For six weeks, the “Great Return March” in Gaza has been building towards this week’s conjunction of the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the so-called Nakba Day. What might have once been planned as a non-violent protest was soon taken over — like almost everything in Gaza — by Hamas and became anything but non-violent. Certainly, there were large numbers of unarmed protesters among the tens of thousands gathered on the border with Israel. But many were armed, and among them — leading them — were Hamas terrorists, whose murderous intentions were open. Hamas’s Prime Minister, Yahya Sinwar, was clear about their aim: “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.” We know from Hamas itself that 50 of the 62 Palestinians who were killed on Monday were members of the terrorist organisation. They were not at the fence for a peaceful protest.
Monday’s events were a perfect illustration of the problems of asymmetrical warfare. Even though the IDF is plainly superior militarily, Hamas is able to exploit a fundamental dilemma. Hamas wants the world to see Israelis killing Palestinians. Everything about the past six weeks has been designed to produce such an outcome. But for all that this is obvious, Israel cannot stand back and let the fence be breached. To that extent, Israel walked straight into Hamas’s PR trap. It did so consciously, because for Israel, quite rightly, the priority will always be protecting its citizens rather than winning a PR war. But now what? The issue for Israel — and, of course, for the Palestinians — is whether there is an alternative, even when Israel is confronted by marauding terrorists. Is there a way to break this terrible cycle of violence and fear?