Peaceful demonstrations? Yeah right!

‘Put these on,” an officer said assertively, handing me a helmet and a Kevlar vest. “And keep your head down.” Hamas’s “peaceful protest” narrative shatters when it clashes with reality.

The six-week “Great March of Return” is nearing its crescendo. Hamas’s declared objective is breaching the border and “returning” to what is now Israel. But their real goal is to garner international attention by clashing with the IDF under an image of nonviolent protests, while portraying the casualties as victims of IDF brutality. So cynical is their use of human shields, that money incentives are offered for every injury and death.

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The IDF’s declared and practical goal is to defend the border, minimize friction and casualties, and avoid escalation.

Relatively speaking, both sides have been achieving their goals, although Hamas has the upper hand in PR, as it is easy to deceive and manipulate public opinion.

I know the IDF very well and having spoken to friends and relatives who serve there, I already had a relatively good picture of what was going on. But I needed to see it with my own eyes. I wanted to look soldiers in the eye and hear what they felt about the situation, how they perceived their mission, and how they related to the other side.

I was taken to the top of a mound of earth, erected a short distance from the fence, segments of which were ablaze from burning tires, covering the area with black smoke. Several people were hurling objects towards us with slingshots, and some thirty people were preparing a large kite, waiting for the wind to pick up.

Nonviolent demonstrations? I saw a war zone.

Far from the fence, thousands of Palestinians gathered in what appeared to be a festive event. They did not seem stressed or concerned, as they knew very well that the IDF meant them no harm, and only engaged in aggressive action in proximity to the fence.

On the Israeli side, soldiers took cover as they are constantly under attack.

All you need to do is stand there and watch. One side attacks; the other defends. One side initiates; the other responds. One side tries to get people injured and killed; the other makes every attempt to prevent it.

I made a point of speaking with young soldiers. My impression was that they understand the complexity and sensitivity of the situation and relate to their role seriously and professionally.

They told me what they face on daily basis. Multiple attempts are made to damage and breach the fence. Booby-trapped IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are placed under the cover of riots and smoke. Direct attacks include hurling hand grenades and IEDs, as well as small arms and sniper fire. Fire-bomb-carrying kites are launched in order to burn Israeli forests, fields and villages.

Rules of engagement are strict and closely monitored. Each and every shot is approved by a senior commander. Every effort is made to avoid fatalities, so even when shooting is necessary, soldiers aim at the legs. Only individuals who are directly involved in carrying out attacks are targeted. No “protesters” are shot. Nothing is done randomly or indiscriminately. No one shoots into crowds.

No journalists are targeted, and deducing otherwise from rare mishaps is absurd.

THE SNIPERS are experienced professionals, ensuring reserved and restrained conduct. “I’ll tell you what goes through my mind,” one of them told me. “I want to go home to my wife and kids without having taken a life; without having injured anyone; without firing even one shot.”

Special review sessions follow each incident. In such a complex environment, mistakes are made, but they are identified, learned and corrected.

It was important for me to hear how soldiers related to Palestinians on the other side of the fence. “They are people just like you and me,” a sergeant said. “But unfortunately, they are manipulated by Hamas.”

“Our commanders keep stressing that we must put ourselves in their shoes,” said another.

“For heaven’s sake!” a 19-yearold infantry soldier exclaimed, as we watched children being forced to approach the fence. “How can they do that?”

“The problem is,” a combat-engineer added, “that an image of a wounded child serves their agenda. Our objective is to ensure he returns home safely.”

I couldn’t be more proud.

Make no mistake – Golani soldiers also talked tough and assured me that their mission to defend Israeli citizens was paramount.

The numbers of casualties “reported” by Hamas are obviously inflated (big surprise – terrorists lie). Since every shocking video produces criticism towards Israel, they are simply staged. It is sometimes easy to detect, such as synchronized image and sound, defying the laws of physics, or “injured” people without a trace of blood on them. If five people suddenly drop in unison when not one shot had been fired, the truth is ridiculously obvious. A typical scene viewed by soldiers is a “wounded” person carried on a stretcher, surrounded by cameras, then he gets off and walks back.

Even the real numbers of casualties include tear-gas inhalation and multiple self-sustained injuries from slingshots, non-standard explosives, and burning tires.

As for the number of fatalities – if we take Hamas’s numbers at face value – I believe that relative to the wide-scale violence, this reflects a stringent approach by the IDF.

Claiming that the imbalance of casualties between Israelis and Palestinians demonstrates overuse of force by the IDF is preposterous, just as running towards a police officer wielding a knife will not result in a balanced outcome.

Sadly, Israel faces not only propaganda by a terrorist regime, but others who believe it and promote it. Claiming that trigger- happy soldiers indiscriminately shoot unarmed protesters, is a despicable lie.

Promoting untruths is not only insulting towards Israelis. It is betraying and abandoning the people of Gaza instead of rescuing them from the dire situation that the failed leadership of Hamas has led to.

Gaza could have flourished if its leaders would have wanted it to, but they do not. Instead they perpetuate an image of “resistance,” reject the course history has taken, foster impractical dreams of destroying Israel, and commit all efforts and resources to terrorism, death and destruction.

“Are you a reporter?” a soldier asked me.

“No,” I replied.

“Too bad.”

“Why is that?” “The more people see what’s really happening, the less lies will be spread about what we’re doing here.”

“I’ll tell as many people as I can,” I promised.

The author is a cross-cultural strategist. www.CCSt.co.il