1. With the Israeli military on high alert along the border of the Gaza Strip in anticipation of renewed clashes with Palestinian protesters, and 15 demonstrators said killed by Israeli fire on Friday — 10 of them members of Palestinian terror groups, according to the Israel Defense Forces — the local media is primarily concerned with the Jewish state’s response to the demonstration.
- Some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.
- The army said that its sharpshooters targeted only those taking explicit violent action against Israeli troops or trying to break through or damage the security fence.
- According to the IDF, eight of the men killed were members of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. One served in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and another was affiliated with “global jihad,” it said, apparently referring to one of the Salafist groups in Gaza.
- Hamas has publicly acknowledged that five members of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were among the fatalities.
2. The Palestinians’ Friday march to Gaza’s border with Israel was the largest such demonstration in recent memory, calling for Palestinians to be allowed to “return” to land that their ancestors fled from in the 1948 War of Independence.
- The Palestinians have dubbed the protest the “March of Return.” Israel Hayom, however, on its front page calls the demonstration a “March of Terror,” with all of the daily’s major contributors lauding the IDF for its handling of the volatile situation.
- Palestinian protest organizers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
- Palestinians mark the date as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands left or were forced to leave during the 1948 War of Independence. The vast majority of Gaza’s two million people are their descendants.
- At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
- No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position has generally been that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.
3. Given the expected length of the demonstration, some analysts in the Hebrew-language media voice concerns about the political, rather than security, implications of a prolonged march on Israel’s borders.
- In Haaretz, military analyst Zvi Barel warns that as Hamas continues to “strengthen its political presence thanks to the demonstrations, it will force Egypt to recognize it as the official representative in Gaza.” This, in turn, may boost the organization’s status with regard to internal Palestinian reconciliation efforts, which are spearheaded by Cairo.
4. Other possible political implications regarding the border march have already begun to surface. On Friday, the UN Security Council held a closed meeting to discuss the incidents along the Gaza-Israel border, despite a request from the US and Israel to postpone deliberations for Saturday due to Passover holiday eve.
- PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he instructed his envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, to ask the Security Council to provide “international protection” for the Palestinians.
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties.”
- The Hamas terror group, for its part, expressed “regret” over the Security Council’s failure to issue a resolution condemning Israel.
- The United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of the clashes.
5. Calls for an investigation of the deaths during Friday’s clashes were not limited to the UN, however. Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg called on Israeli authorities to launch a probe into the violence, indicating she thought the Israeli military appeared to have been too “trigger happy.”
- Zandberg said an investigation is warranted given the death toll and the footage from the events broadcast on social media and elsewhere, including a video aired on Palestinian media apparently showing an 18-year-old being shot dead while running away from the border fence.
- Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was not amused by Zandberg, to say the least, claiming in response to her demands that for some time, Meretz had been representing not Israeli but rather Palestinian interests in the Knesset.
6. Speaking of Liberman, the defense minister took personal offense to further homegrown criticism of the IDF’s response to the violence along the border.
- Ynet reports that Liberman implored Army Radio host Kobi Meidan to quit the military station, after the journalist and television personality wrote a post on Facebook in which he said that the death toll in Gaza made him feel “ashamed to be an Israeli.”
- Liberman, however, refrained from directing Army Radio head Shimon Elkabetz to fire Meidan.
7. Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, who served as the IDF’s chief rabbi, passed away Sunday morning at the age of 66 after battling cancer.
- The cancer had been discovered during a checkup as he was preparing to donate a kidney.
- Rontzki was born to a secular family. He studied at a military boarding school and enlisted in the army’s elite Shayetet 13 unit, and later transferred to the Paratroops.
- After leaving the army, he began studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and became a rabbi. In 1984, he and his wife were among those who founded the settlement of Itamar, near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the West Bank.