NAHAL OZ, Israel — The last Friday of Ramadan again brought thousands of Palestinians to the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel for a day of peaceful protests, or violent riots, depending on which side you support in the conflict. For me, it was a chance to see things the way Israeli soldiers do.
From the drive through smoldering fields and scorched earth to the berms atop which snipers peer through powerful binoculars to compensate for the fog of war — or whatever this fight should be called — there were new signs of damage and destruction, new adjustments in tactics on both sides, but few reasons to think the clashes would end anytime soon.
Israel calls its military a “learning organization,” and on Thursday, it tried a pre-emptive strike: A drone normally used to spray tear gas dropped a single firebomb on a huge stockpile of tires in the Rafah area, setting it ablaze and denying the Palestinians a source of smoke screens to conceal their efforts to break into Israel.
On Friday, there were repeated attempts to inflict harm on the Israelis, military officials said. Soldiers were fired upon at least once from the northern Gaza Strip. In Nahal Oz, east of Gaza City, the commander of a company of snipers said that four bombs or grenades had been hurled at his men roughly halfway through the day.
The commander, who could not be identified by name according to conditions set by the military, said his men were “trying to hurt as few people as we can.” But soldiers killed four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy shot dead east of Khan Younis, and more than 600 people were injured, according to Gaza officials, among them a photojournalist shot in the leg.
More than 120 Palestinians have been killed since the fence protests began on March 30.
At one point on my visit, reporters could see scores of Palestinians running south from our point along the fence. Soldiers chased them in jeeps, and we heard a half-dozen live rounds.
“This is something that we cannot allow,” the senior commander said, pointing to the action. “Because if that group is crossing the border inside to Israel, we’ll have to be more aggressive. So we have to stop them on the fence. Now you see the story — and this is a nonviolent day.”
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City.