MARK ALMOND: Yet another shattering body blow for peace as Israel marks its 70th anniversary while apparently shooting teenagers and protesters at the Gaza border
The shocking images of slaughter at the Gaza border are a public relations disaster for Israel. At the very moment the Jewish state is marking the 70th anniversary of its foundation, its government finds itself the target of global outrage.
An occasion for national pride is now badly tarnished by media coverage of its soldiers apparently shooting teenagers and civilian protesters.
History has always offered fuel for such controversy in this combustible region, filled with the legacies of territorial disputes and religious clashes. Israel’s birthday was always likely to provoke some sort of turmoil.
For the creation of the state of Israel is a source of profound grievance to many Palestinians, who believe that their people were driven off their own land and displaced into Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza strip.
Palestinians medical carry a wounded protester during clashes after protests near the border with Israel in the east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip
Palestinians carry the body of Mahmoud Abu Teima who was killed when Israeli snipers shot at crowds on the border of Gaza
In this narrative of despair, they feel they were robbed of their livelihoods and their nationhood through the event known as the ‘Nakba’ or the ‘Catastrophe’ whose anniversary falls today.
Tensions were always bound to be high at this period, particularly as Palestinian demonstrators – some of them crudely armed – gathered on the border with Israel to demand the right of return to the home of their forebears.
But what has really ignited the powder keg is the decision by the White House to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, which the state of Israel regards as its capital.
It is a step that has inflamed discord with the Palestinians, who lay claim to the eastern party of the city and whose Muslim faith has a number of sacred sites within its walls, as of course do Jews.
It was the fear of inflaming tensions that prevented a succession of US presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, from implementing a pledge to shift the American embassy to Jerusalem.
But Donald Trump, never a man to follow political precedent, has ignored such doubts.
He adopted his stance partly because he has always been a big admirer of Israel, and is deeply suspicious of Muslim fundamentalism in the region, as he demonstrated in his decision last week to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, a policy that was eagerly welcomed by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed dozens of Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday. A Palestinian woman is checked by medics
According to media reports, at least 55 Palestinians were killed and more than 2000 were wounded during clashes in Gaza-Israeli border during clashes against the US embassy move to Jerusalem
A teenager cries as he learns that his brother was killed today during protests at the border fence with Israel
Trump also has close personal ties to Israel, for his daughter Ivanka is married to Jared Kushner, whose family has donated money to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
For the Palestinians, all this is highly provocative, making a mockery of US talk about the need for a peaceful solution to the long-standing conflict. But this mood of anger is also sedulously cultivated by Hamas, the ruthless terror organisation which runs Gaza and relies on the culture of victimhood to maintain its iron grip on power.
That is why it has always been more interested in fomenting bitterness at Israel than in improving living standards in the Gaza strip. And why the fact that so many ‘martyrs’ have died – or been sacrificed – suits its cause.
Endlessly exploiting the climate of indignation, Hamas continually preaches the apocalyptic gospel of the armed struggle and martyrdom.
The interests of Hamas are served by turning a youthful, seething, radicalised population’s anger towards Israel.
That is the opposite of what Israel wants on its border with Gaza. Many British people, viewing the heart-rending reports of bloodshed, will understandably feel that the Israeli authorities grossly over-reacted to the demonstrations.
Thousands of Palestinian protesters were shot at on the Gaza border. Hospitals were full at the end of the day on Monday
But there are two crucial considerations to bear in mind about the Israeli response. First of all, one of the central themes of the radical Palestinian movement is to reclaim former homelands that are now Israeli territory. It is a drive called ‘The Great March of Return.’
But, by its very nature, this would threaten the very existence of the state of Israel. Therefore the security forces feel that, however savage the consequences, they cannot allow thousands of protesters in a human wave to cross the border and squat in Israel.
Second, although most of the demonstrators are unarmed, some definitely were. Hamas’s cynical eagerness to exploit the discontent means that there are bound to be hardened terrorists in the crowd, carrying knives, guns, petrol bombs or even rocket launchers.
The entire experience of Israeli history over the last 70 years is filled with attacks from its enemies. Almost every flashpoint becomes another challenge to the state’s right to exist. That is why the Israeli forces have to be so vigilant.
It could be that the hard line tactics actually work in deterring further border demonstrations. But the tough response could have the opposite effect, emboldening Hamas and fuelling radical fury as well as sympathy for the Palestinians from abroad.
Certainly, there is little doubt that the region will descend into further
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