A man waving the Pales­tinian flag | Wiki­media Commons

Demon­strators gathered along the border of the Gaza strip and Israel over the past three weeks. Israel’s army sta­tioned tanks and more than 100 snipers on the border with the autho­rization to shoot. Unsur­pris­ingly, bloodshed ensued.

The protests revolve around the Pales­tinian right of return, the para­mount political issue to many Gazan refugees.

The issue of return dates back to the 1948 Pales­tinian exodus, or the Nakba, “cat­a­strophe” in Arabic. The Arab-Israeli war saw the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Arabs, just after Israel declared its inde­pen­dence. Zionist militias often destroyed Muslim vil­lages and forced its res­i­dents into an area that we now call the Gaza strip. Pales­tinians contend that their land was unfairly taken and that they have the right to return.

The human­i­tarian crisis in Gaza is key to under­standing the larger con­flict and demands of Pales­tinians. It con­tains a pop­u­lation of about two million com­pressed into just 125 square miles. These numbers yield a pop­u­lation density well over half of New York City’s; in Gaza City alone, the density exceeds NYC’s. An aston­ishing 75 percent of Gaza’s res­i­dents are refugees from the Nakba or their descen­dants. Almost 45 percent of Gazans are children and nearly half of adults are unem­ployed.

From the inside, Gaza operates like an open-air prison and has been likened to the world’s largest ghetto. Eco­nomic life is con­trolled almost entirely by Israel; it pro­hibits essential imports like cement and steel, admin­isters most of the water, and handles elec­tricity, which is available for approx­i­mately four hours per day. Israel’s water policy is criminal: they harvest from aquifers in Pales­tinian ter­ritory and sell it back to Gazan author­ities. The Oslo Accords allocate to an Israeli four times as much water as the average Pales­tinian. Last year, a Pales­tinian Water Authority report found that 97 percent of Gaza’s drinking water is con­t­a­m­i­nated with salt or sewage.

Israel con­trols the borders via land, air, and sea, often pre­venting food aid and stip­u­lating a strict trade blockade while oper­ating a buffer zone that takes up 17 percent of Gaza and about one-third of its arable land. Its mil­itary even admitted to destroying Pales­tinian crops close to the border in 2015. It allows Gazan fishing boats to travel only three miles off of its own coast instead of the nego­tiated twenty.

This cruel occu­pation, along with a decade full of wars and atroc­ities, has moti­vated tens of thou­sands of Gazans to create a tent city and march along the border. Backed by video evi­dence, the protests were almost entirely peaceful. No Israeli mil­i­tants were injured or even touched. To date, 35 Pales­tinians have died from gunshot wounds; thou­sands of others have been shot and seri­ously wounded by metal or rubber bullets: even more were injured by tear gas delivered via aerial drone.

State­ments from Israeli Defense Min­ister Avigdor Lieberman offered an unfet­tered view of the racial stigma Gazans face. “It has to be under­stood that there are no innocent people in Gaza,” Lieberman said. “Everyone is affil­iated with Hamas. They are all paid by Hamas.” After social media users crit­i­cized Lieberman, the defense min­istry claimed he meant to say “naive.”

Israel’s mil­itary reac­tively claimed that it only shot pro­testers who threw stones and molotovs or burned tires, despite little evi­dence. It is unclear whether the demon­strators knew that stone-throwing and tire-burning were pun­ishable by death. Regardless, pro­testers and jour­nalists alike doc­u­mented footage impli­cating Israeli sol­diers shooting harmless Pales­tinians.

In one video, a soldier shoots a young man in the middle of a group praying on their knees. In another, a soldier snipes a Pales­tinian running away from the border fence. Israeli forces shot at least six jour­nalists cov­ering the demon­stra­tions. Pho­to­jour­nalist Yasser Murtaja, while clearly wearing a PRESS vest, died from his wounds. Reporters Without Borders, an orga­ni­zation that advo­cates for press freedom issues, called Israel’s tar­geting of Murtaja “delib­erate.” A since-deleted tweet from an Israeli mil­itary spokesperson claimed, “Every­thing was accurate and mea­sured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

Lieberman con­tinued, “We’ve seen dozens of cases where Hamas ter­rorists used ambu­lances, dressed up as Red Crescent per­sonnel and dis­guised them­selves as jour­nalists. We won’t take any chances.” Appar­ently, this ques­tionable assertion absolves Israel’s mil­itary of respon­si­bility when it slaughters legit­imate jour­nalists.

Both sides are his­tor­i­cally respon­sible for civilian casu­alties. The ter­rorism threat is real but minuscule. Gazan forces are attributed with some­where around 30 civilian deaths and a couple thousand injuries since Hamas’s election about eleven years ago. Israeli forces sur­passed those numbers in the past three weeks alone.

Over the years, non-gov­ern­mental orga­ni­za­tions like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Inter­na­tional have accused Israel of pur­pose­fully exe­cuting a tactic known as col­lective pun­ishment — a form of ret­ri­bution where an entire ethnic group suffers for the crimes of a few per­pe­trators.

Israel uses a strategy col­lo­quially known as “mowing the lawn.” Whenever they believe Hamas and the Gazan resis­tance need a trim, they vastly exag­gerate Hamas’ danger or escalate the con­flict to justify another mil­itary cam­paign, in which one side sheds the vast majority of blood. Guess who?

Oper­ation Cast Lead is a perfect example. In 2008, After six months of a peaceful, nego­tiated ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, Israeli armed forces bombed a tunnel, killing six, that they alleged Hamas would use to kidnap sol­diers. Hamas retal­iated, and Israel had its war.

The bru­tality of Cast Lead was extra­or­dinary. Israel’s air and ground forces killed at least 700 Pales­tinian civilians and injured 5,000 others. The bombing destroyed over 4,000 Gazan homes, leaving over 50,000 Pales­tinian refugees. Israel sur­prised the world by using a deadly chemical weapon known as white phos­phorus—a similar crime for which the United States bombed Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

In 2014, Israel com­menced Oper­ation Pro­tective Edge in similar fashion. It began on the false pre­tense that Hamas ordered the kid­napping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. These dead teenagers became martyrs and an excuse to mow the lawn.

During Pro­tective Edge, an Israeli invasion and bombing of Gaza which lasted seven weeks, more than 2,000 Pales­tinians lost their lives65 percent of whom the United Nations Human Rights Council pro­claimed innocentand 10,000 more were injured. 500 were children.

The bombing cam­paign pul­verized Gaza City, with a pop­u­lation over 500,000, dam­aging one quarter of its housing, hun­dreds of indus­trial fac­tories, farms, and mosques. In the end, the destruction would cost around $6 billion.

Hamas’ shooting of rockets into Israel should be con­demned. Israel’s per­petual bombing of Gaza should be con­demned. In war, the question of “who started it?” matters. Pro­por­tion­ality of the killed matters. Innocent deaths should be avoided at all costs.

At what point does resis­tance against a tyran­nical occu­pation become acceptable? Only after tax­ation without rep­re­sen­tation?