Gaza border clashes: ‘IDF averted a great disaster’

Palestinian protesters near the Gaza border on Monday. Photo: EPA/Mohammed Saber

AS the international community raged against Palestinian deaths, Israelis who live near Gaza were praising the IDF and saying it avoided bloodbath in their areas.

“The IDF averted a great disaster,” said Gadi Yarkoni, mayor of the Eshkol region, after violence on the nearby border reached its most intense since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The mayor of the nearby Shaar Hanegev region Alon Schuster told The AJN that his residents are “relieved,” saying that were it not for the military response “hundreds or thousands of Gazans could have flowed in to Israel and a few is all it would have taken to cause disaster in our area.”

Schuster stressed that he is a “peace-seeker” who wants coexistence with Gaza, but is convinced that the IDF’s action was necessary. In Yarkoni’s region, farmers were clearing up charred fields, ignited by terror kites from Gaza, as he told an Army Radio interviewer: “Everyone here and everyone in the world needs to think what would have become of our state if people had tried to cross the border, or if God forbid they had succeeded in breaching the fence.”

Yarkoni said that despite the damage to open areas, Israelis weren’t harmed as the weeks-long March of Return reached a peak, and this was a relief. He said that were it not for the IDF’s firm response, “many more people would have been killed than the fifty-something who were killed.”

Hours before he spoke, the IDF released videos of Gaza’s trying to breach the fence, including one of a suspected terror cell. Hamas was “encouraging and sending protestors to the fence area in order to commit violent acts and damage security infrastructures,” according to the Shin Bet, which added: “Iran is transferring funds to Hamas for violent action in the Gaza Strip fence area.”

As The AJN went to press, the Gaza situation at the border appeared to be calming. But some feared that if this was a temporary respite, a major degeneration could be on the cards. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that if the cycle of violence doesn’t end, “it will explode and drag everyone in the region into another deadly confrontation.”

Monday and Tuesday saw the biggest protests since the Gaza march began a month-and-a-half ago, with organisers drumming up support by promoting anger about the opening of the US embassy and the fact that Tuesday was the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment — Nakba Day to Palestinians. They are also believed to have offered cash payments to each family taking part.

Israel estimated the turnout on Monday at 40,000. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, 58 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on Monday, and one more on Tuesday. More than 2000 were said to be injured. The UN’s Secretary António Guterres was “profoundly alarmed” by the escalation in violence, according to his spokesman.

The UN statement was more balanced than some others in the past, calling for Israeli restraint but also insisting: “Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations.”

Other international players simply hit out at Israel. South Africa condemned “the latest act of violent aggression” and recalled its ambassador “given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack.”
“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border,” the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement. Russia said that the Palestinian deaths “cannot but provoke the deepest concern,” while Kuwait expressed “outrage and sorrow” and drafted a UN Security Council call — ultimately blocked by the US — calling for an enquiry.

Turkey also recalled its ambassador, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Israel or “wreaking state terror” and of “genocide.” Benjamin Netanyahu responded by taking him to task for supporting Hamas and telling him not to “preach morality.” Turkey and Israel have expelled each other’s ambasadors.

Four Arab Israeli organisations, including Adalah, issued a statement saying that Israel had “excessively used force,” and there was a strike in much of Israel’s Arab sector, including schools, on Tuesday. Anger among Israeli Arabs was increased by the fact hat police made 14 arrests during Jerusalem protests against the embassy opening by Arab protestors and politicians.

According to the Israeli authorities, the blame for the Gaza situation is all on Hamas, and Jerusalem’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said that everyone killed was “a victim of Hamas’s war crimes.”

Politicians and the military insisted that peaceful protestors are merely a cover for violent rioters who attack forces and were hoping to breach the border. “Hamas is using demonstrators in order to cut through out defences and get into Israel,” said IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus. “For who to get into Israel? For terrorists.”

Shin Bet said it has discovered that Hamas prohibited its terrorists from approaching the fence because of danger they may be killed or captured by the IDF. However, “if the fence is breached, then they are to enter Israeli territory armed – under cover of the mob – and carry out attacks.”

Diagrams by organisers of the march show the distance from Gaza to Israeli communities, and indicate the names of the communities in Arabic.

Like Australia, America supported Israel. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” said administration spokesman Raj Shah.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley argued that those who say the violence is connected to the opening of the embassy “is sorely mistaken; rather it comes from people who will not accept Israel in any part of Israel.”

Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that, despite talk of proceedings at the International Criminal Court following the latest flare-up, she believes that they performed “well, in accordance with open-fire orders.”

“International criticism is unpleasant, but manageable.”

NATHAN JEFFAY