On Friday, the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is inaugurating what it is calling “The March of Return.”
According to Hamas’s leadership, the “March of Return” is scheduled to run from March 30 – the eve of Passover — through May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment. According to Israeli media reports, Hamas has budgeted $10 million for the operation.
Throughout the “March of Return,” Hamas intends to send thousands of civilians to the Israeli border. Hamas is planning to set up tent camps along the border fence and then, presumably, order participants to overrun it on May 15. The Palestinians refer to May 15 as “Nakba,” or Catastrophe Day.
The first question that observers of this spectacle need to ask themselves is whether Hamas believes that it will be able to overrun Israel.
The obvious answer is, of course it doesn’t.
So this brings us to the second question.
If Hamas doesn’t expect its civilians to overrun Israel, what is it trying to accomplish by sending them into harm’s way? Why it the terror group telling Gaza residents to place themselves in front of the border fence and challenge Israeli security forces charged with defending Israel?
The answer here is also obvious. Hamas intends to provoke Israel to shoot at the Palestinian civilians it is sending to the border. It is setting its people up to die because it expects their deaths to be captured live by the cameras of the Western media, which will be on hand to watch the spectacle.
In other words, Hamas’s strategy of harming Israel by forcing its soldiers to kill Palestinians is predicated on its certainty that the Western media will act as its partner and ensure the success of its lethal propaganda stunt.
Given widespread assessments that Iran is keen to start a new round of war between Israel and its terror proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it is possible that Hamas intends for this lethal propaganda stunt to be the initial stage of a larger war. By this assessment, Hamas is using the border operation to cultivate and escalate Western hostility against Israel ahead of a larger shooting war.
Several Israeli commentators have noted that Hamas’s plan to send civilians to the border and, presumably, order them to breach it at a certain point, is not original. Hezbollah, acting in concert with Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Syrian regime, did something similar in 2011.
As the UK Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele reported in March 2015, that operation played a major role in transforming the civil war in Syria from a few scattered battles between the regime and opposition groups into a full-fledged civil war.
Steele recalled that ahead of “Nakba Day,” on May 15, 2011, the Syrian regime sent forces into the Yarmouk refugee camp (actually an upscale neighborhood five minutes from central Damascus). In early 2011, the “camp” was home to 150,000 Palestinians and 650,000 Syrians.
The government forces encouraged the Palestinians to participate in a march on Israel on Nakba Day. On May 15, 2011, the regime sent buses to Yarmouk. Several hundred people from Yarmouk were driven to the border with Israel. The passengers alighted and began marching to Israel.
Israeli soldiers stationed on the Israeli side of the border in the Golan Heights were taken by surprise by the marchers and opened fire. Three of the Palestinians were killed.
A month later, the regime sent minivans to Yarmouk. Several dozen Palestinians climbed aboard. At the border they were joined by several hundred more marchers. Together, they began scaling the border. Israeli forces responded with live shells and tear gas.
23 people were killed. Twelve of the dead were from Yarmouk. The next day, 30,000 people attended their funeral.
The mourners were livid at the regime for sending them to die, and infuriated with Jibril for encouraging them to go. They surrounded Jibril’s offices in Yarmouk. PFLP-GC gunmen killed a 14-year boy in the crowd. The angry mourners stormed the offices and burned them to the ground.
Steele reported that Jibril himself was rescued by regime forces.
The anger the Palestinians directed against the regime inspired the opposition forces to mobilize the Palestinians to their side. The Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Brigades took over Yarmouk.
The regime responded by laying siege on Yarmouk. Most of the residents escaped to other areas of Syria, to Lebanon and Jordan. 18,000 civilians and combatants remained. The regime starved and bombed them into submission over the ensuing three-and-a-half years.
Some Israeli commentators believe that having studied the events in Syria, Hamas will end up calling off the marches to avoid a rebellion in the event that Israel kills civilians at the border.
But there is good reason to believe that Hamas intends to go through with the operation.
Wednesday, Arab affairs commentator Yoni Ben Menachem reported that one of the chief organizers of Hamas’s March of Return is Zaher al-Birawi. According to Ben Menachem, al-Birawi, a senior Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood operative, holds the title, “Liaison for the International Committee for Breaking the Embargo on the Gaza Strip.”
In years past, Ben Menachem reported, al-Birawi was a key operative involved in organizing the flotillas to Gaza.
The most lethal flotilla charged with challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s coastline was the May 2010 flotilla organized by Turkey’s IHH organization. IHH is an Islamist NGO affiliated with al Qaeda. The lead ship in the six ship flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, was commanded by IHH. Most of its 630 passengers were anti-Israel activists from Western nations. Forty well-trained IHH members were on board and tasked with assaulting any and all IDF soldiers who attempted to board.
The Israeli naval commandos who were dropped onto the deck of the ship from helicopters were attacked by IHH personnel armed with axes, iron bars, knives, and guns. During a pitched battle between the IHH attackers and the naval commandos, nine soldiers were wounded, three seriously. Nine IHH attackers were killed.
Israel was harshly condemned for what the international media and the international left referred to as a murderous use of force against innocent peace activists.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan demanded that Israel pay compensation to the dead IHH attackers’ families, and accused Israel of state-sponsored terrorism while opening war crimes trials against senior Israeli military commanders in Turkish courts.
During his visit to Israel in 2013, then-President Barack Obama strong-armed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer an apology to Erdogan and agree to pay compensation to the dead attackers’ families. Obama participated and oversaw the call, which took place on the tarmac of Israel’s Ben Gurion airport before Obama boarded Air Force One to depart from Israel. Most Israelis were angered by Netanyahu’s apology, and Netanyahu privately said he regretted agreeing to offer one.
For their part, the Western anti-Israel activists who were on the Mavi Marmara joined the pile on against Israel, accusing its soldiers of wanton aggression against them.
Earlier this month, British investigator David Collier exposed the existence of a virulently antisemitic secret Facebook group called “Palestine Live.” Collier’s most newsworthy finding was that British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was an active member of the group until shortly after he was elected head of Labour in 2015.
Collier also reported that Greta Berlin, a member of the Palestine Live group, and one of the heads of the Free Gaza Movement that organized the Mavi Marmara flotilla together with IHH, admitted in one of her exchanges there that Israel was not responsible for the lethal events aboard the ship. Had the IHH activists — including Kenneth O’Keefe, a former U.S. Marine-turned-Hamas terrorist and “Palestine Live” group member — not attacked the Israelis, Berlin wrote, they wouldn’t have opened fire.
In her words, “Had [O’Keefe] not disarmed an Israeli terrorist soldier, they would not have started to fire.”
In addition to a massive quantity of axes, crowbars, chains, tear gas, knives, and other weaponry, Israeli forces found an advanced broadcast and film editing studio aboard the Mavi Marmara. The attackers clearly viewed media warfare as an integral component of their aggression against Israel.
Which brings us back to Hamas’ plan to have Gaza civilians die at the border with Israel to make Israel look bad.
Israel will, no doubt, find means to undermine Hamas’s operations. It has already announced it intends to use drones and snipers. The IDF can be expected to block communications. And in an interview with al-Hurra Arabic television, IDF Maj. General Yoav Mordechai warned that Israel will penalize any bus company that transports Gazans to the border.
The real issue revealed by Hamas’s planned operation — as it was revealed by the Mavi Marmara, as well as by Hamas’s military campaigns against Israel in 2014, 2011 and 2008-09 — is not how Israel will deal with it. The real issue is that Hamas’s entire strategy is predicated on its faith that the Western media and indeed the Western left will side with it against Israel.
Hamas is certain that both the media and leftist activists and politicians in Europe and the U.S. will blame Israel for Palestinian civilian casualties. And as past experience proves, Hamas is right to believe the media and leftist activists will play their assigned role.
So long as the media and the left rush to indict Israel for its efforts to defend itself and its citizens against its terrorist foes, who turn the laws of war on their head as a matter of course, these attacks will continue and they will escalate.
If this border assault does in fact serve as the opening act in a larger terror war against Israel, then a large portion of the blame for the bloodshed will rest on the shoulders of the Western media for empowering the terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel.