The IDF has tasked Israel’s weapons development authority to come up with new non-lethal methods to keep protestors away from the border fences with Gaza. While not officially changing the current rules of engagement, the IDF’s commanders have ordered troops deployed to reduce their use of live-fire against Palestinians coming close to the fence during the protests on Fridays.
Last Friday the Palestinians reported that one 28 year-old man was killed from Israeli fire on the border and 223 wounded. Hundreds more were treated for tear-gas inhalation.
At least 37 Palestinians have been killed since the border protests began on March 30.
Israeli sources claim that the Palestinian casualty numbers are inflated and, additionally,that many of those killed were members of Hamas and other Palestinian militant organisations and were involved in attempts at carrying violent attacks.
They admit however that the Israeli snipers have received orders to be much more circumspect when opening fire and this has led to a reduction in the casualty numbers, down from 17 killed on the first Friday of what the Palestinians have billed the “Great Return March.”
“We can’t allow the fence to be breached because Israeli kibbutzim are only a few hundred yards away, but we also know that a Friday without casualties is a failure for Hamas which is trying to use the protests to boost its popularity,” according to a senior Israeli officer on Friday.
The organisers of the march claim it is “non-violent” and that those taking part represent all the Palestinian factions. There is however disagreement in Gaza over the march’s aims and there are claims by some of the original organisers that it has been “hijacked” by Hamas.
Israeli officers say that they have not fired so far at the five encampments set up near the border fences, but only outside the 300-metre buffer zones. Attempts to use less lethal riot control methods to keep these areas clear however have not been effective.
The wind, coming in from the Mediterranean, means that tear-gas fired by the soldiers and dropped from above often gets blown towards the Israeli side. Other methods, such as rubber-coated bullets and water cannons, are also ineffective due to the distances involved and the high fence between the two sides.
The IDF has issued an urgent requirement for new non-lethal methods to the Defence Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, which developed, along with private defence contractors, both the Iron Dome missile defence system and the system currently being used to detect and destroy tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
It is unlikely however that any such methods could be deployed in time for the current round of clashes. The Palestinian organisers are planning to keep up this series of marches until May 14, when they mark Nakba Day, the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s establishment which they regard as their Nakba - tragedy.
What is more likely to affect the outcome, however, is Palestinian infighting and fatigue. On March 30, the first Friday march, 41,000 Palestinians are estimated to have taken part. This was down a week later to 29,000. Last Friday the figure was around 10,000.