A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest along the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel in Gaza City, March 30, 2018. Although the anti-Israel Palestinian mass rally in Gaza was supposed to go peaceful, the demonstrations turned violent, leaving at least 16 Palestinians killed and over 1,400 others injured. (Xinhua/Wissam Nassar)
by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The Israel-Gaza border area remained mostly quiet on Sunday, two days after a violent clash between Israeli forces and the Palestinians left 15 Palestinians dead and over 1,000 others injured.
It was the largest death toll seen in the area since Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Israel started a war in the summer of 2014.
Hamas, a militant organization hostile to Israel, organized the massive rally on Friday, calling on Gaza residents to march towards the border to mark Palestinian Land Day, an annual remembrance day of an Israeli move in 1976 to expropriate what they believe are Arab lands in the north of the country.
Tens of thousands participated in the demonstration. Hamas, the organizer of the event, set up tents along the border that supplied Internet and electricity, both scarce commodities in the impoverished territory.
United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation of the incident, while Israeli officials flatly denied the use of excessive force.
Israeli Military spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis said the majority of those killed were known Palestinian militants, men aged between 18 and 30.
Hamas claimed five of the dead were its militants.
Manelis vowed a tougher response if the violence along the border continued, including action within the Gaza Strip. Israel often struck Gaza as retaliation, but there have been no ground incursions since the 2014 war.
Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, believed the incident was a serious one and has "lots of potential to lead to ... escalation."
Violence is expected to continue in the run up to May 15, when the Palestinians mark the Nakba Day, known as the day of the catastrophe, which coincides with Israel's 70th Independence Day.
This year, Israel's celebration and Palestinian commemoration come after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem to coincide with Israel's celebration.
It is yet another a controversial decision by the current U.S. administration, for Palestinians and many in the international community who see East Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state.
Both sides do not seem to be interested in another full-blown conflict which left both licking their wounds four years ago. However, if the violence continues, they can easily spiral out of control.
"The Israeli interest is to show that Palestinians can't cross the border," Goren told Xinhua. "Hamas is looking for a way to elevate its position vis-a-vis Israel. Israel has managed to confront tunnels and rockets and this type of protests really boost Hamas' position amongst the Palestinians."
Gaza, which has been under an Egyptian and Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas violently overthrew the Palestinian Fatah-led government, is one of the poorest territories in the world. Its residents face severe electricity shortage amongst many other challenges.
"Hamas, which is in one of its worst periods, is almost completely isolated," said Shaul Shay, director of research in the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Interdesciplinary Center (IDC) at the Herzliya. "They are completely isolated and under pressure from the local population, so they are trying to channel the anger and frustration towards Israel."
In the aftermath of the demonstration, as the Israelis and the Palestinians engaged in yet another public opinion war, an international diplomatic effort may be needed in order to contain the violence.
"International pressure on the Hamas leadership and the Palestinian Authority will help to make this crisis as short as possible," Shay told Xinhua.
"I hope this will draw in some regional and international partners to try through diplomacy to find ways to decrease the tension," said Goren. "The U.S. position is not constructive at the moment."
Israeli military officers said forces were on alert for further violence expected in the coming weeks. The number of troops on the border was doubled ahead of the protest last week and the enlarged corps currently remain there.
The rally was dubbed the "March of Return," invoking the Palestinian demand that refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to Israeli and Palestinian territories which they either left or fled as a result of the 1948 and 1967 wars fought in the region.
Israeli governments, right or left wing, would never accept such a demand as it would mark the end of the Jewish majority in Israel.
As May 15 is coming, the tension and violence are expected to continue. Restraint is required on both sides.