Protests driven by desperation
KHUZAA, Gaza Strip
Palestinian activists chanted “death is better than humiliation” as three-wheelers stacked with old tires drove into a tent camp in a barley field near Gaza’s border. The tires are to be burned at a mass protest Friday in hopes clouds of black smoke will shield demonstrators from Israeli snipers.
For some of the young Gaza men hanging around the camp, the chant wasn’t just rousing hyperbole. They have been throwing stones and burning tires near the border in recent days, despite new warnings by Israel’s defense minister that anyone getting too close to the fence risks getting killed.
It’s not an idle threat – 19 people were killed by Israeli fire since last Friday, including 14 in border protests, and many more were wounded.
Desperation has helped drive what Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers hope will be several weeks of border protests, with the largest crowds expected on Fridays.
The idea was initially floated by social media activists, but has since been co-opted by Hamas, with the backing of smaller militant factions.
Employing its organizational prowess, Hamas set up five tent camps near border points as a magnet for protesters, offering bus shuttles and monitoring developments from an operations room.
For Hamas, it’s perhaps the last chance to break a Gaza border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since seizing the territory from its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007.
The blockade has devastated Gaza’s economy, made it virtually impossible for people to enter and exit the territory and left residents with just a few hours of electricity a day. Tap water is undrinkable, and the Mediterranean coastline has been polluted with untreated waste.