Gaza’s quiet riot: 7 things to know for March 31
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Gaza’s quiet riot: 7 things to know for March 31

After a relatively restrained border protest, even rockets can’t seem to keep Israel and Hamas from chugging toward a truce, with sides feeling something almost less than hate

A Gazan protester waves a flag during clashes with Israeli forces on March 30, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
A Gazan protester waves a flag during clashes with Israeli forces on March 30, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

1. Keeping it copacetic: After all the hype, Israel and Hamas managed to keep a lid on border violence, or at least that’s how thousands of rioters and four people killed is being played.

  • Even overnight rocket fire and a less-than-awe-inspiring Israeli response seemed to be more going through the motions than anything, with both sides steaming ahead toward a truce deal.
  • Saturday’s protests saw no major attempts to breach the fence, and despite the high turnout the rally remained on the level of some of the previous weekly protests this past year, rather than the fiercer riots for which the IDF had been braced.
  • The battlefield was more of a “field on which was laid out the game whose rules are known and agreed to in advance,” writes Yossi Yehoshua in Yedioth.
  • A senior member of a Palestinian group is quoted telling Haaretz that “the Palestinians agreed to keep demonstrators away from the border and that Israel, in return, has agreed to limit use of live fire and to refrain from hurting civilians.”
  • By the end, an Israeli diplomatic official said Israel was “satisfied” with how things turned out and Channel 12 news reports that Hamas believes it had lived up to its obligations, and would now wait to see whether Egypt and Israel would follow through on theirs.
  • Several reports note that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to do whatever it takes to make sure things stay quiet until elections.

2. Near-praise for Hamas: It’s not everyday that hawkish Israelis and military officials have what can be described cautiously as praise for a terror group, but that’s what Hamas is meriting.

  • IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis says Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, had “operated with restraint not seen in the past year.”
  • Israeli forces observed hundreds of Hamas members wearing orange vests spread out between the crowd and the fence, preventing the masses from rushing toward the border, he says.
  • Even Israel Hayom columnist Yaov Limor calls Hamas’s effort to keep protesters away from the fence “impressive.”
  • “The fact that Israel and Hamas managed to speak and successfully get over this significant landmine is proof that both sides’ basic interests still trump their emotions,” he writes.

3. Don’t shoot first and ask later: The Israeli side is seen as taking steps to keep itchy fingers away from triggers.

  • “The IDF took an extremely careful approach to open fire orders to diminish the possibility of killing and injuring Palestinians,” Walla’s Amir Bohbot reports.
  • According to Yedioth’s Alex Fishman, “there were three times the normal number of snipers along the border, but the number of shots fired was much lower than on an average Friday.”

4. But there are still fears that things can go south: Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri tells Lebanese station Al-Mayadeen that “a calming is not an open truce with the occupation. … We…will continue to [participate] in all national activities and [undertake] all forms of resistance against the occupation in every place on the Palestinian land,” while admitting that a deal could come in the next couple of days.

  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that “the IDF admits that the situation along the border is fragile, and that one isolated incident of rocket fire could renew tensions.”
  • Nonetheless, overnight rocket fire was taken mostly in stride, signaling that Israel won’t let what are likely rogue actions derail truce talks.
  • It’s not just rockets either. “The next test: Balloons,” reads a top headline in Israel Hayom, pointing that the deal for calm requires Gazans to stop sending incendiary balloons, as well as everything else.

5. Not losing it: With 10 days to go before elections, Benny Gantz is pushing back against attempts to call his mental health into question.

  • The Blue and White party says that it plans to sue journalist Ben Caspit over his Friday column in the Maariv daily in which he alleged that Gantz was treated by a psychologist on a regular basis.
  • This comes after ads from Likud alleging that Gantz has “lost it.”
  • Gantz tells Channel 12 news that “I am not undergoing any mental health treatment. I’m totally fine. I have been exposed to far greater stresses than all these stories they are alleging.”
  • Playing off the fact that the same word is used in Hebrew for pill and bullet, he quips that “the only pills I know are 5.56 and 7.62,” referencing caliber sizes.
  • Online, many people point out that going to a psychiatrist or psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of, Haaretz notes.
  • “If Gantz went to a psychologist, he deserves kudos for being normal and human,” the paper quotes Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich saying. “By the way, even Obama and Michelle went for treatment during their presidency. I too have gone during several stages in my life, unfortunately not since I entered politics, but it certainly didn’t hurt me.”

6. Breaking the silence: Gantz’s friends are also coming to his defense, particularly former air force chief Amir Eshel.

  • “I was beside him when the nation’s fate was in his hands and there’s no covering up then. I was impressed by his aggressiveness, he has what it takes to be a leader,” he tells Army Radio.
  • In a column in Yedioth on why he decided to speak out, Eshel writes that “I never thought I would see the day that they attack an IDF chief who dedicated his whole life to the country.”

7. The guy from Ipanema: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will on Sunday greet Brazilian president and strongbro Jair Bolsonaro, but his hopes of having another embassy transfer to show voters heading to the polls next week seem less than solid.

  • While Bolsonaro vowed to move the embassy after being elected, he and his government have since expressed doubts about the move, which had been designed to emulate US President Donald Trump, and have indicated they may open a business office with diplomatic standing instead.
  • Israel Hayom puts an embassy half-full spin on things, writing that by opening the business office Bolsonaro is “partially fulfilling his promise,” and that the “honeymoon” between the countries’ leaders is continuing.
  • Political analyst Marco Bastos tells the AP that “there’s no real strategic interest in moving the embassy,” citing Brazil’s long tradition of pragmatic, friendly relations with nearly all foreign countries and the nation’s multi-billion-dollar meat exports to Arab countries.
  • But by not coming through, Bolsonaro may risk alienating his large evangelical base.
  • “If he doesn’t announce it, many lawmakers will remind him of it every day in Congress,” Sostenes Cavalcante, one of the evangelical lawmakers in Brazil’s lower house, tells Bloomberg.
  • Haaretz notes that Bolsonaro is merely the latest leader “who said they would move their country’s embassy and later backtracked.”
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