The most solemn day for Christian’s is Good Friday, the day when a brutally oppressive occupying force executed Jesus under the pretense that he was a threat.
This Good Friday, another brutally oppressive occupying force killed 18 and wounded hundreds of Palestinians under the pretense that they were a threat.
Just as Jesus posed no real threat 2,000 years ago, there was no real threat to Israel this Good Friday as an estimated 30,000 Palestinians walked though farm fields to the militarized fence that separates the two peoples. A few threw stones and others lit tires and rolled them to the border but no one attempted to cross the fence. Meanwhile, the hundred plus Israeli snipers who had been deployed crouched on top of a berm waiting to be called into action. When the order came from their superiors, they opened fire on men, women and children. Other Israeli military forces shot tear gas into the crowd. Others just watched.
There is strong evidence that the Israelis were itching for the Palestinians to do something so they could retaliate. On Maundy Thursday, an Israeli tank fired on and killed a Palestinian farmer who was working in his fields near the border. An innocent man harvesting parsley, as he did every day, literally became cannon fodder for the Israelis. They knew his death would trigger violence at the protest the next day. The die was cast for this Good Friday just as it was when Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden the night before his execution.
It is known Israelis often try to provoke violence from Palestinians before major events. I witnessed how they choked off the flow of people at the checkpoint in Bethlehem the two weeks prior to President Obama’s arrival. Movement through the border ground to a slow crawl. The normal 90 minute crossing became three hours or more. I feared that out of frustration someone might do something that would trigger a major crackdown but they didn’t. Then two days before Obama’s arrival the international media started to pour in and everything changed at the border. It was like someone opened a spigot and the flow of people was faster than I had seen in the previous two months. Palestinians were clearing Checkpoint 300 in twenty minutes.
I was told Israeli politicians like to provoke Palestinians to the boiling point before major international events. If the Palestinians react with violence then the Israelis crackdown and claim that they are under constant threat and they are the victims.
The violence on Good Friday reminded me of 2014 when Israel shocked and dismayed the world by its brutal attack on Gaza. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Hospitals and schools were razed. Critical infrastructure including water, sanitation and the electrical system were destroyed.
More important, over 2,250 Palestinians were killed including 551 children and 299 women as well as seventy-one Israelis including one child. Over 11,200 Palestinians were wounded including 3,540 women and 3,436 children. About one third of these children now have a permanent disability and more than 300,000 children are in need of psycho-social support as a result of Israel’s actions.
Since then, Israel and its ally Egypt have maintained a chokehold on Gaza that has blocked many of the goods needed for rebuilding the Gazan economy and infrastructure from going into the enclave.
As with the violence of 2014, Israelis are not known for proportionality. As I look at the pictures from Friday, I am reminded that rocks are no match for rifles; burning tires are no match for tear gas; and protest signs are never a match for tanks.
International human rights organizations have condemned the attack on the protesters. Amnesty International called on Israel to immediately end its “heavy handed, and often lethal suppressions of Palestinian demonstrations.” Peace Now said that the casualties are “an intolerable result of trigger-happy policy.”
The Palestinians plan to continue their Friday protests until Nakba Day – May 15. Nakba means catastrophe. It is the day that commemorates their expulsion from their homes and their lands 70 years ago. It is also the day when Palestinians remember that under international law they are guaranteed the right to return to what is rightfully theirs.
The Palestinians have a right to protest and good reason. They are among the world’s most desperate people. Over 70 years ago, the Nakba occurred, Zionist forces used terrorist tactics to drive 750,000 Palestinians off the land where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years. Over 50 years ago, the state of Israel began its occupation of the rest of Palestine. Unemployment rates in Gaza are over 40%. There is not enough safe water to drink and the sewage system is in ruins. Families are limited to a few hours of electricity a week. At least the Roman occupiers provided safer water and waste disposal for the people they conquered.
The International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and General Assembly have ruled that Israel is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international Human Rights and Humanitarian laws. Israel responds by attacking the UN and claiming it is the victim.
Netanyahu seems emboldened by Trump and now more than ever treats Palestinians and their land as the Romans treated those who they conquered in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago.
As I think about the coming weeks and how the protests that will continue each Friday, I hope and pray that peace and justice might prevail. But, I am preparing for more death and devastation. I believe that until the last protest occurs on Nakba Day that Good Friday will continue for the people of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and like 2,000 years ago the skies will continue to darken as more innocent men, women and children die at the hands of the ongoing occupiers.