This month marks the one-year anniversary of Hamas’s “March of Return.” The weekly demonstrations were meant to culminate in a massive storming of the fence separating Gaza from Israel, after which participants would ostensibly “return” to the homes their ancestors fled in 1948. While part of the campaign has been peaceful, other parts have involved shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli border guards, using balloons and kites as incendiary devices aimed at Israeli villages, and sporadically firing rockets and mortars. Michael Milstein evaluates the success of these tactics:
A year into the campaign, Hamas cannot claim a stellar performance. On the one hand, Israel was forced to deal with events on the Gaza border, and the organization succeeded in positioning the issue at the heart of Israeli discourse. . . . Furthermore, Hamas attained some civil successes, leading to a certain easing of civilian conditions in the Gaza Strip over the last few months; the most important [of these] was securing the Qatar-financed payments for civil-servant salaries and the Gaza Strip’s electricity bill, which led to the doubling of the electric supply from four to eight or more hours a day.
On the other hand, the eased conditions are still overshadowed by the profound basic problems that Hamas is unable to resolve, above all, unemployment (especially among the young), the devastated civil infrastructures, and the restrictions on entering and leaving Gaza. As Hamas is well aware, unresolved, these contribute to a highly volatile domestic situation. Moreover, the concessions achieved are seen as disproportionate to the heavy human toll exacted by the campaign [at the border fence]. . . .
More moves on Israel’s part [to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza], even if limited in scope—such as easing restrictions on movement, jumpstarting infrastructure projects (especially for water and electricity), and attracting foreign aid—could help ease the tensions. Such moves have the power to temper public anger and increase Hamas’s motivation to enforce its rule. This is a complex decision, throwing into stark relief the polar opposite alternatives plaguing Israel: to promote the easing of civilian restrictions, which plays into Hamas’s hands by acknowledging its rule without any progress on the issue of Israel’s MIAs and POWs, or to raise the probability of a new broad military offensive whose end is impossible to predict.