Since 30 March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have protested every Friday along the fence with Israel, with thousands to tens of thousands in attendance. Throughout the rest of the week, smaller protests have been held in the same locations, attended by scores to hundreds of protestors.
During the Friday protests, some of the demonstrators who approached the fence threw stones at Israeli soldiers stationed on or near dirt mounds on the other side of it. The soldiers fired live rounds, rubber coated metal bullets and teargas canisters at them. According to the military, some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and explosives and tried to sabotage the fence.
However, most of the demonstrators – including older adults, women and children – congregated in encampments set up specifically for the demonstrations at a distance of 400 to 600 meters from the fence. The encampments had field clinics, food vendors and various activities for children and adults, such as clown shows, poetry readings, live music shows and soccer matches. Many families gathered inside tents where they ate and talked.
An investigation conducted by B’Tselem has revealed that over the course of the demonstrations, soldiers on the other side of the fence fired teargas at the encampments, despite the distance from the fence and the peaceful nature of the protests there. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, to date more than 1,800 Palestinians have been treated for tear gas inhalation. The ministry’s statistics do not mention where those persons were at the time the gas was fired, but B’Tselem’s investigation found that hundreds were hurt far from the fence. Most were treated in the field clinics, but some were more severely injured and taken to hospital.
According to B’Tselem “This use of crowd dispersal measures is unlawful and unjustified. Israel has no right to disperse demonstrations inside the Gaza Strip or to direct Gazans as to where they may and may not congregate. It is most certainly prohibited to fire teargas at demonstrators located hundreds of meters away from the border, minding their own business and posing no threat to anyone.”