure & will not allow the region to become a combat zone. Hamas is responsible for all events originating from the Gaza Strip & its consequences”
The IDF views with great severity any attempt to damage the security fence or security infrastructure & will not allow the region to become a combat zone. Hamas is responsible for all events originating from the Gaza Strip & its consequences— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) April 8, 2018
A statement released by the IDF after it killed 19 Palestinians highlights their take:
“During yesterday’s violent riots and terrorist attacks, IDF troops faced gunshots, infiltration attempts, damage to security infrastructure, firebombs, rocks, and rolling burning tires. The IDF operated in strict accordance with the rules of engagement, firing only when necessary and avoiding civilians strategically placed by Hamas in harm’s way. IDF operational activity prevented the Hamas terrorist organization’s objective to harm security infrastructure and attempts to violate Israeli sovereignty.”
The narrative constructed is this: Hamas is the villain of an ongoing military operation to infilrate into Israel using the guise of a protest, for which it has paid and manipulated Gazans to be complicit in. At the same time, because Gazans are so complicit in the matter, they are all acting to realize Hamas’ plan and thus should be treated as militants.
Every man, woman and child resident is either an active or de facto member of Hamas, according to this take, which is the official take of the IDF and politicians.
According to this logic, the use of lethal force to protect the borders are justified because each individual Gazan getting to close is assumed to be a terrorist who will kill Israelis.
This is why they must be blocked into Gaza, one of the densest places on Earth, with almost no drinking water, no functioning economy due to a blockade, rising unemployment, and only intermittent access to electricity.
“This is not a protest, this is terror,” an IDF spokesperson said in a video. The punishment for some harassing the fence is the death penalty, carried out with the precision of a professional army, one of the most seasoned in the world.
Right-wing papers which do acknowledge the excessive force exacted onto Palestinians by the IDF frame them as obstacles to the IDF rather than humanitarian failures:
“Still, with nine dead, including a minor and a Palestinian journalist, and over 1,000 wounded, that IDF will have to review its operations, mostly so it can continue arguing that it is exercising selective force toward those who pose an imminent threat,” said one op-ed column for Israel Hayom.
The reviewal of how the IDf conducts itself becomes imperative not to ensure compliance to international human rights laws or even laws governing conflict, but for the argumentative purposes of the IDF to present its case more forcefully to the world.
For this narrative on the protests, the most important thing is that the fence is not penetrated by any Palestinian.
“The IDF will not allow any breach of security infrastructure or the security fence, which protects Israeli civilians. The IDF will act against those who are involved in these attacks,” another IDF statement said.
“Respect to our soldiers who are guarding the country’s borders and allowing Israeli citizens to celebrate the holiday in peace,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday, April 7, after wrongful deaths and excessive force were documented and U.N. member-states were calling for an independent investigation into the IDF’s deployment of violence to suppress the demonstrations.
“Israel acts vigorously and with determination to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” he added.
A curiously timed column in the Times of Israel appeared on April 3, which detailed the religious reasoning one and should use to justify schadenfreude, or the delight in watching others suffer.
There’s no shame in Schadenfreude (Times of Israel screenshot)
Independent and left-wing media outlets such as Haaretz and other articles The Times of Israel have published content critical of the the Israeli military’s response to the protests, meaning there is a a massive disagreement within Israel as to how to depict the protests.
Nonetheless, readers of Haaretz will likely not go to Israel Hayom to try and understand what is happening; the readership is as polarized as Israeli politics.
The protests, started on March 30, are called the March of Return, and have involved tens of thousands of Palestinians camping near the border. Almost 30 have been killed and nearly 2,000 have been injured.
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