One can only wonder what will transpire today as Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border enter their third week. For now, snapshots from the latest “March of Return” demonstration offer insight into the Palestinian grief and longing currently on display.

Scenes from the Gazan side depicted the unbridled rage and enthusiasm that continue to grip Palestinian demonstrators, who appeared unfazed by the suffocating clouds of black smoke billowing from burning tires, while shots from behind the Israeli partition captured the frightening instability omnipresent on the Jewish state’s southwestern border. The mobilizations made abundantly clear the insufficiency of recent, pseudo attempts at reform.

Most telling from last week’s border demonstration, however, were the emphatic cheers of the Palestinian protesters: “We are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs.” These exclamations illustrate the sheer resolve of tens of thousands of Palestinians against not only the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel, but also for the return of the Palestinian people to Israel. Despite their tone of condemnation against Israel, the demands of the protesters most prominently acknowledge the incredible damage that Hamas has inflicted on the people of Gaza.

For much of its beleaguered modern history, the Gaza Strip has played host to the indefinitely displaced Palestinians. Pushed out of modern-day Israel by legal means and (mainly) by war, Palestinians in Gaza have been rejected citizenship by the occupiers of the region, Israeli and Arab, since Israeli independence was achieved.

Despite the Arab world’s repeated calls for the return of Israel to the Palestinians throughout the 20th century, Arab leadership only supported their Palestinian brethren insofar as their own national interests were served. That is, their backing of Palestinian enfranchisement embodied a universal aversion to permanent Palestinian resettlement within Arab national borders, just as much as it did a genuine antipathy to the existence of a Jewish state.

Palestinian demonstrators are not wrong to address the role of Israel in Gaza’s current and untenable situation. Nonetheless, it must be remembered that Israeli leaders’ primary focus has been on maintaining and protecting the Jewish identity of their nation. In upholding Zionism’s main tenet Israel has insulated the world’s perpetually outnumbered Jewish population from the uniquely dangerous threat posed by anti-Semitism. Beyond a history littered with severe persecution, the recent resurgence of hostility and violence toward Jews in traditionally hospitable democracies suggests the establishment of Israel was not so much an extreme impulse as it was a necessity.

Explanations pinning the entirety of the blame on Israel, however, abound. Though Israel is not without its well-deserved share of blame, both in its failure to adequately handle Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and in its growing refusal to encourage peace efforts— likely owing to an increasingly religious evolution of Zionist philosophy—Palestinians would do well to look within.

For the people of Gaza, the role of occupier has long been filled by Hamas, the Islamist terror group that took control following Palestinian infighting. Yet, in its continued joint blockade of the Strip with Egypt, it is Israel who exerts control over the territory’s fate. Together, the blockade and Hamas’s hawkish spending priorities precipitate the present crisis: Gaza is without sufficient water and electricity, overflows with untreated sewage and has dismal employment.

The reality remains that Israel, whose Western ties enable it to continue flouting international law, can afford to wait out the suffering in Gaza. Gazans, meanwhile, cannot.

Israel’s actions must not, however, be construed to be anything but necessary. In fulfilling Hamas’s demands to lift the blockade, Israel would legitimize the wholly seditious and revanchist doctrine of their charter. By withdrawing from the West Bank, another one of Hamas’ wishes, Israel would risk turning a second next-door neighbor into a base for rocket barrages.  One needs to look no further than the reparations payments and heroic memorials Hamas bestows upon the families of its suicide bombers to understand how its extremist rhetoric and repeated acts of violence, in particular, have left Israel with no other options.

Seeing as Hamas has effectively denied Israel any chance for accommodation, the only potential path to Palestinian betterment seems to lie within Gaza. Yet, despite its grassroots charity work and promises of good governance, Hamas has instituted a regime of despair during its decade-long reign. Ruinous damage clutters the streets as a reminder of its most recent war with Israel, and quality of life in Gaza has markedly decreased as its hardline positions repeatedly derail Palestinian cooperation efforts.  

Furthermore, the typically secular Palestinian community has provided a captive audience for Hamas to force its radical agenda upon. To this end, Hamas has sadly pushed many young Gazans to meet their ends as “martyrs,” with only continued misery and further isolation from Israel to show for it. Protesters’ calls to retake Jerusalem reflect a distortion of reality as much as they reflect as a misled understanding of which issues demand redress first.

Cries of desperation from protests on the border demonstrate exactly where the impediment to progress lies. Hamas, buoyed by a self-perpetuating narrative that bristles at the mere suggestion of conciliation, continues to serve empty lies to hungry and destitute Gazans. Incapable of scaling back its maximalist demands, Hamas neglects the fact that no outside party is incentivized to disrupt the status quo and, in so doing, protracts Gaza’s abject suffering.

Therefore, it is the people of Gaza who must act now. Rejecting fundamentalist rule within Gaza is a necessary step in convincing Israel that amnesty is sensible and delivers something to the Palestinians that no agent of Hamas has: hope for concessions. Given that extremism and stubbornness have yielded only pain and suffering thus far, a change of leadership in Gaza is long overdue.

Ethan Kessler can be reached at ethankes@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.