The responsibility for this tragedy can be spread around among all the parties, but it remains, still, a tragedy—growing by the day, just like a mountain of trash overlooking the Mediterranean, with no end in sight.
Monday’s events aren’t a ‘tragedy’. They are the result of our leaders choosing not to listen. Suggesting otherwise paves the way for more bloodshed.
Commentators have again reached for the word “tragedy” to describe Monday’s clash at the Gaza border fence, which resulted in the highest death toll in a single day since the end of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. But “tragedy” is the wrong word. Tragedies are inevitable catastrophes, like natural disasters; and it was not inevitable that more than 50 people had to die on Monday. The word signifies a wider problem: by repeatedly asserting that nothing can be done to change things for the better, we are allowing the next round of violence and bloodshed to take place.
Israel is my home and the conflict has affected every aspect of my life, from the 1991 Gulf war that burdened my childhood; through the second intifada that cast its shadow over my school years with buses exploding regularly in my home town of Tel Aviv; to the 2008-2009 Gaza war that I experienced in the Israel Defence Forces, which I enrolled in for three years as part of my national service and where I served as a journalist and presenter in the official forces radio station. I do not need any convincing about the role that Hamas has played in escalating the crisis in Gaza that led thousands of desperate Palestinians towards the border fence during Monday’s fatal clashes. Life in the Gaza Strip under Hamas rule is defined by despair and scarcity.
There is a credible argument that Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s poor conditions. Gazans make do with only a few hours of electricity a day, very limited access to drinking water and no jobs. Instead of investing in education and infrastructure, Hamas appears to prioritise spending on arms and ammunition. But the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt are all responsible for the strangulation of Gaza with an 11-year blockade that prevents all exports and restrains imports to a limited supply of humanitarian goods. But while the responsibility for Gaza’s situation does not lie with Israel alone, as some suggest, there is no valid argument that the only options for the Israeli army are either to do nothing or use live fire.
The truth is that Monday’s events have been on the cards for at least two years. The chief of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, Herzi Halevi, had warned the Israeli government in February 2016 that the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza could lead to a conflagration with Israel. The IDF chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, echoed Halevi’s warnings a year later, and said that additional deterioration could bring the prospect of a confrontation between the two sides closer.
Why have these warning signs been ignored? Politics. The celebration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem was nothing but an opportunity for both Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu to score points with their hard-right supporters – evangelicals in the US and settlers in Israel. While Israeli and US officials were sipping champagne at the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem, just an hour’s drive away more than 50 people, many of them unarmed, had been shot dead.
The following morning, rocket alarm sirens were heard in Gaza border communities in southern Israel. Netanyahu may have thanked Jared Kushner for his “pursuit of peace”, but the new embassy in Jerusalem will push the possibility of peace further away.
Israel’s rightwing politicians claim to be the only ones who can be trusted with the country’s security, yet they show a reckless disregard for the dangerous consequences of their policies. Though Netanyahu’s government only has a majority of six seats, in the absence of a well-functioning opposition, he is still seen by Israelis to be the only leader who can provide them with security. The chair of the Knesset defence committee, Avi Dichter, said he isn’t worried about the prospect of a border breach because “the IDF has enough bullets for everyone”. The deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said that the events in Gaza have nothing to do with the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem. As a proud Israeli who wants my homeland to be safe and secure, these hollow and simplistic statements just won’t do.
The Israeli government, which leads a state founded by Jewish refugees from all over the world 70 years ago who chose to take their fate into their own hands, is saying that the status quo is the only option. Meanwhile Palestinians are paying for the lack of brave leadership with their blood.
Even if – for the sake of argument – all those who were killed on Monday had been terrorists, and the soldiers had no other choice, what next? What is the Israeli and Palestinian leadership doing to avoid the next round of violence and avoid further loss of life? If our leaders have no answers to these questions, then we need new leaders.
~~~ Maya Ilany is the deputy director of Yachad, and spent three years in the Israeli Defence Force