Protests in the Gaza Strip have been escalating in size and intensity in recent weeks. The protests first began on March 30th, Land Day, and were scheduled to continue through May 15th, which marks 70 years since 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their villages and towns by Zionist militias in 1948. This event was known as Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic. Now, over 70 percent of the Gaza Strip’s population of two million are Palestinian refugees and they are crying out for change. This timing is especially sensitive to Israel as the week that the protests started was also the beginning of Passover.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been increasing their presence at the Security Fence to ensure that the protesters don’t threaten the border or try to assault the fence. While tensions may be running high, the organizers of the protests have clearly stated that their intention is a peaceful protest and nothing more. They are trying to call attention to the oppressiveness of Israel while they struggle with a collapsing economy, high unemployment, and extreme overcrowding.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when the Israeli Defense Forces fired into a crowd of protesters after a few of the protesters hurled stones and rolled burning tires towards the fence. Fifteen protesters were killed and many more were wounded. Sadly, these were not the only deaths to come of these protests. As of April 6, the IDF had killed over 29 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600 others since the first protest on March 30. The wounded not only include men, but women and children as well.
The United Nations human rights office urged Israel to exercise restraint. "We are saying that Israel has obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed," UN human rights spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said in Geneva. "And that if there is unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms, resulting in death, that may amount to a wilful killing … and that's a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention." The UN wants to make sure that peace is the ultimate result and that peaceful protest won’t result in additional deaths, but only time will tell how Israel will respond.
These recent protests have only brought to the surface the tensions that have been in the hearts and minds of both sides involved for the last 70 years. This is an issue stemming from the conflicts between two of the three largest religions in the world so the ripple effect that originates in this region could have some serious repercussions throughout the globe. Many people, including myself, believe that another World War could originate in this area of both the political and religious tension.
Hopefully, the protests can be what they were intended to be when they started: peaceful. The last thing anyone wants is more bloodshed. Israel should look into how to better the lives of the two million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip instead of having the Palestinians fenced in such a densely populated area with no hope of improvement. As time passes, the more desperate for change people become. The future may hold uncertainties but the actions that we take now can help shape that. History will always remember what happens and future generations will be able to see how we treated those who were around us.
Wesley Rodriguez-Diep is a sophomore studying international relations.