Protests last week along Gaza’s border with Israel, which turned violent with Israeli troops killing 18 Palestinians, were long in the making. Gaza, the 225 sq km strip of land where over two million people live, has been under an Israeli blockade for over a decade. In recent years, Egypt has also joined the blockade, practically cutting off the strip from the rest of the world. The flow of both goods and people into and out of Gaza is heavily restricted. Life has become miserable under these conditions, and it is not an exaggeration when the territory is called one big open-air prison. Recent sanctions by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority have not helped matters. Despite international calls and repeated warnings by rights groups, Israel has not eased its restrictions on the strip. It says they are in place for “security reasons” — the ruling Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel. It was against this background, amid mounting frustration and resentment against the status quo, that Hamas and other organisations in Gaza called for a six-week sit-in on the Israeli border to protest against the blockade as well as to support the Palestinians’ right to return to the lands that became Israel in 1948. Most Gaza residents are refugees of the first Arab-Israeli war or their descendants.
There are conflicting views on what triggered the violence. Palestinians say Israeli soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters. Israel says force had to be used to stop the tens of thousands of protesters from crossing the border into its territory. The real picture can be ascertained only through an impartial international probe. But the U.S. has already blocked a move in the UN Security Council seeking such an inquiry. In the past, Israel has faced serious allegations of using force against Gazans. A UN-appointed commission probing the 2009 Gaza war accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes. While Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by most Western countries, Israel has hardly been held accountable for its actions. With the Trump administration’s unconditional support for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel could escape censure for the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza as well. The Palestinian leadership too deserves blame. Gaza and the West Bank are ruled by rival factions, Hamas and Fatah. Despite occasional declarations of unity, there have been no joint efforts to mitigate the suffering of Gaza’s people. For its part, the international community remains unresponsive when it comes to the grave rights violations in this Mediterranean enclave. Yet, the path ahead is clear. There has to be an international probe into the latest violence. World powers should urgently provide economic assistance to Gaza to save it from total collapse, and put incremental pressure on Israel to end the illegal blockade of the Gaza strip. But the question as usual is, who will put pressure on Israel?