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  April 11, 2018

Why is Israel so Threatened by Unarmed Gaza Protesters? (Part 1/2)


Despite the mounting Palestinian death toll, mass protests continue in the Gaza Strip. Why is Israel using lethal force on unarmed protesters? TRNN's Shir Hever explains why nonviolent protest is infuriating the Israeli government
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biography

Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Despite the massacre of 17 unarmed demonstrators on the 30th of March, which was on Palestinian Land Day, Gazans continued their mass but peaceful struggle to return home. Since then at least 14 more Palestinians were killed by Israeli military. Among them was the journalist Yasser Murtaja. The Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman said that the killing of Murtaja was justified because he allegedly was operating a small drone in order to take pictures. Lieberman added that there are no naive people in Gaza Strip. This is going rather viral. There are no demonstrators there either, he said. Anyone trying to cross the border are members of the military wing of Hamas.

Hussein Madi was a 14-year-old boy killed on Friday by Israeli fire. His mother Eman Madi spoke about his plans for celebrating his upcoming birthday.

EMAN MADI: He was very kind to me. He would always ask me to prepare the food he likes. He had asked me on his birthday that we go out and buy clothes for him to go out and eat together at a restaurant.

SHARMINI PERIES: Hundreds have been injured, and some are struggling for their lives in hospitals in Gaza. On to talk about all of this with me is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News correspondent based in Heidelberg, Germany. His recent book, "The Privatization of Israeli Security," was published by Pluto Press in 2017. Shir, good to have you with us.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, every statement made by the Israeli officials on the Great Return March, including the one made by Minister of Defense Lieberman, contains the word Hamas. Why is it so important for the Israeli officials to mention Hamas again and again, and what is the actual role of Hamas in these demonstrations?

SHIR HEVER: Hamas is the bogeyman of the Israeli government, and Prime Minister Netanyahu compared Hamas to ISIS and to Boko Haram. And they keep repeating this lie as if Hamas is organizing the demonstrations, which it never has. T he organizers are not members of Hamas, and they have nothing to do with Hamas. But they lie is constantly repeated. I think it's very interesting to see that after the Land Day massacre, which was also on a Jewish holiday of Passover, and the Israeli media started to say well after Palestinians were killed, now Hamas is taking over the demonstrations. But that's very interesting, because just a few days before they said Hamas was organizing the demonstrations. So first Hamas organizes them, but then Hamas had to take over them because they were actually organized by somebody else. I think this only proves that they are just repeating this propaganda spewed by the Israeli government and the Israeli military.

And the reason that the Israeli government tries to portray these demonstrations as if they were organized by Hamas is because Hamas believes in armed resistance to the Israeli occupation, and military uprising. And therefore the demonstrations would be associated with an armed group, and that would create the image the demonstrations are a violent uprising, which they are not. And that's why the Israeli government really tries to push that message forward in order to justify the killing of unarmed demonstrators.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, what is a position of Hamas as far as these demonstrations are concerned? Do they support it? Then of course there's the issue of Fatah, as well. Where are they as organized representatives of the Palestinian people in terms of these peaceful demonstrations that are going on?

SHIR HEVER: Well, in 2007 that was the first time the Palestinians tried to organize such a march of return, they called it the March of Freedom back then, from Gaza to have a mass protest and cross the fence into Israel. And in 2007 the Hamas party actually stopped demonstrations. They were very worried about it. And Hamas has a very good reason to fear these demonstrations. Because, like I said, the Hamas party believes in armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. And they believe that no other form of resistance has a chance of succeeding. And they're saying Palestinians are alone in the world. We have to use our guns in order to become free.

But the demonstrators and organizers of this demonstration are saying no, there is another way. And the nonviolent way may be even more effective. And if they are indeed successful in having a mass nonviolent demonstration that challenges the Israeli occupation and gets a lot of international attention and international solidarity, that challenges the very reason of the Hamas party to exist. So the Hamas party are very worried about this. But at the same time they cannot overtly criticize the demonstrations, because obviously that would put them on the side of the Israeli occupation. So they did issue an official statement supporting the demonstrations, but they're keeping their distance from the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the Fatah party is split on this. Because on the one hand the Palestinians, and I, and I would imagine most of the members of the Fatah party, are very hopeful about the mass nonviolent struggle that will challenge the occupation and maybe make a little crack in the occupation. On the other hand, there is a conflict between the Hamas and Fatah parties, and some senior members of the Fatah party are using these demonstrations as a way to jab at Hamas. And they're actually taking the Israeli lie, as if Hamas is organizing these demonstrations, and saying, oh, Hamas is sacrificing their people and sending them to these demonstrations to die so that Hamas can get points. And of course that's just repeating the propaganda of the Israeli government. I think it's shameful to hear this from some members of the Fatah party. And I would say the rest of the parties, especially on the left, are very much supporting the demonstration and very much hopeful of the power of nonviolence resistance.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, what is the character and the nature of the people that are organizing this peaceful demonstration if they're not Hamas?

SHIR HEVER: Well, there are 20 people, and they come from many different political parties. And I think two or three of them are actually members of the Hamas party, but not particularly senior, not representing the party there. The others are from every other political party that exists in Palestine, and also just civil society activists, people who have some contact with the rest of the world . I think that's maybe the most important characteristic, because they really believe that the world will not stay silent. That their protests will be seen by the world and that people will respond to it and take some action and to challenge the Israeli occupation and to make it accountable.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, the international community, which makes up, you know, Arabs and Palestinians who are in the diaspora, who've been organizing in other parts of the world, they're also very active. And they're active at this time because the demonstrators are unarmed. It is a nonviolent protest which takes place within the Gaza Strip. With its gaining momentum and the swelling that's going on in terms of the international attention, why doesn't the Israeli government just ignore it? Why respond to it with so much force and with attempts to break up the march? It doesn't make any sense.

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. There's a famous quote by Gadi Eizenkot, an Israeli general. And he said, we don't do Ghandi very well. And he said this in an interview today. He's the commander, the commander in chief of the Israeli army. And what he meant by that is that when Palestinians use weapons to try to resist occupation the Israeli army is well trained and equipped to deal with armed resistance from Palestinians. And they have every possible advantage in terms of artillery and armor and airplanes and bombs, and so on. But when Palestinians do this kind of grassroots non-violent protest and they get the attention of the international community, then really the Israeli government starts to panic and the Israel army doesn't really know what to do. And what they already managed to achieve very clearly with this demonstration is to prove to the world that Israel is still fully occupying the Gaza Strip, because Palestinians are not even able to demonstrate within their own territory. So it's so clear that Israel controls every centimeter of the Gaza Strip.

But that's not the end of it. Palestinians, when they come near the fence, and, and do kind of civil disobedience, and try to break through, which they haven't tried it yet, but at some point they may be able to do so if they have enough mass of people coming near the fence. That is a nightmare scenario for the Israeli government. It would be a collapse of the entire system of control of checkpoints and walls and fences that the Israeli government is building. And not just building, but also exporting to other countries. So for the Israeli government this is a crucial point.

In the last couple of weeks we've seen Palestinians crossing the fence into Israeli territory. Actually, the fence has a lot more holes than people think. And they get arrested in Israel. And many of them are carrying weapons, but the weapons are wrapped so that they cannot access these weapons. They cannot use them, actually. They bring the weapons because they know that if you're caught in Israel holding a weapon you go to jail, but you don't have a weapon you're sent back to Gaza. These are people who are actually starving. The Gaza Strip is in a state of humanitarian catastrophe. There's not enough water. There's not enough food. People say, well, I'd rather live in prison but at least survive than die in Gaza. And so they smuggle across the border to be arrested by the Israeli forces. When, when these stories are published in the Israeli media there is a state of panic. They say we cannot just close the borders, close the fence and ignore that these people exist.

And if a protest, a nonviolent protest, tries to break through the fence and make themselves known and utilize their very basic rights to reunite with their families in the West Bank, to import and export so that they can have a functioning economy, that's something that completely undermines the Israeli strategy of control, of divide and conquer of the Palestinians. And so, so they, they just cannot ignore it.

SHARMINI PERIES: We're going to continue this conversation we are having with Shir Hever about the demonstrations going on between Gaza and Israel.

---

SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to my conversation with Shir Hever. Shir Hever is based in Heidelberg, Germany, and we are having a conversation about the demonstrations that are taking place between the Gaza and Israeli border over the last several weeks.

Now, some people call Gaza the largest open-air prison in the world. And the measures that the Israeli military is taking to crush the protests in Gaza is making things worse. And their tactics are diverse, ranging from sniper fire on demonstrators, to using drones to distribute high concentration of tear gas, and also in terms of distributing messages, you know, propaganda to the Arabic social media. It's calling on women to stay home, calling, I guess, enticing fear among the demonstrators so that they don't come to the demonstrations. What are the actual strategies which Israeli government is engaged in here to defeat the demonstrators?

SHIR HEVER: Israel has a lot of tactics and a lot of technologies, but actually they don't have a strategy. They don't have a long-term strategy. They're just trying to buy time. The last item on the list that you mentioned was a statement by Adraee, an Israeli general who writes on Arabic social media saying, quoting, the prophet Muhammad to try to convince women to stay home and care for their families and not to protest, shows the level of hypocrisy and also the level of desperation of the Israeli forces in using every dirty trick in the book trying to get Palestinians to stop resisting. And they're not succeeding.

And so the only strategy that the Israeli government really has is to keep the struggle violent. And because of this the Israeli air force bombed some targets within Gaza, they bombed Hamas installations, and are trying to kill people and destroy property in order to provoke a reaction from the Hamas party. And we're hoping that Hamas members will throw rockets on Israel. And then the Israeli government could say, well, we're just defending ourselves, and increase the fire, and the demonstrators will be killed in the crossfire, and the Israeli government will be able to spin this is as just a military conflict.

Interestingly, Hamas is not falling for this bait, and they're not responding with rocket fire despite Israeli bombings. I think Hamas knows that if they do this, the demonstrators will never forgive them. The demonstrators demand the chance to prove that a nonviolent struggle can succeed. And that kind, that undermines the only kind of move that the Israeli government knows trying to escalate the violence. And if they cannot do that then we're seeing their whole strategy collapse. And so that's that's my point. They don't have a long-term strategy, and eventually Palestinians will be able to gain their freedom when the Israelis realize there's nothing they can do to stop it.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, the International Criminal Court, Shir, in the Hague, has issued a statement that it is watching closely what is happening in Gaza and may press charges against Israeli soldiers and officers who opened fire on defenseless Palestinians. Is this likely to happen, given that Israel has been very successful in squashing any citations against them at the United Nations? I'm sure ICC is no different. What's your take on that?

SHIR HEVER: It is unlikely to happen, because indeed, the Israeli government will use everything in their power to prevent such a court case, and the United States is going to help Israel in that as much as they can. But we should never forget that the Palestinians actually signed the Rome Convention. So now the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed within the area occupied by Israel. So that includes Gaza. And that's very important. This means that theoretically it is possible to press charges against individual soldiers or officers who participate in that killing of civilians. And that's something that, even if it doesn't actually happen right away, even if it doesn't immediately happen that hundreds of Israeli soldiers are arrested, it's enough that Israeli soldiers think of it. It's enough that they realize that this possibility exists. That these very young soldiers, 18 or 20 years old, and some of them, unfortunately, they think it's fun to open fire on defenseless civilians.

There was just a video that was now released that Israeli soldiers took a few months ago, where they murder a Palestinian with a sniper rifle. And then they cheer and praise the sniper for killing the Palestinian. And they put this video online because they're not afraid, because they don't fear the consequences. But statements like those of the ICC do make some Israeli soldiers think about consequences, that maybe when they're a bit older and they want to go to Europe on a trip, what happens if somebody arrests them? What happens if somebody presses charges against them? And in fact there is an Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. And they issued a very rare statement that we usually don't see from them calling on Israeli soldiers to refuse the order to open fire on unarmed civilians. And they're calling on Israeli soldiers to refuse.

This is an unusual, and of course, the response within the Israeli government, within the Israeli army, is vehement and vicious, and they're calling B'Tselem traitors, and they want to close down B'Tselem for making the statement. But B'Tselem is actually protecting Israeli soldiers, because if these soldiers will take heed and listen to what B'Tselem is saying then they will realize that they're taking some legal risk by opening fire on Palestinians. They could find themselves one day facing charges for war crimes.

And I think that's the point, that for Israeli soldiers, and for Israelis in general, it's so easy to forget that Palestinians are human beings. You're taught that it's the enemy, and they can just shoot them with no consequences. The international community, people supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, the ICC, and any, any other kind of organization, international organization, that tries to make Israel accountable for their crimes committed against Palestinians, is doing so by reminding Israelis that Palestinians are human beings.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you, Shir. I thank you so much for joining us today.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.



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