We are deeply saddened and disturbed by Friday’s violence at the Gaza-Israel border in which, according to reports, seventeen Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli forces.
The outbreak of violence occurred as tens of thousands of Palestinians engaged in a mass protest near the border, part of a “March of Return” movement that has been backed and encouraged by the Hamas leadership in Gaza. While there were reported instances of individuals attempting to breach the border fence and engage the IDF, the vast majority marched and protested non-violently.
Non-violence remains a legitimate and important way for Palestinians to protest their conditions, Israel and Egypt’s near-total control over the territory’s borders and the ongoing siege under which they live.
According to reports, when a limited number of protesters engaged in violence or attempted to breach the border fence, the IDF responded with live fire and lethal force, resulting in a disturbingly high number of casualties. We urge the Israeli government and IDF to exercise maximum possible restraint and to use non-lethal force in such situations. We are dismayed that members of the Israeli government have already dismissed out of hand calls to conduct a thorough and independent investigation of these events.
This crisis points to the desperate need to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to incorporate the fate of the coastal enclave into comprehensive negotiations towards a political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an end to the occupation. The territory’s near total lack of power, clean water, adequate medical care and other necessities makes life in the Gaza Strip a nightmare for nearly two million residents who have nowhere else to go.
There is much blame to go around for the horrific conditions in Gaza. Hamas — due to its ongoing repression, corruption and insistence on pursuing a violent struggle against Israel — bears a great deal of responsibility for the desperate condition of Gaza’s people and the conditions that led to Friday’s clashes.
Israel too — as well as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority — bears responsibility for continued excessive restrictions on the territory and specifically on the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory that foster the explosively desperate conditions on the ground.
The people of Gaza need compassion, solutions and immediate assistance. We call on Palestinian leaders to resume efforts to negotiate a path to political reconciliation. We call on Hamas to stop inciting violence within peaceful protests. And, echoing numerous Israeli peace organizations and political parties, we call on the Israeli government to ease the siege of Gaza, help alleviate the suffering of its people and actively pursue a two-state resolution to the underlying conflict.
There is a serious danger that this weekend’s violence will deepen in coming weeks and — without any prospect for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations any time soon — further protest marches will lead to new clashes.
We call on responsible Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with the US administration and the international community to immediately put forward serious plans and take concrete steps to improve conditions for the people of Gaza and to head off further bloodshed.