In the past week, Israeli officials have been trying to create the impression that “the gatekeepers” have overpowered the “March of Return.” Fewer people are flocking to the the fence protests; Hamas has failed. That’s a dangerous delusion.
In recent days, the Palestinians have advanced their jumping-off points towards the border and set up tents 100-200 meters from the fence. Up until recently, the five meeting points, which included large tents, were located more than 700 meters away.
Palestinian media are presenting the new deployment as “broadcasts from the front,” showing ambulances and civilian vehicles moving closer and closer to fence. The sight of Palestinian vehicles right on the borderline with Israel is something that has not been seen in the area for a long time.
According to Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, “teams for breaking through the fence” have been training under the auspices of “the organizers”—in other words, Hamas—and are supposed to throw hooks at the fence and pull it down until it collapses. Parts of the looped barbed fence installed by Israel along the border have already been removed in different places. The Palestinian side has also appointed teams to “handle” the gas grenades and has built sort of catapults to launch Molotov cocktails at Israeli fields.
The main goal of the riots, orchestrated by Hamas, was and remains to break through the fence, allowing hundreds and thousands of civilians to run into Israeli territory. That’s the “victory picture” Hamas is looking for ahead of Nakba Day on May 15.
Whatever happens until then is intended to keep the momentum of riots and capture the public interest, the global one too. Each week has its own symbol: A disabled protestor in a wheelchair, a journalist and a 15-year-old boy who have been killed. It doesn’t matter if there were 3,000 or 10,000 people there, as long as the fire and the public awareness haven’t died out.
Meanwhile, Hamas has distanced itself from any external influence: It has completely cut ties with the Palestinian Authority, and the Egyptian intelligence chief who arrived at the strip about a week ago to try and lower the flames was sent back empty-handed. The Egyptians have forced Hamas to send a delegation to Cairo this week, but Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar won’t be there.
On the eve of the riots, the European Union presented Hamas with a tempting offer: Half a billion euro to rebuild Gaza’s water and electricity infrastructures. The money could be used immediately, in cooperation with the Gulf States and under the auspices of Israel and the United States. Hamas ignored the offer. It wants to break through the fence in order to change the awareness to the strip’s situation and it is willing to pay a heavy price for that, and not just in casualties.
Hamas paid more than $2 million this week to the casualties’ families. It paid double that sum last week, and a triple sum the week before. Not to mention the huge current and future expenses on the rehabilitation of hundreds of people who suffered injuries.
Hamas and the Gaza street are acting like a revolutionary society willing to pay heavy personal prices to achieve a national result. That isn’t music to our ears, but that’s the way it is.
On the day thousands of people leap to their feet undauntedly from the new tent line and start running towards the fence, the death toll from Israeli fire will grow from 40 so far to hundreds. Those who cross the fence will run amok into Israel to evade the fire. Thousands will walk about on the main routes between the communities, and maybe even inside the communities. This isn’t an imaginary scenario. It has already happened in the Golan Heights.
If that happens, Hamas will be able to declare a perceptual victory of breaking through the siege and then start making demands in light of everyone’s shock. Israel, on the other hand, will be accused of massacring Gaza’s starving residents and will pay a heavy price.
If that’s what happens on Nakba Day, a flare-up in the West Bank seems very likely as well. To avoid reaching that point, the IDF must start thinking differently. No more “gatekeepers.” It must start looking for something more creative than leaflets explaining to the Palestinians why it isn’t worth their while.