Palestine Post no. 28, June 2018
what's been going on in Gaza? (edited July 3rd)
Dear *|FNAME|* ,
The Great March of Return protest started on March 30th, with the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel. It peaked on May 15th, coinciding with the founding of Israel, or Nakba (tragedy) as the Palestinians call it, and the ceremony marking the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To date Israel has killed 125 Palestinians and wounded a further 13,600, many of them with terrible injuries, but has itself suffered just one soldier slightly injured.
Protestors were overwhelmingly unarmed, though some were lightly armed with slingshots, and according to Israelis some had Molotov cocktails and planted improvised explosives around the perimeter. The Israelis shot the protesters from raised positions behind a fence on the nominal Gaza-Israel border, and rained down tear gas from unmanned drones that hovered in the skies. Two of the Palestinians killed were journalists and more recently the Israelis shot in the neck a medical auxiliary who was wearing a first-responder vest (this is a report from the excellent liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz). One Israeli soldier was lightly wounded. It was only on May 29th that Gazans resorted to the futile gesture of launching mortars at Israel; Israel then (predictably) retaliated by bombing strategic targets in the Gaza strip – see here.
Israel has acted with the clear objective of killing and maiming protestors, while eschewing less harmful means of restraining those who approached the Israeli-built fence, notably the use of water-cannon and plastic bullets. One can gauge the Israel’s intent from the statement by Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who claimed that, “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”.
Médecins Sans Frontières teams observe ’unusually severe and devastating gun-shot injuries’. Middle East Monitor reports that Israel has used the Great March of Return to field-test its latest weapons, including different kind of drones to drop tear gas, and (quoting information from Al Jazeera) bullets which explode upon impact, pulverising tissue, arteries and bone, rather like the shrapnel wound in the above picture. A new report by Israeli activists charges that the Gaza Strip is seen as a “a lab and a showroom” for the country’s arms manufacturers. In effect, Israel is testing “smart” crowd control solutions it sells to defense and police forces around the world, while Palestinians are paying with their lives.
The Israeli government has rejected repeated calls for independent investigations into the bloodshed and blames Hamas for using the rallies as cover to break through the perimeter fence.
What drives the protesters?
Many have been playing “Russian roulette” with their lives, and with slender prospects of bringing about change. Why are they doing this?
Prof. Norman Finklestein has studied the Gazan situation over many years, and says that Gaza has become unlivable and that 97% of the drinking water is contaminated. Its two million residents, over half of whom are children, are slowly being poisoned, and have been subjected to no less than eight massacres, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and a blockade of over a decade. They are trapped and unable to flee the misery. For further information on the Gaza crisis, including maps and a historical timeline, see here.
Olfat al-Kurd, a local field researcher for the Israeli NGO Bt’selem, tried to explain the motivations of young Gazans, saying that: “The younger generations are crushed by the hopelessness and death everywhere. The protests have given us all a spark of hope. - - -". The same sense of desperation had already been noted in an unusual rise in suicides an unusual rise in suicides. Doctors in Gaza were warned of a mental health “epidemic” of which suicides were just one part.
The idea of a non-violent mass march against the fence seems to have first emerged in social media and was only later adopted by Hamas. Notwithstanding reports of slingshots, burning kites and attempts to pull down the barbed wire, the protest seems to have been overwhelmingly non-violent – something we might see as a welcome development, were it not for the horrendous toll on Palestinian life and limb.
Our Chairman, Jonathan Fryer, places the blame fairly and squarely on Israel. While one could criticise Hamas for encouraging action along the heavily fortified border, Israel was “getting away with murder, and in doing so undermines its own legitimacy as a self-styled Western nation in the heart of the Middle East”.
Presenting a massacre for public consumption
Israel's use of deadly force has been condemned by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Israeli NGO B’Tselem and Amnesty International and criticized by United Nations officials.
Notwithstanding, media reporting has been biased towards Israel. On 6th April, Patrick Cockburn contrasted the muted criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Gazans with the uproar that would have occurred if President Assad were behaving similarly towards unarmed protestors in Syria. He notes the use of misleading language, for example the BBC speaking of “clashes” rather than a totally asymmetrical situation where the demonstrators pose no threat to an all-powerful Israeli military machine. Writing for Al Jazeera, Hamid Dabashi complained of “mass deception by Western media”, particularly the BBC, making use of “noncommittal news prose” and a “pathological penchant for the passive voice”.
The New York Times comes in for particular criticism from Jerry Hammond, who points to untruthful claims that Hamas had been firing rockets at Israel at a steady tempo until the start of the Gaza protests.
It has also been claimed that Israel has engaged in cyber-war to manipulate reactions to news outlets’ Facebook posts about the killing in Gaza. The app, called Act.il, acts as a pro-Israel human “botnet,” recruiting pro-Israeli Americans as foot soldiers to perform social media “missions” online.
What can we do about this maiming and killing?
Few people are instinctively cruel and sadistic, so we need to look elsewhere for explanations. We identify two factors:
- a dominant belief system that blinds many (possibly a majority of) Israelis to the humanity of "the other" and renders them insensitive to the impact of their actions, and;
- Western hypocrisy and complicity, particularly in the United States and the UK.
We need to call out the belief system, and support those Jewish people and Israelis who are challenging it, acknowledging British responsibility, and follow up (as a minimum) with the following actions:
- recognise Palestine as a sovereign state encompassing all the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967, alongside the sovereign state of Israel;
- stop selling arms to Israel which may be used in its subjugation of the Palestinians;
- prohibit trade with Israeli settlements;
- remove visa privileges from those living in illegal settlements;
- ban holders of UK citizens of dual UK-Israel nationality from serving in the Israeli military within the occupied territories;
- cooperate with any investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into war crimes committed on Palestinian territory by Israel, Hamas or any other actor, and;
- encourage the two states to negotiate peace on the basis of each party's rights in international law.