The barrier enclosing the two million Palestinians “living” in the Gaza Strip is not a border between two countries, as the media have insistently called it. It is a wall erected by Israel to make the suffering of those living inside the Gaza ghetto as invisible as possible to those living outside it.
Israel has told Gazans that anyone attempting to breach this wall and escape from Gaza will be shot. Anyone approaching it will be shot. And that is precisely what has happened over the weeks of protests by Palestinian refugees seeking to highlight their seventy-year exile from land they can see just beyond the wall. Scores of Palestinians have been killed, including journalists and children. Thousands more have been injured by live fire, with many losing legs and arms to amputations. Alongside this, there has been a report of one Israeli soldier hurt by a stone.
There are many words for what this is. Palestinians speak of heroism, resistance, dedication, and martyrdom. The Israeli government calls the shoot-to-kill and shoot-to-injure policies “self-defense.” Individual soldiers call it “following orders.” Israeli human rights groups, meanwhile, call the policy ordered by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “grossly illegal.” My grandmother would have called it a shanda (Yiddish for a “disgrace”). But whether it is heroism or self-defense; whether the orders to shoot are legal or illegal; the mounting Israeli gun violence the world has been forced to witness along the Gaza ghetto wall is, without a doubt, disgusting. For any human being, no matter what their political views or ties to Israel or to Palestinian Arabs, the continuous mass shooting of Palestinian civilians is, or should be, emotionally and spiritually intolerable.
That it is psychologically and politically possible for Palestinians to continue sacrificing themselves in this way testifies to the desperation of their circumstances; that it is psychologically and politically possible for Israelis to murder and maim so many men, women, and children trying to escape from the ghetto within which they have been concentrated, or just trying to attract the world’s attention to their suffering, is a tragic and humiliating stain on the Jewish state and the Zionist movement that created it. It is also entirely self-defeating for a state struggling against efforts to “delegitimize” its existence.
To be sure, there is always Israeli hasbara, or propaganda, to help those seeking some way to suppress the revulsion and pain that any decent person must feel at the stories coming out of Gaza. This hasbara insists that the protests are nothing more than a cynical Hamas publicity stunt. It tells us that armed Hamas terrorists are hiding themselves among the demonstrators, using the miserable masses to conceal their efforts to kill Israelis. Who could doubt this? When the British ruled Palestine, the underground Jewish army prided itself on hiding arms factories in grammar schools and synagogues. And as we know, in any besieged ghetto there will be ghetto fighters, and they will be treated as heroes by those on the inside, and terrorists by those on the outside. But if there are certainly men of violence among the masses of protestors, let us not forget that alongside the many Israeli soldiers who surely suffer some pangs of conscience, there are some, as we have seen on videotape, who high-five one another for using fancy sniper rifles to put big holes in human bodies hundreds of yards away.