Israel media review

Gaza border or (hopefully) bust: 8 things to know for March 29

Israel is girding for massive violence along the frontier but there are still hopes that Egyptian mediation, or Hamas, may keep the demonstrators in check

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Israeli soldiers sit on top of mobile artillery near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli soldiers sit on top of mobile artillery near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

1. Bracing for the worst: Massive protests on the Gaza border are not planned to take place until Saturday afternoon, but Israel already seems to be at peak gird.

  • According to the Walla news site, senior commanders are preparing for a variety of scenarios, including the possibility of deterioration to the point of requiring a large-scale ground operation.
  • ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes that “The Israeli military is preparing for the possibility that Saturday’s protests will be some of the most violent yet.”
  • “Though Hamas is referring to the Land Day demonstrations as the ‘million-man march,’ only a few tens of thousands of people are expected to participate. The weather, which is currently predicted to be cold, rainy and windy, may help keep the numbers even lower than that,” he adds.
  • According to Yedioth Ahronoth, troops will be stationed along the border starting Friday, with “tensions reaching their peak.”

2. Trying for a truce: Reports indicate that Egyptian mediators are still working furiously to try to broker some sort of calm ahead of the expected melee.

  • On Thursday, the delegation passed a message from Israel to Hamas, telling the Gaza-ruling terror group: “Any mistake you make on Saturday could lead to war,” Channel 12 news reports.
  • Three Hamas officials familiar with the negotiations tell the AP that the Egyptians had offered Hamas a series of measures to ease the blockade on Gaza. In exchange, Hamas would have to pledge to halt rocket fire and keep protests along the Israeli border under control. The officials say the deal would only take effect after demonstrations.
  • However, Ismail Radwan, a top Hamas official, says that if there is progress, Hamas would scale back Saturday’s demonstration.
  • Haaretz reports that Gazan protest organizers are attempting to cool tensions, urging protesters to “not give Israeli snipers an opportunity to hit them.”

3. Can Hamas keep a lid on? Nonetheless, there seems to be little confidence the efforts will have much of an effect.

  • “The army is preparing for the possibility that Hamas will lose control of the protesters, which will put the Israeli snipers stationed along the border into action,” Channel 13 reports.
  • Walla’s Amir Bohbot predicts that it will be hard to predict how the demonstrators will act following the “extreme speeches and incitement to violence against Israel. “Especially after the brainwashing by Hamas, which according to events of the last year is leading them back toward Israel.”
  • To Haaretz’s Amos Harel the deciding factor as to how things will go may not be anything more complicated than sheer numbers: “If Hamas decides to bring 50,000 demonstrators to the Gaza Strip border fence on Saturday … the organization will have difficulty controlling the height of the flames. In such circumstances, there’s a good chance that at some point, some people in the mob will run towards the border and try to break through the fence,” he writes. “The outcome is liable to be a blood bath along the fence and, in its wake, renewal of the rocket fire on the Negev.”

4. Readying for the crowds: There are also some reports in the Hebrew press that suggest Hamas is in fact still encouraging mass participation in the protests and the rally planned for Saturday.

  • According to Channel 12 news Hamas is planning a mass transportation operation for Saturday, picking up protesters from 38 locations in the enclave and shuttling them to five sites along the border.
  • “Bulldozers have prepared the grounds of the rally, put up tents, even distributed a special budget so participants get free food. There’s even wifi for the protesters, so that they can post things quickly to social media. Hamas has prepared infrastructure for a wide media operation, which is expected to broadcast live. The goal: to show Palestinians being wounded in the protests,” reports the Ynet news site.

5. The horrors of being shot: Giving a rare glimpse of what life is like for journalists broadcasting the protests, and putting a rare face and story to normally cold injury statistics, AFP photographer Mohammed Abed tells of being shot by an Israeli sniper in June and his long road to recovery since then.

  • “I had been a photographer with AFP for nearly 20 years, covering three wars in Gaza as well as conflicts in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. Through a mixture of good planning and good fortune, I had avoided injury for all those years. But last June, on a crisp Friday afternoon, my luck ran out and an Israeli bullet found me,” he writes.
  • “I have spent my life capturing reality, watching the world and waiting for the perfect moment,” he adds. “Now suddenly I found myself on the other end, being watched as I hobbled around on crutches, viewed as yet another victim of the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
  • Human Rights Watch researcher Abier Almasri, plainly backing the protests, writes that he is “haunted” by his visits to Gaza’s hospitals to interview those wounded by Israeli fire as part of the demonstrations. “Screams of protesters who have only over-the-counter drugs for their pain as they await surgery with doctors prioritizing the more serious injuries. Tears of families grieving the deaths of loved ones.”

6. Poll positions: Hamas has dismissed the increase in tensions as being a result of electioneering by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though it’s more likely that increased violence ahead of the election would hurt him.

  • Exhibit A is Netanyahu backing Israel Hayom, which buries the Gaza tensions (the top story everywhere else) all the way back on page 13.
  • Instead the tabloid leads with a poll showing Blue and White leading Likud 32 to 28, but with the right-wing bloc seeing large gains, thanks to Zehut being up to six seats and both Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu making it in with five.
  • (Kudos to Israel Hayom for including several sentences on methodology, and margin of error, a rarity these days.)
  • A poll in Yedioth shows Blue and White leading by the same margin, but a slightly less impressive lead for the right-wing bloc, up 64 seats to 56.
  • The paper notes that while the two biggest parties are way ahead, they are losing strength to the smaller parties, a trend they hope to reverse.
  • “Both Gantz and Netanyahu assume that if it looks like a close race on election day, voters from the small parties will return to [the big parties] in an effort to have an effect on the election,” Yuval Karni writes.

7. Kingmaker looking for subjects: One major question is how Moshe Kahlon will fare.

  • A kingmaker in the last election, he is struggling to pass the threshold this time around, though if he does, he may once again wield impressive power, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes.
  • Following Kahlon around Tel Aviv’s working class Hatikvah market, a Likud bastion, Wootliff reports that he was greeted like a rock star, though it’s unclear how many of the people he glad-handed will actually vote for him.
  • “Bibi doesn’t need him, or anyone,” a butcher named Yisrael says to another butcher who urges him to vote Kahlon to help bolster the prime minister. “And we don’t need Kahlon to get Bibi.”
  • Kahlon, the finance minister, tells Yedioth that the reason he is not doing well is because he’s done too good a job running the economy.
  • “Right now I seem to the public as something assumed — the economy is excellent, and this brings calm to people and pushes my agenda aside,” he says.

8. Feeding the donor party: In the New York Times, Nathan Thrall tackles the complicated issue of anti-Israel activism in Washington and elsewhere, including the role of donors and intersectionality.

  • In the piece, a former Barack Obama staffer, speaking anonymously, admits that the timing of a decision to allow an anti-settlements resolution to go through the UN Security Council, in the last weeks before Donald Trump took over, was influenced by fear of donors fleeing the Democrats amid the election.
  • “There is a reason the UN vote did not come up before the election in November,” the former official said. “Was it because you were going to lose voters to Donald Trump? No. It was because you were going to have skittish donors. That, and the fact that we didn’t want Clinton to face pressure to condemn the resolution or be damaged by having to defend it.”
  • Others, speaking on the record, say much the same.
  • “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class. The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is,” former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes is quoted saying.
  • Joel Rubin, another former administration wonk (and J street official) says: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

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