Organizers hope thousands in Gaza will answer their call to flock, starting on Friday, to tent cities in five locations along the sensitive border in a six-week protest for a right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.
Citing security concerns, the Israeli military enforces a “no go” zone for Palestinians on land in Gaza adjacent to Israel’s border fence.
Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, Israel's top general, told Yedioth Ahronoth that the military would not allow “mass infiltration” or tolerate damage to the barrier during the protests.
“We have deployed more than 100 sharpshooters who were called up from all of the military’s units, primarily from the special forces,” Eisenkot said in the interview. “If lives are in jeopardy, there is permission to open fire.”
Israeli soldiers are confronted by frequent violent Palestinian protests along the Gaza border and have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators whom the military said hurled rocks or petrol bombs at them.
Organizers said the protest is supported by several Palestinian factions, including Gaza’s dominant Islamist Hamas movement that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
Eisenkot added in the interview that "in its 70th year of existence, the State of Israel had reached an improved strategic balance with huge gaps from its enemies. Seventy-year-old Israel is an unbeatable country."
Israel's main enemy today, Eisenkot clarified, is Iran. "The Iranian enemy operates both through proxies and independently," he said.
"I might have to command the army through a war, but I'm making great efforts to prevent that," he said. "The chance of that happening this year is bigger than in the first three years of my terms. There are many negative vectors in the region pushing towards a conflict, and there are many things that depend on us."
Addressing the IDF and defense establishment's secret activity, Eisenkot revealed that "more than 1,000 activities have been conducted beyond the borders during my term as chief of staff, creative operations in which reality exceeds imagination. We aren’t publishing them because the credit or the name Gadi Eisenkot isn't important. The important thing is its contribution to the State of Israel."
Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, speaking on Israel Radio, said Hamas had avoided direct conflict with Israel since the end of the 2014 Gaza war.
But he said that pressure Hamas was now feeling from Israel’s destruction of some of its network of attack tunnels near the border, coupled with harsh economic conditions in Gaza, were “a formula for rising tension."
The start of the demonstration was symbolically linked to what Palestinians call “Land Day”, which commemorates the six Arab citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces in demonstrations in 1976 over land confiscations. The week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, when Israel heightens security, also begins on Friday.
The protest is due to end on May 15, the day Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians have long demanded that as many as five million of their compatriots be granted the right to return. Israel rules this out, fearing an influx of Arabs that would eliminate its Jewish majority. Israel argues the refugees should resettle in a future state that the Palestinians seek in West Bank and the Gaza Strip.