By The Nation
Some called it a clash. Others called it a massacre. But, when one side has all the guns and the others have only rocks, it’s not exactly a fair fight. It wasn’t even a fight. When the dust settled last Friday, 18 Palestinians had been killed and another 1,700 injured by Israeli bullets.
Israel breaches the Palestinian border in Gaza whenever it feels its sovereignty is threatened. We wonder, though, how a group of protesters, accompanied by journalists and cameramen, constituted a threat to Israel’s national or border security. Besides being unlawful, the order to shoot appears to have been carefully calculated. The vast majority of the nearly 30,000 Palestinian protesters remained around 500 metres from a containing fence. Video of an 18-year-old being shot in the back while running away calls into question whether the Israeli soldiers’ actions were justified in the least.
There are restrictions to the means and mandate any state holds to defend its borders. It is one thing to shoot at civilians behaving in a hostile manner. It is cowardice to shoot civilians in the back as they’re running away in fear.
Friday’s march commemorated Land Day, meant to highlight the Palestinians’ slow but sure dispossession from their territory over the years. The Islamic militant group Hamas had a hand in organising the event and was probably seeking to shame its West Bank rival, Fatah. Such is the nature of armed movements with political objectives. It’s been claimed that Hamas knowingly lured its supporters into danger in a bid to garner international attention and make Israeli look bad. Those same critics say nothing, however, about the legality of the Israeli soldiers’ conduct.
Israeli disengaged from Gaza in 2005 but continues to wield absolute control over its airspace and water supplies. It could be argued that Israel and Egypt – an Arab country with diplomatic ties to Israel – both treat Gaza like an open-air prison. Israel plays its sovereignty card whenever it serves a purpose, yet continues to build settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Now there’s been another massacre to demonstrate, once again, that Israel has no regard for the lives of Palestinians.
Hamas has, without resorting to rockets or digging tunnels, found a new way to challenge Israel. For this risky strategy to have any impact, more such events can be expected to take place. Israeli could respond with more firepower or in a more humane way.
On the diplomatic front, the European Union and the United Nations secretary general have called for an independent investigation of Friday’s incident. Unsurprisingly, Israel scorned the idea. Its key ally, the United States, also blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for an investigation into the use of force.
Egypt has paid lip service to the death of the Palestinians. There is no indication that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi plans to open his border, a move that would allow the Palestinians some breathing space. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for so long that some Arab countries show signs of crisis fatigue. Most of those that haven’t adjusted policy accordingly have directed their interest elsewhere, such as the notion of containing Iran. Saudi Arabia is moving closer to Israel, mainly as part of its strategy to counter Iran. Ironically enough, amid the bloodshed in Palestine, Iran is coming out ahead.