Israel responds to Gaza balloon protests with deadly violence

Israel responds to Gaza balloon protests with deadly violence
Incendiary balloons have floated over Gaza's border fence in a show of protests by Palestinians, with Israel retaliating with lethal force, reports Rami Almeghari.
5 min read
20 July, 2018
Israel's 11-year blockade of Gaza has led to widespread protests [Getty]

For more than three and a half months, Palestinian protesters in Gaza have been stepping up their border protests, in rejection of the prolonged Israeli siege of the coastal enclave and in pursuit of the Palestinian people's right to return to their homelands from which they were forced out by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians in Gaza believe their protests are peaceful and non-violent - they have included traditional wedding ceremonies, sharing traditional foods and holding cultural musical performances in areas close to the border fence which Israel has designated a no-go zone.

In more recent weeks, protesters have been flying incendiary balloons and kites over into nearby Israeli farmland and "nature reserves".

Last Friday, several Gazans between the ages of 20 and 40, were again flying these kites and balloons. Khamis and Abu Mohammad were among them and spoke to The New Arab. Many others did not want to talk to the press.

Abu Mohammad was very enthusiastic, running along with his friends towards the border fence, east of Gaza City, where a crowd was protesting.

"We will continue launching these balloons towards their farmlands and we are not fearing the occupation's threats against us. The occupation should well understand that we will continue protesting and using our own tactics of protests until the occupation lifts the Gaza siege, once and for all," said 40-year-old father-of-nine Abu Mohammad, while wearing a mask to hide his face from the Israelis.

At another corner of the protest, 34-year-old Khamis was flying a kite coloured red, black, white and green - the colours of the Palestinian national flag. Khamis spoke out confidently, telling The New Arab that whatever the Israelis do to disperse the protests would not force them to retreat - or to stop launching their kites:

"Only God's will [matters]. If God wills me to perish, I will perish or get harmed - even if I am not standing here on the border line. I may be hurt wherever, so I am not fearing, and will continue protesting against the occupation with this means of mine. I would like to say outright: Israeli threats against us cannot stop us. Only God can stop us."

The incendiary balloons and kites have become Israel's obsession for the time being. Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes claimed the lives of two teenagers and wounded dozens more, as part of a new wave of fighting between Israel and Gaza-based armed resistance groups.

he incendiary kites have caused vast fires in Israeli farmlands and natural reserves. Hundreds of acres have been burned, and while nobody has been killed, Israeli famers claim to have lost millions of dollars of crops. At least two million dollars of wheat crops alone have been burned, according to Haaretz.

However, organisers of the Great Return March claim the reports have been exaggerated for the sake of securing insurance payouts.

"Actually, all Israeli allegations against the Great March of Return are baseless," said Salah Abdelaati, a senior member of the higher committee of the Great March of Return.

"Israeli media itself has reported that some Israeli farmers near Gaza, have themselves burned their farm lands for financial compensations. You might be aware of the fact that according to Israeli government's announcement, Israel will not pay such compensations, but it will rather deduce large amounts of money from tax funds allocated for the Palestinian Authority, as Israel collects those funds on commercial border crossings, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority."

The New Arab was unable to confirm the existence of such media reports.

Two weeks ago, the Israeli authorities announced a further tightening of the 11-year siege of Gaza in response to those kites and balloons. Among the new Israeli restrictions are a ban on exports and imports from and to the coastal territory and restricting fishing zones from nine nautical miles to three nautical miles.

Only food stuffs, medicines and some quantities of fuel will be allowed to enter Gaza,

The Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of the territory, the sole commercial crossing for Gaza, will be closed until further notice, Israel announced.

The crossing's closure came on Monday, a few hours after a rocket fired from Gaza was reported to have landed in Israel, after an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire agreement between Gaza and Israel was reached over the weekend


Also , on Monday, Israeli inner cabinet, led by military officials, gave a green light to Israeli army to respond to incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza. Earlier on Monday, an Israeli drone hit a group of balloons and kites launchers in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, with no causalities reported.


Israeli media reports suggested that six to seven balloons and kites-caused flames, hit southern Israeli farm lands,  near the Israeli town of Sderot, with no causalities reported.


Asked by the New Arab as to what may Israel want by further tightening the siege and warning Palestinian in Gaza against continuing the border protests and launching incendiary kites and balloons, Gaza-based political analyst and leading BDS activist, Dr, Haidar Eid, told the New Arab:   


"We  believe that the only window of hope that we have right now is to send a strong message to Apartheid Israel, not only by us the two million refugees of the Gaza Strip, but also by  the international community, mainly the international civil society, by boycotting Israel , divesting from Israel and divesting from international companies that benefit from Israeli's oppression of the Palestinians and by imposing sanctions on Israel, similar to the sanctions , imposed on Apartheid South Africa, in the last century".


Eid added that all Israeli measures are apparently intended to force Palestinians into submission, nothing but submission.


Palestinian media also reported that toy airplanes now are being modified to serve as incendiary devices.


Since March 30, large crowds of Palestinians in Gaza, have been staging border protests in five different locations on the eastern border areas, including south, north and middle. Among the tactics, Palestinian youth used, has been setting to fire used tires to obscure Israeli snipers.


Israeli snipers, stationed on those border areas, have killed since then 140 Palestinian protesters, including women , children, paramedics and journalists, and wounded about 15,000 others, according to the Gaza-based health ministry.


" Whatever they do to force us to stop our protests, we will not succumb", Khamis, a 34-year-old launcher of a nicely-colored kite, told the New Arab. 

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari