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Should the Palestinians retaliate for Friday’s killings by Israel?

Relatives of 18-year-old Palestinian Hamza Muhammed Ishtiwi, mourn by his body during his funeral in Gaza City on February 9, 2019. [Ali Jadallah - Anadolu Agency ]
Relatives of 18-year-old Palestinian Hamza Muhammed Ishtiwi, mourn by his body during his funeral in Gaza City on February 9, 2019. [Ali Jadallah - Anadolu Agency ]

Israeli occupation snipers killed two Palestinian children and wounded 104 others during the peaceful protests last Friday, the 46th of the Great March of Return protests along the nominal border of the occupied Gaza Strip. Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights reported that 43 children, five women and one paramedic were among the wounded. It added that one of the wounded is in a critical condition after being shot in the head.

During the funeral processions of the two children, Hassan Iyad Shalaby, 13, and Hamza Mohammad Ishtiwi, 17, those who took part called for the Palestinian resistance groups to retaliate for what Al-Mezan called the “lethal force” used by the Israeli occupation forces against the peaceful protesters. The factions responded to the calls of the people, but only verbally.

“What the Israeli occupation forces did on the 46th Friday of the Great March of Return was a war crime and needed an immediate proportionate response,” said Ismail Ridwan, a spokesman for Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. Meanwhile, senior Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib said that, “The blood of the Palestinian children will not be in vain. There must be a response.”

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However, nothing happened on the ground. Instead we witnessed immense self-control and the reinforcement of Palestinian security personnel along the eastern side of the besieged enclave in order to prevent any individuals or groups from launching any attacks against Israeli targets. This is likely to have been the result of an agreement between the Palestinian resistance groups and the angry Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip.

People carry the body of Hassan Shalabi, 14, during his funeral ceremony at Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza on 9 February 2019. [ Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency ]

People carry the body of Hassan Shalabi, 14, during his funeral ceremony at Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza on 9 February 2019. [ Mustafa Hassona – Anadolu Agency ]

Speculating on the benefit of such a reaction, academic and specialist in Israeli affairs Dr Saleh Al-Naami pointed out that one of the main reasons for the Great March of Return protests is to improve Gaza’s ability to break the siege without being dragged into a new war. “We know the potential outcomes of another war,” he explained. “What’s more, any response [by the Palestinian resistance] might lead to a comprehensive confrontation on the eve of the Israeli General Election which the politicians would use as part of their campaigns.” Al-Naami added that the call for a response to Israel’s killing of children on Friday is reasonable. “However, it needs more re-evaluation, not least because the Great March of Return has had an unprecedented impact on the nature of the conflict.”

According to political analyst Mamoun Abu Amer, the call for the Palestinian resistance to respond to the killing of the children is worrying. “Can the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip bear a new war, which could be avoided?” he asked. “Is it in our interest to go for a war at this moment? Will an armed response to the killing of children and attacks against protesters solve the problem?”

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Perhaps the Palestinians in Gaza have forgotten that peaceful resistance has a price, “due to the power imbalance” in place. “In such a situation,” Abu-Amer asserts, “the weak tend towards peaceful and popular resistance against the stronger power but we have to recognise that this has a cost, which will be different at every stage.”

For this reason, Al-Naami pointed out, “The leadership of the Palestinian resistance must transform the pressure being exerted on them by the brokers of the truce with the Israeli occupation authorities.” London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat revealed on Sunday that the Egyptians had persuaded the Palestinian resistance groups to commit to the truce with Israel.

In the meantime, said Abu Amer, “The Palestinian population in Gaza must use the best of peaceful and popular resistance without tending to violence.” He stressed that the costs paid by the Israeli occupation in any military confrontation are nothing compared with the price paid by the Palestinians.

So should they have retaliated for Israel killing the children on Friday? The people say yes, but external pressure and wider considerations insist that the answer is no.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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