Minister: Gaza casualties don’t tell the real story

With Israel under attack for using live fire against protesters, Yoav Galant says non-lethal weapons cannot stop crowds from breaching border

Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Gallant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Haifa, March 19, 2018. (Flash90)
Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Gallant speaks at a signing ceremony for an agreement to build new apartments in Haifa, March 19, 2018. (Flash90)

A top cabinet minister on Monday rejected international criticism of Israel’s open-fire policies along the Gaza border, saying the comparatively high number of Palestinian casualties does not reflect the true story.

Speaking to foreign reporters a day before another expected outburst of violence, Yoav Galant accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of cynically exploiting their own repressed population to score points against Israel, and urged the world not to “calculate who is right and who is wrong by the numbers of the casualties.”

The Islamic terror group has been orchestrating weekly demonstrations along the Israeli border. More than 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire since late March, the majority of them members of terror groups, according to Israel and Gazan sources. Over half were killed on a single day.

“In the Second World War, 7.5 million Germans were killed and only 500,000 British. So who was the aggressor, the Germans or the British?” he asked. “The issue is not the numbers. The issue is who is doing what.”

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for shooting some unarmed protesters, with rights groups accusing the military of acting illegally by using deadly force from a distance when soldiers’ lives are not immediately threatened. Hundreds of people have been wounded by live fire.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar at her funeral in Khan Yunis on June 2, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The Palestinians say the protests are aimed at lifting the 11-year-old blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and demanding their “right of return” to homes from which their families were displaced during events surrounding Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Israel accuses Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks. Military officials say terrorists used the protests as cover to carry out attacks on troops or try to damage or infiltrate across the border.

Galant, a former IDF general who once commanded the Gaza region and a current member of the inner security cabinet, said Israel’s policy has been to aim at demonstrators’ legs and try to minimize casualties. But he said non-lethal means, such as rubber-coated bullets, have proven ineffective at stopping crowds from trying to break through the border fence.

He acknowledged that “mistakes” happen due to the uneven terrain and crowded demonstrations. Unarmed journalists, paramedics, minors and two women have been among the dead. Protesters often set tires on fire to make it difficult for Israeli snipers to see.

On Monday, the Israeli military said troops killed an ax-wielding Palestinian attempting to cross into Israel from Gaza.

An ax that the army says had been in the possession of a Palestinian man who tried to cross into Israeli territory from the southern Gaza Strip before being shot dead by IDF troops on June 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas has called for another round of mass protests on Tuesday, the 51st anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, in which Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Galant ruled out a formal truce with Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. But he suggested that Israel would reciprocate peaceful gestures and said Hamas is instead more interested in trying to make Israel look bad than improving conditions for its people.

“It is very sad to say, but the life of a Palestinian kid in Gaza is worthless to all the Palestinians and all the Arabs, unless an Israeli soldier is killing him. This is so sad and so bad,” he said. “If they want to send us flowers, we will send them candies. If they want to shell us, we will defend our population.”

In addition to protests and occasional rocket fire, Israel has been battling a spate of fires caused by kites from Gaza rigged with incendiary devices or attached to burning rags that have damaged forests and torched agricultural fields. The fires have disrupted daily life in communities near the Gaza Strip and caused significant destruction.

Fires in fields adjacent to the Gazan border on June 3, 2018. (Screen capture: Ynet news)

Israel announced Monday that it plans to deduct funds from taxes it collects for the Palestinians to compensate the victims of the attacks.

The tax funds are transferred to the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, whose forces were ousted by Hamas in its 2007 takeover of Gaza.

The PA, which is based in the West Bank, slammed the move, saying it violates past agreements and called it “robbery and cowardly aggression” against the Palestinians.

Israel had previously threatened to withhold the monthly tax transfers over Palestinian actions it opposes.

While Israel’s high-tech military has developed sophisticated means of shooting down incoming rockets and destroying Hamas’s underground tunnel network, it has been unable to find a way to stop the low-tech kites from landing in Israel and setting fields on fire.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that so far, some 600 kites have been launched from Gaza, of which a third have reached Israel and started blazes that burned 2,250 acres of farmland. He vowed to stop the phenomenon.

“I don’t intend to leave an open account, and we will settle the score with Hamas, with Islamic Jihad, and the other terrorists who act against us from Gaza,” he told the Knesset.

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said residents of southern Israel were still suffering because the government has no long-term policy about what to do with Gaza besides “waiting for the next round and waiting for the next fire.”

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