Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday downplayed a spate of infiltration incidents from Gaza to Israel, and warned Palestinians that anyone who cooperates with Hamas on its planned mass tent protest will be forever banned from entering Israel.
“I see the headlines and the self-flagellation, it’s sheer madness,” Liberman told the Ynet news site after two Palestinians armed with a knife and wire cutters breached the security fence around Gaza in the fourth such incident in a week, despite the army being on high alert in the area.
“Can you totally prevent every mishap? No,” he said. “Do you have to turn it into a tragedy? Also no. And it shouldn’t be talked about in terms like mass hysteria.”
The infiltrations came as Israel has been ramping up security along the border ahead of protests planned for Friday, which security officials fear could see masses of Palestinians trying to breach the boundary.
“We are prepared, and I’m sure we will enable the Israeli public to celebrate Passover calmly and with security,” Liberman said, adding later in a tweet that “many soldiers” would not be furloughed for the Passover Seder.
The Hamas terror group has organized the protests, which are being held under the banner of “March of Return.” Palestinians are planning to construct a tent city across from the Gaza security fence and have called on tens of thousands of Palestinians to participate in what they described as a “peaceful protest.”
Friday is “Land Day,” which marks the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and the ensuing demonstrations, in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover holiday.
The protests will continue for six weeks until May 15, the day after the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
The defense minister accused Hamas of escalating tensions by offering residents benefits to participate in the tent protest.
“No Palestinian from Gaza comes willingly to confront IDF forces on the border. They are all Hamas operatives or family forced to come — the bus rides, free internet, toilets, tents. Soon they’ll have a rock concert so people will come,” he joked.
Liberman called on Gazans to refuse to come and revolt against the Hamas regime.
“You know who is responsible for your dire situation,” he addressed Gaza residents. “Try changing things from the inside. Anyone who we identify as having aided Hamas’s efforts will never be allowed to enter Israel, won’t be able to do business here, nothing.”
However, the defense minister also said he was trying to prevent an all-out war and that Israel doesn’t want to cause unnecessary deaths “because that will be fuel that will bring in the real masses.”
“The orders are not to allow a breach of Israeli sovereignty,” Liberman said. “We will try to keep them in the perimeter, not let them approach the fence. There are hundreds of snipers who will know how to identify the rioters and those who set the tone, and we will target them.”
In a Wednesday interview with the Israel Hayom daily, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned that “if the Palestinians think they will organize a march and it will pass the [border] fence and they will march into our territory, they’re wrong.”
“A big portion of the army will be invested there,” Eisenkot told the rival Yedioth Ahronoth daily on the same day, adding that more than a hundred snipers, most from “special units,” have been stationed in the area.
“If there will be a danger to lives, we will authorize live fire,” he declared. “The orders are to use a lot of force.”