March 30, Land Day, will mark one year since the first Great March of Return protests took place along the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. In the passing year, the Israeli army has responded to protestors using live ammunition, killing close to 200 Palestinians, including children, journalists and medics, and injuring thousands.
International law prohibits the use of lethal force against civilians unless they participate directly in acts of hostility or pose a concrete risk to life, and even then, only as a last resort and only to the extent necessary to alleviate the risk. Participation in a demonstration, even if the protest is not entirely peaceful and includes riots or disturbances, does not constitute an act of hostility or directly endanger life, in and of itself, which can be responded to with live fire.
In Israel, the protests at the fence are depicted as an assault on Israel’s borders, initiated by Hamas. This framing obscures the wider context of Israel’s enduring relationship with residents of the Gaza Strip: 50 years of control, culminating in a closure tightened more than twelve years ago.
The repeated rounds of hostilities are a testament to the fact that the solution to the situation cannot be military. Despite the many measures that could be taken to effect immediate change, steps keep being taken to make matters worse. The prices residents of southern Israel and Gaza pay as a result are unacceptable. The heavy toll in human life in Gaza and the constant threat of escalation emphasize the need for courageous decisions that can break the fatal cycle.
There are multiple actors that bear influence over the situation in the Strip – Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, de facto Hamas authorities, the international community; what is clear is that a sustainable solution requires their cooperation. All parties must remember that fundamental human rights should not be made conditional on politics. First and foremost, the Israeli government to be established following the upcoming elections must change its policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip and recognize that Israel’s ongoing control over Gaza comes with a responsibility towards its civilian population.