The “Great March of Return” was originally planned to be a six-week non-violent protest campaign by Palestinians at the Gaza border fence with Israel to express their desire to return to the lands they claimed their ancestors had lost or been driven from. Originally conceived in 2011 by Gaza journalist and activist Ahmed Abu Ratima, the idea did not gain popular support until 2018. After a viral Facebook post by Ratima, wondering “what would happen if 200,000 peaceful protesters broke through the barbed wire...raised the Palestinian flag and pitched tents a few kilometers into our own occupied territory,” community activists began planning what they referred to as the “Great March of Return.”
The protest was planned for Fridays beginning on “Land Day” on March 30, and ending on May 15, when Palestinians commemorate what they refer to as the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel becoming an independent state. By early March 2018, word of the planned protest reached Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. These Palestinian terror organizations endorsed the march and sought to co-opt the protests to serve their own means.
The march was directed at Hamas's rivals as well as Israel. Hamas wanted to send a message to the Palestinian Authority, which we learned from the “Palestinian Papers” was prepared to compromise on the demand that five million Palestinian refugees be given the opportunity to return to “their homes.” Palestinian negotiators know that Israel will never agree to allow millions of Palestinians who claim to be refugees to flood Israel. Hamas, however, insists the refugee issue is non-negotiable. “The [Palestinian] right of return is a national interest and no one in a position of authority will forgo it,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
To further emphasize the uncompromising goal of Hamas, senior military leader Yahya Sinwar declared, “The March of Return will continue… until we remove this transient border.” The protests “mark the beginning of a new phase in the Palestinian national struggle on the road to liberation and ‘return’… Our people can’t give up one inch of the land of Palestine.”
On April 27, Al-Aqsa TV aired footage of the “Fence Cutters’ Unit” in Gaza chanting: “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Muhammad has begun to return.” One of the members declared: “Today is the day of the march toward our occupied and robbed Palestinian lands. Today, we cut the Zionist enemy’s main barbed-wire fence on the Gaza border….today we shall enter our occupied lands, and ignite a revolution against the Zionist enemy, in order to proclaim, loud and clear, that this enemy is destined for perdition….We are about to liberate our blessed Palestinian land.” He then warned Jews living near the border, “Leave immediately, before it is too late! The Palestinian revolution will not cease until victory or martyrdom!”
Reinforcing the view that Hamas is motivated by Jew-hatred, Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV broadcast a sermon delivered in East Jabalya, Gaza, on March 30, 2018, in which the preacher said that the “blessed land” was being “trampled by the accursed descendants of apes and pigs, the remnants of the brutal, savage, and barbaric colonialism.”
As journalist Yossi Klein Halevi noted:
During the days leading up to the initial march, Hamas and other Palestinian groups bused approximately 30,000 Gazans to the border fence to participate. Whole families, including children were brought to the area, and housed in five tent encampments set up by Hamas approximately 500-700 meters from the Israeli border.
No country would allow a mob of civilians backed by terrorists to storm its border. Prior to the protest, to prepare for potential incidents, the IDF doubled its presence along the border and officials made clear they would not permit anyone to breach the barrier. Israel was put in a no-win situation. If troops did nothing, terrorists could attack soldiers and place bombs along the fence, and the mob could cross into Israel and threaten the population. If Israel took measures to stop them, any injuries could be exploited by Hamas for propaganda purposes.
On March 30, most of the Palestinians remained near their encampments and engaged in non-violent protest. The Palestinians had publicized the march as a peaceful protest, but it was anything but, as marchers who approached the fence threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, burning tires and other projectiles at Israeli soldiers. Mixed among the marchers were terrorists with more lethal weapons. In addition, while marchers tried to distract Israeli forces, other Hamas terrorists sought to infiltrate Israel and place bombs along the fence. Israel responded with a combination of riot control measures aimed at minimizing civilian injuries and eliminating threats from Hamas fighters armed with knives, guns, bombs and other weapons. Still, 19 Palestinians were killed, and hundreds wounded during the rioting.
As a reward for participating in the protests, and incentive to join future riots, Hamas offered payments of $3,000 to the families of anyone who was killed in the protest, and $500 to anyone who was seriously injured. Hamas fighters also began practicing breaching the fence, rushing IDF posts and abducting Israeli soldiers and civilians
Hamas claims to follow Islamic law but has no qualms about ignoring the tradition of keeping young children from a battlefield. A dignitary from the Al-Sawarka tribe in Gaza declared:
One of the human shields was a seven-year-old girl who was returned to her family by IDF soldiers.
“I saw with my own eyes Hamas activists pushing people [including] women and children to the fence,” one soldier told the Jerusalem Post. Another said he saw one man pushed to the border in a wheelchair before he stood up and ran away. An IDF official said, “Hamas placed many women at the front in an effort to make it difficult for us to deal with terror targets.” Hamas was also encouraging children and teenagers to cross the fence to steal IDF equipment.
Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Islamic Affairs and Supreme Sharia Judge, accused Hamas of deliberately encouraging civilians to endanger themselves: “You Palestinians, our people, go and die so that we’ll go to the TV and media with strong declarations.” In another sermon, he said, “'The leadership in Gaza is having a good time…They gamble on the life of the young, when they have many agendas and wish to revive themselves with the blood of our people.”
As Hamas hoped, the media adopted its narrative. This was reflected in headlines which scrubbed Hamas from the conflict and created the impression the Israeli military was shooting peaceful protestors rather than rioters and terrorists. For example, a New York Times headline read, “Israeli military kills 15 Palestinians in Confrontations at Gaza Border.” Reuters went with “Israeli forces kill 16 Palestinians in Gaza border protests: Gaza medics.” The Los Angeles Times reported: “15 Palestinians reported killed by Israeli fire as Gaza border protest builds.” CNN ran with “Gaza protests: 17 Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israeli forces.” These reports also fail to mention that the IDF is protecting approximately 4,000 Israelis living in communities in close proximity to the Gaza fence. Similar headlines and stories emphasizing Palestinian casualties were run throughout the weeks of protests.
Hamas claimed that Israeli soldiers killed an eight-month-old baby during the May 14 protests, which media around the world repeated. While it begged the question of what kind of parent would bring an infant to a riot, the publicity provoked a storm of criticism of the IDF. Ten days later, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry removed the baby from the list of people it claimed were killed by Israeli troops. The ministry had claimed the baby died from tear gas inhalation, but a doctor was later anonymously cited by the Associated Press as saying the infant had a pre-existing medical condition and that he did not believe tear gas caused her death. It was subsequently reported that the baby had died from a blood disease similar to the one that killed her brother when he was only a few months old and that Yahya Sinwar paid the family about $2,200 to lie and say the baby died of tear gas inhalation.
On April 6, Hamas instigated a second riot along the border. Hamas called this the “Friday of Tires” and announced plans to create a wall of burning tires along the Israeli border to obscure the vision of Israeli soldiers so protestors could not be stopped from reaching the fence. Approximately 20,000 people participated in the second protest, significantly fewer than the week before, and most remained at the encampments. Protestors and Hamas terrorists again engaged with Israeli forces and attempted to sabotage the fence and infiltrate into Israel. The Israeli military used large industrial fans to blow the smoke from the burning tires away and firehoses to try to put out the fires, which created a potential environmental disaster in Gaza. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, tire fires release toxic air pollutants and the oil from burnt tires seeps into the ground and harms the soil and pollutes the water.
Protestors again approached the Gaza border on April 13. This time the turnout was considerably smaller, estimated at 10,000, and fewer rioted. Two days later, Palestinians flew a kite carrying a fire bomb over the border from Gaza into Israel, where it caused a small fire in an agricultural field outside Kibbutz Kissufim, a Jewish community near the Gaza Strip. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, preventing major damage. No injuries were reported. During the same weekend, four terrorists from Palestinian Islamic Jihad were killed in an explosion during training.
On April 20, protestors returned for a fourth riot, but the number was again considerably smaller, estimated at 3,000. The IDF dropped leaflets warning Palestinians to stay away from the border fence, but many tried to breach the fence anyway. Others burned tires and again attempted to fly kites with incendiary devices over the border. Israeli forces responded with the usual riot control measures. Four Palestinians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy. The circumstances related to the boy’s death were being investigated.
In this video, Palestinian protesters are seen infiltrating the Israeli security fence and setting fire to a military outpost.
Protests directed at the fence continued April 27. According to the New York Times, “Those assaulting it threw firebombs and rolled burning tires at the fence to try to melt it; at least some carried pistols, according to both the Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses.”
The sixth week of protests on May 4 were again marked by efforts by Palestinians to damage the border fence and cross into Israel. The IDF also reported that Palestinians crossed the border fence at one location and placed firebombs before returning to Gaza. Dozens of Palestinians also broke into the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point for merchandise entering Gaza, and set fire to the gas pipeline that supplies fuel to the Strip. They did not get through to the Israeli side. The protestors caused millions of dollars in damage to the pipeline, which will worsen the economic plight of the people in Gaza. No fatalities were reported.
Protestors returned on May 11. Once again, some attempted to fly kites with incendiary devices into Israel to set fire to agricultural fields. To prevent these attacks, Israel began deploying drones to cut the strings of the kites. Amateur drone racers were also used to fly through the kites to shred them or down them with the help of fishhooks.
The Israel Air Force dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip warning Palestinians not to approach the Israeli border on May 15, 2018, or take part in any violent activity aimed at damaging the border fence or harming the soldiers deployed along it.
A second leaflet accused the Islamist group of prioritizing the protests over the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s citizens:
Hamas planned to mobilize 100,000 people to attempt to break down the fence and attack Israeli communities. The group fell far short of its goal. An estimated 40,000 demonstrators threw stones at soldiers and burned tires on May 14 as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. During the riots, here is a sample of the threats Israeli forces had to neutralize:
- 12:58 p.m. - Bomb explodes.
- 1:15 p.m. - A terror cell sought to plant explosives by the border fence and opened fire at IDF forces.
- 1:30 p.m. - Fire opened at IDF forces.
- 1:45 p.m. - Fire opened at IDF forces by eight terrorists.
- 2:09pm - Three bombs explode.
- 2:53 p.m. - Five pipe bombs exploded.
- 3:10pm - Bomb explodes.
- 7:02 p.m. - Terrorists opened fire at IDF troops.
- 17 kites carrying flammable materials were flown from Gaza into Israel, causing fires in 23 locations.
The IDF killed three terrorists who tried to plant an explosive device in Rafah and the IAF launched multiple airstrikes at Hamas targets inside Gaza.
Reporter Yonah Jeremy Bob described what he saw: “While there were nonviolent Palestinians demonstrating, thousands of Palestinians were also involved in more aggressive or hostile actions, and the numbers were so large that it was hard to imagine that most of them were not pawns.”
During the protests Israeli forces captured several Palestinians attempting to cross the border from Gaza and learned details of Hamas tactics. For example, the Shin Bet discovered Hamas offers Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip $100 if all family members participate in the protests. All schools and higher education institutions in Gaza were closed and Hamas forced merchants to declare a general strike so Palestinians would not have other activities on the days of protests. Hamas provides transportation, tires to burn, Molotov cocktails and flaming kites. Hamas terrorists are forbidden to approach the fence so they will not be shot or apprehended by the security forces. They are only to advance if the fence is breached, in which case their assignment is to carry out terror attacks.
Apparently, Hamas was so confident they would succeed in breaching the fence on May 14, 2018, they sent messages via social media informing Palestinians their leaders would be giving victory speeches from Israeli communities – Ismail Haniyeh from Nahal Oz, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khalil al-Hayya in Kfar Aza and Nafed Azzam in Be’eri.
Hamas originally announced the protests would end on May 14, 2018; however, the group said it would continue to call on people to march on the fence through Ramadan. On May 18, only about 1,000 protestors showed up at the fence, but continued their violent activities of slinging stones, burning tires and flying flaming kites into Israel.
Despite the declining turnout, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said June 7, 2018, that the protests in Gaza will “continue until Jerusalem is liberated and the Gaza blockade ends.” He also called for it to expand into the West Bank and Jerusalem, which had not occurred to that point.
On August 1, 2018, Gaza Return March spokesman Ahmad Abu Rutema said the protests have become “too costly” and called for a “tactical withdrawal.” He admitted, “We have lost the battle for public opinion.” Nevertheless, demonstrations continued on Fridays on a smaller scale with rioters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and sending incendiary kites over the border.
On May 28, 2018, the Israeli military struck a terror outpost in Gaza and killed three members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in retaliation for planting an explosive device along the border fence the night before.PIJ began showering Israel with a hail of mortars and short-range rockets on the morning of May 29, causing warning sirens to sound along the Israeli border. Most projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome, but some made it through. One missile exploded in the yard of an Israeli kindergarten. Five Israelis were wounded in the barrage, most by mortar shrapnel. This was the most heated conflict between the two sides since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In response to this brazen attack, the Israeli Air Force bombed approximately 65 military targets in the Gaza Strip. After 24 hours of back-and-forth fire, Hamas released a statement agreeing to a ceasefire.
The ceasefire did not last, however, and Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responded with air strikes on targets in Gaza. During the week of August 6, 2018, alone, more than 180 rockets were fired into Israel. At least 20 civilians were hospitalized for shrapnel wounds and shock. Despite the bombardment, and public pressure for a more severe response, Israel’s leaders were exercising restraint and were hopeful a ceasefire could be arranged so it would not become necessary to send troops into Gaza.
The IDF repeatedly dropped leaflets warning residents to stay far from the Israeli border, to refrain from attempting to breach or damage it, or carry out terror attacks against Israeli civilians or security forces during the protests. Many Palestinians have ignored those warnings. Sadly, according to the Associated Press, which relies on the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza for information, at least 155 Palestinians have died in all the riots, including 62 on May 14, the highest one-day toll. More than 3,500 Palestinians have been wounded. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said in an interview that 50 of the Gazans killed on May 14 were members of the terror group as were at least 50 percent of those who died before. The Meir Amit Intelligence the Terrorism Information Center identified at least 93 Palestinians who died in the riots as affiliated with terrorist organizations.
A senior officer told Haaretz that snipers are only permitted to shoot at the legs of people approaching the border unless they have weapons and threaten Israelis’ lives. The officer said some of the deaths of Palestinians were unintentional, the result of a protester bending down, a sniper missing his target or a bullet ricocheting.
One soldier described the experience of guarding the fence:
What started out as a minor annoyance increasingly became a major hazard as protestors began to send hundreds of kites and balloons with incendiary devices across the border. The IDF gradually adapted to the threat and began using a number of techniques, including drones attached with razor blades and claws, to bring down what have become terror weapons. More than 500 have been stopped by these methods.
After the protests stopped, Palestinians continued to start fires. As of mid-October 2018, more than 1,000 fires were ignited by these easy-to-construct devices. More than 8,000 acres of forest and agricultural land have burned, causing millions of dollars in damage. In addition, fires have destroyed 25 percent of all nature reserves near the border, killing plants and animals. Many of these areas will take years if not decades to restore to their original condition. The government has pledged reparations for farmers who have lost crops,
The IDF seeks more effective ways to prevent the fires. One dilemma is whether to take more severe measures to stop Palestinians from launching the kites, such as targeting them with live ammunition, but the military has opposed this option.
On July 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in light of the continued launching of incendiary aerial devices, Israel was closing Kerem Shalom, the main commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip. The IDF announced the only traffic would be humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine. In addition, the government said it would limit fishing off the Gaza coast to six nautical miles, reversing an earlier decision extending it to nine miles.
Renee Garfinkel noted the contradiction between the words and deeds of Palestinians:
The principal funder of Hamas is Iran, so it was not surprising when it was reported in early June 2018 that Salman al-Harfi, the Palestinian ambassador to France, told a government official in Paris that “Iran is fully financing and pushing the Hamas demonstrations.”
While much of the Arab world condemned Israel’s actions, the reaction was relatively muted. Similarly, the Palestinian Authority criticized Israel but did not mobilize protests in the West Bank.
Egypt has its own parochial concerns. The Egyptian government fears the possibility of Hamas redirecting the protests toward the border with Egypt. In January 2008, armed Hamas activists broke through that border fence and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians infiltrated Sinai. Once the Gazans had spent several days stocking up on food, gas, and other basic products, Egypt reached an understanding with Hamas leading to the return of Palestinians to Gaza; nevertheless, the Egyptians do not want a repetition of this scenario and the possibility of Islamist terrorists joining others the government is now fighting in the Sinai.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was summoned urgently to Egyptian intelligence service headquarters in Cairo on May 14, 2018, where General Intelligence Service head Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel told him “in no uncertain terms, that the blood of the dead was on his and Sinwar’s hands. They even showed him images of Hamas operatives paying teenagers to go die near the fence.”
The Egyptians “made it clear to him [Haniyeh] that the Hamas leadership will be held responsible for any more deaths in border riots. They told him history won’t forgive the Hamas leadership for such senseless deaths.” Kamel then demanded that Haniyeh “order his people to cease the border riot campaign immediately.” Egypt did make a conciliatory gesture by opening its border crossing at Rafah for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,
The UN Secretary General, Arab leaders and the European Union called for independent investigations into the violent clashes. Knowing this, like prior inquiries, would likely lead to a one-sided attack on Israel, the United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement calling for an investigation of the border clashes. Another effort to to condemn Israel on and deploy an international security force in Gaza was mounted by the Palestinians with the help of Kuwait at the Security Council on May 20, 2018, which was also opposed by the United States and Israel.
Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council censured Israel for “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” and called for an independent investigation into the killing of rioters in the Gaza border clashes. The United States criticized the HRC resolution as did Israel. The Foreign Ministry said the HRC “once again has proven itself to be a body made up of a built-in anti-Israel majority, guided by hypocrisy and absurdity.” Israel said it would not cooperate with the inquiry that is not interested in the truth, “but rather to impair Israel’s right to self-defense, and to demonize the Jewish state.”
By contrast to the international condemnation, 71% of Israelis believe that the IDF’s open-fire policy during the clashes at the border is justified.
Within Gaza, Palestinians were also questioning their leaders. “Nothing achieved,” Mohammed Haider told the New York TImes. “People are dead. They deceived us that we would breach the fence. But that didn’t happen” (Declan Walsh and Isabel Kershner, “After Deadly Protests, Gazans Ask: What Was Accomplished?” New York Times, May 18, 2018). “And Hamas is no closer to improving the lives of increasingly restless Gazans. The group lacks money to even pay public employees’ salaries or other expenses of governing” the Times journalists added.
On May 24, 2018, Israel’s High Court of Justice declared the IDF’s rules of engagement were legal. The Jerusalem Post noted that “due to the high esteem in which the High Court is held overseas, the decision will make it more difficult for the International Criminal Court to declare the IDF’s conduct a violation of international law.”
The Friday marches have continued with smaller and smaller numbers of participants in the summer, but the protests have morphed into ongoing terror attacks in which Israel is bombarded throughout the week by rockets, mortars and incendiary devices.
Since the beginning of the protests on March 30, 2018, 417 rockets and mortars fired at Israel, nearly 200 of them were launched over the weekend of July 13-14. Most rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome or fell in empty areas. Two of the rockets, however, hit a home and a synagogue in Sderot, wounding four Israelis including two teenage girls. Israel responded with multiple air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
The IDF subsequently told residents in Gaza border communities to remain within a 15-second radius from bomb shelters or safe rooms, closed the nearby beach and restricted gatherings of more than 100 people in open spaces, and more than 500 people in closed spaces across the border communities.
The Palestinians have now adopted a “scorched earth” policy and are using more sophisticated timers to delay combustion of incendiary kites and balloons to increase their range. Michael Cotler-Wunsh noted this strategy is banned under Article 54 of Protocol I of the 1977 Geneva Conventions. The relevant passage states: “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.”
On July 16, 2018, Israel announced it was tightening restrictions imposed on July 9 by cutting off fuel and gas supplies to the Gaza Strip after a ceasefire agreement was violated earlier that day when a rocket was fired into southern Israel. Medicines and food will still be allowed to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing. The government also decided to further narrow the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip from a range of six nautical miles to three nautical miles.
Meanwhile, Egypt warned Hamas to stop launching incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and announced it was temporarily closing the Rafah crossing, the only other outlet for Gaza, due to a technical malfunction. It was unclear if Egypt was coordinating the closure with Israel’s announcement to pressure Hamas to resume a ceasefire.
On July 24, 2018, Israel announced it would partially reopen the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza. It would return to full activity, the Defense Ministry said when Hamas stopped all airborne firebombs from being launched and all other provocations on the border.
A large protest of approximately 7,000 Palestinians occurred on July 28, 2018, during which rocks and explosive devices, including pipe bombs, a Molotov cocktail and a grenade were thrown at Israeli troops. Three Palestinians were killed, including a 12-year-old boy. During that day and the weekend, incendiary devices caused more than 20 fires in Israel. In addition, the Israeli Navy intercepted a ship after it disobeyed commands to stop sailing toward the Gaza Strip.
Following Egyptian mediation for a cease fire at the end of July 2018, Israel agreed to resume shipments of gas and fuel to the Strip. When attacks from Gaza continued, however, the decision was reversed, limiting the flow of supplies to food and medicine. After calm was restored, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza and extended the Strip’s permitted fishing zone on August 15, 2018.
In early September 2018, Israel was forced to close the Erez crossing, the only pedestrian entry into Israel from Gaza, after rioting Palestinians damaged infrastructure. That closure is expected to remain in effect until repairs are completed. Meanwhile, Palestinians needing to enter Israel may be admitted for humanitarian reasons on a case by case basis.
On September 4, 2018, Sinwar admitted protests staged on the Gaza border were intended to avert an internal crisis and divert pressure onto the Israelis. “After the reconciliation efforts [between Hamas and Fatah] reached an impasse, a number of factions planned to cause an internal explosion in the Gaza Strip, but the Marches of Return thwarted the plan,” Sinwar said. He also claimed, “Palestinian officials collaborated with Israeli intelligence in order to sabotage the reconciliation efforts.”
After weeks of smaller demonstrations, a larger protest of about 7,000 Palestinians marched on September 7, 2018. They once again threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who responded with tear gas and other non-lethal means. Troops fired at Palestinians who attempted to breach the border fence and enter Israel. After a few weeks’ respite, incendiary balloons were again flown across the border, setting two fires. Troops also later found an improvised explosive device that had been placed at the base of the fence. The following day, a group of Palestinians carrying a knife and an ax were arrested while trying to breach the security fence along the border in northern Gaza.
In late September and early October 2018, the protests began to grow larger and more violent again as efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement stalled. On October 12, 2018, for example, an estimated 15,000 Palestinians joined protests. Protesters threw explosive devices, hand grenades and firebombs, burned tires and threw stones at IDF soldiers. Seven Palestinians were reportedly killed as troops responded to the riots. The escalation came shortly after Israel had agreed to increase fuel deliveries to Gaza paid for by Qatar to ease the shortages there. In response to the violence, Israel suspended the shipments.
Even before Israel acted, the Palestinian Authority threatened to boycott the Israeli gas company that provides diesel fuel to the West Bank and Gaza. The PA also warned UN employees in Gaza they would pay a “heavy price” if they helped transfer the fuel.
These threats, as well as the failure of ceasefire negotiations, were a result of interference from Mahmoud Abbas. He objected to being left out of the talks and hoped the punitive measures he employed would win concessions from Hamas that would enable him to resume control over Gaza. Hamas, however, was unwilling to meet his demands. Moreover, sanctions imposed on Gaza aimed at convincing the people there to rise up against Hamas appeared to backfire as Abbas was blamed more for their deprivations.
Hamas also began a dangerous escalation of violence that threatened to start a full-fledged war. Analyst Yoni Ben Menachem noted that Hamas has formed “night confusion units” to turn the protests “into 24/7 events to get the IDF soldiers accustomed to the ongoing presence of Palestinian activists at the fence, including at night.” Hamas hopes to either break through the fence or tunnel under it (Israel discovered and destroyed one tunnel on October 11, 2018). He said the goal is to surprise the IDF and infiltrate Israeli territory to abduct soldiers to trade for imprisoned terrorists. Meanwhile, the demonstrations keep the Palestinian issue in the international press and, Hamas believes, discourages Israelis from settling in the Negev.
Following another upsurge in violence, negotiations resumed for a ceasefire at the end of October 2018. As confidence-building measures, Israel allowed Qatari fuel to enter Gaza, enabling households to receive eight hours of electricity a day instead of four. Gaza’s fishing zone was also increased to 6-9 miles. For its part, Hamas stopped providing free transportation to the weekend riots and reduced the number of incendiary balloons flown from Gaza into Israel. Divisions remain, however, within Hamas as the political wing wants Hamas to accept Egypt’s proposals for a deal with Israel, but the armed wing favors continued armed struggle and the continuation of violent border riots.
A tug-of-war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has been ongoing since the beginning of ceasefire talks with Israel mediated by Egypt, undermining efforts to calm the situation along the Gaza border. Abbas wants to be involved in negotiations, fearing otherwise an agreement will strengthen the position of Hamas. He has attempted to weaken Hamas for several months by imposing a variety of sanctions on Gaza. After Abbas threatened to cease monthly payments to Gaza if it was excluded, Egypt suspended talks.
In January 2019, Abbas decided to stop paying salaries to hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, including many Fatah members, in his continuing effort to pressure Hamas. Days earlier, Hamas banned Abbas supporters from holding a rally to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the launching of the first Fatah terror attack against Israel. They further inflamed Abbas by allowing loyalists of his rival Mohammed Dahlan to hold their own rally
In an effort to to pressure Israel and Egypt to work out a ceasefire, Hamas is paying protestors to renew their enthusiasm. Hamas has been offering $200 to every Palestinian wounded in clashes with the IDF since September and $100 to those wounded earlier. Some reports indicate the money came from Iran.
While Hamas says that its goal is to erase the border as part of its effort to destroy Israel, Israeli officials see protecting the border as essential to peace. “What we’re doing there in Gaza is something we have to do,” according to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “Especially those who believe in having separation from the Palestinians, getting into a peace agreement, having borders – you have to make clear that borders are respected.”
In July, Fathi Hamad, a member of the Hamas politburo, praised the “peaceful protests,” while also making this statement:
Hamad was reiterating the Hamas agenda enshrined in its covenant, which makes clear the group has no interest in ending the blockade of Gaza or establishing a Palestinian state. The Hamas objective is to kill the Jews wherever they are and destroy Israel.
America’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, spoke out against the behavior of the Palestinians in Gaza:
She also commented on the hypocritical condemnation of Israel’s reaction by the international community:
Sources: Yoni Ben Menachem,
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Jack Khoury, “40 Dead, 5,511 Wounded: UN Releases Figures on Palestinian Casualties in Gaza's Mass Protests on Israel Border,” Haaretz, (April 25, 2018);
Iyad Abuheweila and David M. Halbfinger, “Plan to Storm Fence Gets Bloody Preview in Gaza,” New York Times, (April 27, 2018);
“Members of Gaza ‘Fence Cutters' Unit" Proclaims: Victory or Martyrdom! - Scenes from Gaza ‘Return March,’” MEMRI, (April 27, 2018);
“Analysis of the Identities of Gazans Killed During the ‘Great Return March,’” Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (April 25, 2018);
Amos Harel, “Most Killings of Palestinians During Gaza Protests Unintentional, Senior Israeli Officer Says,” Haaretz, (April 29, 2018);
Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann, “The Peace Index: April 2018,” Israel Democracy Institute and Evans Program at the University of Tel-Aviv, (May 2, 2018);
Avi Issacharoff, “In Gaza, setting fire to their own gas lines to fuel the flames of protest,” Times of Israel, (May 5, 2018);
Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich, “Video Shows Palestinians From Gaza Cut Border Fence, Enter Israeli Territory,” Haaretz, (May 5, 2018);
Yaniv Kubovich, “‘Don't Go Near the Fence’: Israeli Military Drops Leaflets Warning Palestinians to Avoid Gaza Border Ahead of Mass Protests,” Haaretz, (May 14, 2018)'
Yoav Zitun and Elior Levy, “43 killed in Gaza riots; IAF strikes multiple Hamas targets,” Ynet, (May 14, 2018);
“Dozens of Palestinians killed in Gaza as 35,000 protest US embassy opening,” i24NEWS, (May 14, 2018);
Yaniv Kubovich, “Israel Enlists Amateur Drone Racers to Knock Down ‘Kite Bombs’ From Gaza,” Haaretz, (May 13, 2018);
“IDF prepares to face more Palestinian rioting on Nakba Day,” Ynet, (May 15, 2018);
Bill Chappell, “With 60 Killed In Gaza, U.N. Rights Commissioner Criticizes Israel,” NPR, (May 15, 2018);
“Uneasy Calm Falls Over Gaza After Israel Kills Scores at Protests,” New York Times, (May 15, 2018);
Joshua Davidovich, “Hamas: 50 Gazans killed Monday were members of group,” Times of Israel, (May 16, 2018);
Yonah Jeremy Bob, “To The Gaza Front And Back: Smoke, Fire, Tragedy And Calm,” Jerusalem Post, (May 16, 2018);
Anna Ahronheim, “Gaza Border Residents Speak To The ‘Post’ About The Tension In Air,” Jerusalem Post, (May 16, 2018);
Judah Ari Gross, “Israel reopens Gaza crossing, but Palestinians turn back some trucks,” Times of Israel, (May 15, 2018);
Daniel Siryoti, “Egypt rebukes Hamas leader over deaths in Gaza border riots,” Israel Hayom, (May 16, 2018):
Itamar Eichner, “Israel, US attempt to block Security Council resolution on Gaza international force,” Ynet, (May 20, 2018);
“MFA response to the UNHRC resolution,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (May 18, 2018);
Declan Walsh and Isabel Kershner, “After Deadly Protests, Gazans Ask: What Was Accomplished?” New York Times, (May 18, 2018);
“Israel TV: Confident Hamas planned victory rallies for its leaders inside Israel,” Times of Israel, (May 19, 2018);
“1,000 protest on Gaza border as Hamas chief vows to lead new demonstrations,” Times of Israel, (May 18, 2018);
Michael Arnold and Saud Abu Ramadan, “In Gaza Camps, Palestinian Dream of Return Still Burns Bright,” Bloomberg, (May 14, 2018);
Yonah Jeremy Bob, “High Court Declares IDF Conduct On Gaza Border Legal,” Jerusalem Post, (May 24, 2018);
Hazem Balousha in Gaza and Oliver Holmes, “Gaza ministry removes baby from list of people killed by Israeli army,” The Guardian, (May 24, 2018);
Findings of the ITIC’s examination of the identity of Palestinians killed in the events of the “Great Return March,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (May 28, 2018);
Hamas Declares Cease-Fire With Israel After a Day of Fighting, New York Times, (May 30, 2018):
Yoav Zitun, “IDF urges Gazans not to be Hamas ‘tools’ in Friday protests,” Ynet, (June 7, 2018);
Liad Osmo, “Hamas leader says Gaza protests will continue until ‘Jerusalem is liberated,’” Ynet, (June 7, 2018);
Judah Ari Gross, “Despite concerns, senior IDF technology officer says anti-kite drones a success,” Times of Israel, (June 8, 2018);
Matan Barad, “An IDF soldier’s description of experience in Gaza,” Jewish News Service, (June 8, 2018);
Tamar Pileggi, “PA warned Paris that Gaza border clashes financed by Iran – report,” Times of Israel, (June 5, 2018);
Sam Sokol, “Fiery ‘terror kites’ shake residents in southern Israel, but not their resolve to stay put,” JTA, (June 12, 2018);
Ilana Curiel, “Hamas leader paid Gazan family to lie about baby’s death, indictment says,” Ynet, (June 21, 2018);
Anna Ahronheim and Gil Hoffman, “Netanyahu Promises Heavy Hand Against Hamas, Closes Kerem Shalom Crossing,” Jerusalem Post, (July 9, 2018);
Itsik Saban, “Israel establishes task force to combat Palestinian arson terrorism,” Israel Hayom, (July 9, 2018);
Itsik Saban and Gadi Golan, “Hamas plans to launch exploding drones into Israel, IDF warns,” Israel Hayom, (July 13, 2018);
Michael Cotler-Wunsh, “Scorched Earth and International Law,” Jerusalem Post, (July 14, 2018);
“Three Israelis wounded as rockets from Gaza hit house, synagogue in Sderot,” Times of Israel, (July 14, 2018);
Anna Ahronheim, “Three Wounded As 200 Projectiles Fired At Israel From Gaza Strip,” Jerusalem Post, (July 14, 2018);
“Israel to close Kerem Shalom crossing, stopping gas, fuel transfers,” Ynet, July 16, 2018);
Elior Levy, “Egypt gives Hamas a few days to end kite, balloon terror,” Ynet, (July 17, 2018);
Yaniv Kubovich, “Israel to Partially Reopen Gaza's Only Commercial Crossing,” Haaretz, (July 24, 2018);
Anna Ahronheim, “Three Palestinians Killed As 7,000 Riot Along Gaza Border,” Jerusalem Post, (July 27, 2018);
Anna Ahronheim, “Israel’s Navy Intercepts Flotilla Boat Heading Towards Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, (July 29, 2018);
Ambassador Nikki Haley, “Remarks at the Christians United for Israel Annual Summit,” Washington, DC, (July 23, 2018);
Michael Bachner, “Liberman accuses Hamas of sending kids to launch incendiary balloons from homes,” Times of Israel, (August 2, 2018);
Renee Garfinkel, “The arsonist’s tale,” Times of Israel, (July 31, 2018);
Amos Harel. “Israel’s Groundhog Day in Gaza: Stuck in Endless, Bloody Loop With Hamas,” Haaretz, (August 9, 2018);
“Gaza Return March Spokesman Ahmad Abu Rutema Calls for ‘Tactical Withdrawal’ from the Return March: “We Have Lost the Battle for Public Opinion” and Must Invent New Tactics,” broadcast on Al-Jazeera, translated by MEMRI, (August 1, 2018);
Judah Ari Gross, “Key Gaza crossing reopens as calm along border holds,” Times of Israel, (August 15, 2018);
Elior Levy, “Hamas leader admits Marches of Return were staged to avert internal crisis,” Ynet, (September 4, 2018);
“Israel closes Gaza crossing after rioting Palestinians damage infrastructure,” JTA, (September 5, 2018);
“Gazans carrying knife, ax caught trying to enter Israel,” Times of Israel, (September 8, 2018);
Judah Ari Gross, “IDF says it detonated large bomb placed on Gaza fence, foiling attack,” Times of Israel, (September 13, 2018);
Elior Levy, “Hamas ramps up pressure to resume negotiations,” Ynet, (September 20, 2018);
Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury, “Palestinians Report Seven Dead as 15,000 Protest at Gaza Border,” Haaretz, (October 12, 2018);
Yoni Ben Menachem, “Hamas Probes Israel’s Defenses,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (October 14, 2018);
Avi Issacharoff, “PA prevents Gaza from receiving Qatari fuel aid, increasing danger of violence,” Times of Israel, (October 4, 2018);
Judah Ari Gross, “More than 100 Palestinians wounded in clashes at Gaza-Israel border,” Times of Israel, (October 19 2018);
Elior Levy, “Palestinian sources: Significant progress in ceasefire deal with Israel,” Ynet, (October 31, 2018);
Shlomi Eldar, “Hamas political, military leaderships disagree on Israel arrangement,” Al-Monitor, (October 31, 2018);
Khaled Abu Toameh, “PA Halts Payments To Hundreds Of Gazans,” Jerusalem Post, (January 5, 2019).