The Israeli Government insists it has the right, as any nation does, to protect its borders; many of the 58 Palestinians shot dead by its security forces were “terrorists”, it insists; and Hamas was planning to send armed fighters through a breach in the fence around Gaza to “massacre” Israelis, according to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
But, for many onlookers, there was only one massacre and it was of Palestinians by Israelis. Writing in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Ilene Prusher, a US journalist and academic, asked a pointed question: “Hamas may as well be sending young demonstrators into a firing squad. But does that mean Israel has no choice but to keep pulling the trigger?”
She agreed protesters who threw Molotov cocktails or who tried to cut the border fence were “far from the textbook definition of ‘peaceful protesters’ engaging in civil disobedience”, but added “neither do they present a lethal threat to 13 battalions of Israel army forces. Indeed, to call every teenage protester a terrorist recruited by Hamas bent on murdering Israelis flies in the face of truth.”
In the UK, Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, wrote of a “shameful day”. “Yes, Hamas exploited – even organised – much of the protests. Yes, no one would have been killed if they’d not been charging at the border. But no one can tell me that the correct response was to fire live ammunition at unarmed Palestinians.”
A few decades ago, public opinion in much of the world was solidly behind Israel, but attitudes have changed largely because of the military action it has taken against Palestinians.
Labour’s Emily Thornberry yesterday claimed Israel had a “deliberate policy to kill and maim unarmed protesters”, while Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames spoke of a “wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”. Israel may complain such views are formed at a safe distance, too far from the actual events to understand them properly, but the world can hardly do anything else.
And, from a distance, it looks like Israel has carried out a massacre of unarmed protesters. Whatever repercussions result from this tragedy, Israel, for its own sake, must ensure its soldiers fire only when they have no alternative because currently it is losing the battle for the world’s hearts and minds. And that, in the long run, may be the most important struggle.