The ‘March of Return’ Is a March to Destroy Israel
by Martin Sherman
The mass demonstrations that took place last week at the Israel-Gaza border underscored two points of grave significance. One relates to past decisions made by Israel and the other to future ones that Israel will have to make.
With regard to the past, it is clear that the formula of land for peace has failed dramatically, disastrously, and definitively.
After all, it was in Gaza that the misguided experiment of attempting to foist self-rule on the Palestinians was initiated with Yasser Arafat’s triumphant return to the coastal enclave in July 1994 amid fanfare and international acclaim. The events of last Friday have proven just how unfounded the high hopes of peace and prosperity were. The process that was set in motion in mid-1994 has — predictably — brought only trauma and tragedy to Jew and Arab alike.
However, although the “peace process” has imposed several serious security challenges on Israel — such as suicide bombings, rockets, underground terror tunnels, lone-wolf knifings and ramming attacks — what it has wrought on the Palestinian-Arabs is far worse; particularly in Gaza, where it all began.
With frequent and extended power outages, soaring unemployment, pervasive penury, undrinkable water, polluted beaches, and cities awash in flows of raw sewage, the largely destitute Gazan population has been the real victim of two-statism and the ill-conceived initiative to grant them political sovereignty. To make matters even worse, Mahmoud Abbas, who is locked in a fierce power struggle with Hamas, is threatening to make the situation even worse by cutting funds, thus reducing electricity, food, and medical supplies.
So almost a quarter century after the Oslo Accords were signed — allowing self-rule to the Gazan-Arabs — and more than a decade after removing all of the Jewish presence there, hordes of Gazans have massed at the border, egged on by their leaders to obliterate Israel, in what was dubbed the “March of Return.”
But the march was simply an effort to destroy Israel.
This was clearly articulated in the fiery proclamation by the head of Hamas, Yehya Sinwar, who vowed: “The ‘March of Return’ will continue. It will not stop until we remove this transient border. Friday’s protests mark the beginning of a new phase in the Palestinian national struggle on the road to liberation … and the return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel.”
He continued, “The ‘March of Return’ affirms that our people cannot give up one inch of the land of Palestine. … The protests will continue until the Palestinians return to the lands from which they were expelled 70 years ago.”
These references remove any doubt as to the purpose of the so-called “March of Return” — because they clearly indicate that the sense of “grievance” that the March is intended to address is not any alleged injustice due to the “Occupation” (which began in 1967, just over 50 years ago), but the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
Thus, as Gatestone’s Bassam Tawil aptly points out in his “A March to Destroy Israel”: “Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yehya Sinwar … did not hide the real goal behind the ‘March of Return’ — to destroy Israel.”
Israel can ill-afford to treat the “March” as anything less ominous, especially in light of the manifest resolve to continue — indeed, escalate — the hostile rallies on the border. Recent reports suggest that, in the future, the participants will attempt to create smoke screens by burning huge quantities of old tires and blind IDF sharpshooters with mirrors and lasers, allowing rioters to breach the border fence undetected.
It requires little imagination to picture the ghastly consequences if a tiny fraction of the frenzied mob were to burst through the fence and overrun a single Israeli community close to the border, possibly butchering the residents and razing their homes. After all, it was none other than Sinwar himself who unabashedly pledged publicly that the invading Gazans would “eat the livers” of Israelis they encountered.
Clearly, Israel cannot afford to treat this initiative to launch a popular invasion of its sovereign territory with anything other than zero tolerance. For even the perception of partial Palestinian success is likely to ignite similar mass marches in Judea-Samaria, on Israel’s northern border, and even among Israeli Arabs in the Galilee, the Ara Valley, and the Negev.
The specter of large, potentially violent, even lethal mass demonstrations will inevitably draw off and pin down large numbers of Israeli troops, which will disrupt other IDF activities. This could obviously be used as a distraction or diversion to facilitate other terror activities.
Accordingly, Israel must convey, unambiguously, that it will consider the continuation of the “March of Return” an overt act of war and all the participants in it enemy combatants who must expect to face all the risks that this entails.
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.