Since late March, Israel has been facing a new Hamas-driven PR and confrontational campaign.
After seeing its rockets and missiles intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" and after its terror tunnels started getting detected by advanced Israeli technology, the terror organization in control of the Gaza Strip launched "The Great March of Return": Every Friday afternoon, in close coordination with the end of noon prayers and the international media, Hamas urges thousands of Palestinians to march on the Israeli border in a seemingly peaceful demonstration.
But under the cover of thousands of burning tires and other smoke screens, Hamas terrorists are hurling Molotov incendiary bombs as well as explosive devices across the border; a border, of course, that is the internationally recognized border between Gaza and Israel. They are also trying to vandalize the border fence in order to breach it and allow hundreds of, if not more, of terrorists to infiltrate Israel, with only one intention-to kill Israeli civilians.
Incidentally, the title of the "Great March of Return" is very telling: It alludes to the Palestinian demand that four or five million descendants of Arabs who lived in modern-day Israel pre-1948 be allowed to return-not to the future state of Palestine, but to Israel proper. This "eliminationist" demand reveals a desire to not live in peace beside Israel, but to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian one, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The purported aim of the demonstrations taking place every Friday is to condemn the Israeli occupation-which, by the way, in the case of Gaza has ended over a decade ago. But the real aims of the demonstrations are to score points in the international arena of public opinion and to distract Gazans from the wretched conditions a decade of Hamas rule has created for them.
With its cynical use of civilians including children and women, often coerced into participating in the demonstrations, Hamas knows that this could potentially be a win-win situation for its image as the oppressed underdog, portraying Israel in a negative way: if the demonstrators should succeed in breaching the border fence, hundreds or more terrorists will pour into Israeli towns and villages near the border, killing who knows how many civilians. But if Israel defends its borders (as any country must), Palestinians are bound to get injured or killed.
And that is exactly what has been happening since March: thousands of Palestinians come dangerously, provocatively close to our border, they try to place explosive devices along the border or fly incendiary bombs across the fence using kites (with Nazi swastikas drawn on them). When the IDF takes measures to protect the border, Palestinians are harmed and exhibited before the international media as proof of Israeli aggression. Score two points for Hamas' PR machine.
At the end of the day, the demonstrations are not designed to exact any concessions from Israel, territorial, or other. They are not about the settlements or about the electricity crisis in Gaza. They are simply designed to portray Israel in a negative light and ultimately, they represent Hamas' zero-sum game strategy, according to which there is no room for peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews-there is room for only one nation on this land, and that is a Palestinian one. In other words-it is about the refusal of Hamas (and, unfortunately, too many other Palestinians) to recognize Israel's very right to exist.
After the failure of yet another (eighth) signed reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the demonstrations are also Hamas' way of showing that the organization is alive and kicking-and forcing Palestinians to pick a side in the internal Palestinian conflict between the (relatively) moderate Palestinian Authority and the extremist Hamas.
In the meantime, the demonstrators are challenging the Israel Defense Forces which needs to protect our national sovereign borders against a terrorist onslaught on the one hand while making sure not to harm innocent demonstrators among whom there are countless terrorists in civilian clothes, on the other. The challenge is daunting, but the IDF continues to do its utmost to neutralize only terrorists and not to play into the cynical hands of Hamas which would gladly sacrifice women and children in its struggle to destroy Israel. Sadly, innocent civilians often come into harm's way.
So far, the attempt to get hundreds of thousands to participate in the demonstrations has failed. The numbers keep dwindling from one week to the next and despite coercion and threats, Hamas seems unable to bring out more than a few thousand each week. The climax of the present campaign is scheduled for May 15-not coincidentally, the date on which Israel celebrates its 70
anniversary, according to the Christian calendar. It is Hamas' hope that on that day, as many Palestinians as possible would lose their lives so that Hamas can score a public relations victory, which-unfortunately-will lead us nowhere nearer a solution to our age-old conflict.
Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.