Michael Omer-Mann, editor-in-chief of +972 Magazine says, IDF does not care if you are protesting in peace or with violence, either way, if you are protesting you run the risk of being killed
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
I’m in the Great March of Return in Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinians have marched to commemorate the Nakba, the mass deportation of Palestinians in 1948, which turned them into a nation of refugees until this day. The Israeli response to the nonviolent protests has been to kill over 110 unarmed protesters, and to injure thousands, which led to the collapse of the Gaza medical facility. After burying the 58 people who were gunned down on Monday, weighing that against the celebrations in Jerusalem over the opening of the U.S. embassy, many asked themselves whether the lives lost are worth it. Are they effective, as Israel appears to be going about its business? The other question this raises is are peaceful nonviolent protests the best way for Palestinians to earn their freedom?
A new article published by +972 Magazine with the title “You are far more likely to be killed protesting in Gaza than firing a rocket” reveals a worrying fact: that the Israeli armed forces are more likely to take the lives of nonviolent protesters than those of Palestinians using weapons in this struggle for freedom. Why?
Join us for a discussion with the author of the article. Michael Omerman. He is a writer and journalist and commentator and critic based in Israel. He is the managing editor at +972 Magazine. Michael, good to have you with us.
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: Nice to be with you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Michael, your article implies that Israeli forces actually prefer the Palestinians to use violence over peaceful nonviolent protests. Why?
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: I’m not sure that the Israeli army has a preference. I think they would prefer the Palestinians not resist the occupation at all. What I saw and what I found was that since February 18, which is about a week and a half before, or a month and a half before the Great Return March protest began, that not a single rocket has been fired from Gaza into Israel. And this is, this is the framing of the conflict that we get most of the time between Gaza and Israel, that rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel, and Israel responds with, you know, F16s and tanks and mass destruction.
And so I looked at the numbers of, in the time before these protests, when rockets were being fired, and in the 18 months before these protests started, dozens of rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza. And in those 18 months, 28 people were killed inside of Gaza. And in one day of these protests we saw a death toll that by now has reached 62 people. That’s more than actually the entire period between the end of the 2014 war and the beginning of these protests. Surpassed in one day.
I think the easiest answer about why that is is that they’re hundreds of meters away, they’re shelling themselves. They’re within gunshot range. But it’s astounding, and it’s, it’s, it’s depressing. It’s sad and depressing.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Give us a sense of how you made the tallies you have. How did you calculate the data and come to these conclusions?
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: Firstly, I asked the Israeli army spokesperson when the last rocket was fired, just to make sure that I didn’t under-report it. And as I suspected, there had been no rockets fired. And the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, publishes data once a month about every sort of security incident, or a terrorist incident, as they call it. And so I just went month by month, and did a tally of enemy rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel, and lined that up with details, casualty information, which is compiled by Israeli human rights groups. Someone who sends its workers to investigate every death, and [inaudible].
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I’m going to cut here to a clip that we have of Major General Etian Dangot, former commander of the Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territory, and currently a senior government official and they’re talking about their strategy for Gaza.
ETIAN DANGOT: We are in a different event from a declaration about some kind of popular uprising. The new event means that we are witnessing an attempt to enter and infiltrate Israel under the cover of so-called human munitions. And the second thing, remember that the Hamas date is May 15. We shouldn’t wait until then. We must initiate. I don’t rule out in a situation of a perimeter an Israeli entry into Gaza. I don’t rule out death bombing and striking. Hamas is the enemy.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Michael, let’s start with you trying to explain the context in which Major General Etian Dangot is speaking here.
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: The Israeli Army put out a lot of information. There are a lot of statements by politicians, the political and military echelons of the decision-making structures in Israel basically saying that, you know, this, that we’re expecting mass groups of people just to storm over the border, and the Israeli population in southern Israel is at risk.
And it’s just, you know, they, they announced that they were going to be stationing 100 snipers on the Gaza border ahead of the first day of protests, in which at least 16 people were killed. And we heard, we heard quotes all the way up to the defense minister, like the one you just heard right now, basically this warning or declaring that there will be Palestinian casualties.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, on the other side of the border, last week a group of extreme right-wing Israeli activists have attempted to launch their own attack against Gaza by flying a burning kite into Gaza in order to cause a fire. Now, their plan actually backfired, literally, because the kite ended up starting a fire on the Israeli side instead, from what we saw. Now, did the Israeli military, how did they respond to this? I mean, obviously they didn’t assassinate these folks, which are trying some effort, making some efforts of their own to do what the Israeli military is doing.
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: Yes, so this is a kind of cynical response by, from what I understand, a well-known right-wing activist, in response to a tactic that the Palestinian protesters have adopted over the past several weeks, which is to send kites with various burning materials over the border, to try to set agricultural fields on fire. And you know, this guy tried to give them a taste of their own medicine, probably, in his mind. And as you said, it backfired.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, what is the reaction inside Israel, Michael to the Great March of Return? Do you think that the choice of Palestinians to stick to nonviolent protests is making an impression on the Israelis at all? Because I know in terms of the international community there was a great relief when we understood that the Palestinians were actually planning a non-violent and a peaceful demonstration over the period, the last month. But was it received in the same way in Israel?
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: Unfortunately we’ll never find out, because these protests were never portrayed as non-violent protests in Israel. They were portrayed as Hamas-driven terror marches, in which people were paid to basically march to their deaths and try and cross the border, and terrorize the Israeli communities on the other side. We really have seen very, very, very little reporting in the Hebrew media, in the Israeli media, that refers to this as nonviolent, or even unarmed protests, or civilian protests. It’s been hammered again and again and again, this is a Hamas initiative.
Which we know just isn’t true. I mean, it was organized by civilians in Gaza from various political affiliations, and yes, Hamas, as the biggest political mobilizer, in addition to its own activities, sent people there. You know, they hired buses and they sent people there. But to describe it as, as a Hamas, you know, terror, or the way it was in the Israeli media and put out by the Israeli army and government, it basically precluded us from ever having that discussion.
SHARMINI PERIES: I’ve been speaking with Michael Omer-Man. He is a writer, journalist, commentator, and critic based in Israel. He’s the managing editor at +972 magazine. Thank you so much for joining us today, Michael.
MICHAEL OMER-MAN: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.