Over 100 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded by the Israeli Defence Force along the Gaza strip.
Palestinian protesters have been demonstrating along Gaza’s perimeter fence. The nonviolent protest, referred to as The Great March of Return, was timed to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of Land Day.
In 1976 when Israel confiscated 2,000 hectares of land, the resulting protest was dubbed Land Day – a protest in which six Palestinians were killed and more than 100 were injured.
The Great March of Return began 30 March 2018, and was originally scheduled to culminate on 15 May to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Palestinian exodus known as ‘Nakba’, wherein 80% of the Arab inhabitants of what was to become Israel were ethnically cleansed by Israeli militias.
As it turned out, the inauguration of a new US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May meant that the Palestinian protest peaked a day early, drawing widespread attention from Western media outlets and criticism from human rights groups to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Israel’s military, the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) responded to the protests by firing high-calibre sniper rounds into unarmed protesters, journalists and doctors. This militant response has claimed the lives of over 100 Palestinians – including 15 children – with over 1,000 wounded. The deaths and injuries of Palestinians, in the largest numbers since the 2014 conflict, has prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate what it calls the ‘deteriorating human rights situation’ in Gaza.
Conditions and relations in Gaza
Hamas, the main political organisation in Gaza, are often dismissed or labelled as a ‘terrorists’ by supporters of the Israeli campaign. The use of this language seems to conveniently ignore how Gazan politics has been affected by decades of occupation, isolation and assault. Failing to see Hamas’s current aim of military resistance to Israel as a reaction to the desertion of its cause by the US, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority is an insult to the thousands of Palestinians killed in the struggle for supremacy over the region from the 2006 election to the present day.
The United States’ continued support of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, following Trump’s controversial recognition of the internationally disputed Israeli capital back in December 2017 and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed attempt to broker a ceasefire in 2014, has essentially disqualified them from a role in negotiating the peace process in the eyes of Palestinians. The same could equally be said of the UK’s continued supply of arms to Israel-allied Saudi Arabia.
Israel/Palestine relations have reached an impasse as the conditions in Gaza continue to worsen to the point that 97% of the water available is contaminated. As well as limited electricity and sewerage, the lack of drinkable water means the population in Gaza, which is mostly children, are not only imprisoned by an illegal blockade, but also regularly poisoned as part of their collective punishment by the occupying force of Israel. Sanctions imposed on Gaza by the Palestinian Authority as part of their continuing conflict with Hamas have also restricted humanitarian aid to the region, as Israel continues to block flotillas of aid from reaching the Gazan shore, often with lethal force.
Defending a ‘border’
Attempts have been made at an international level to justify Israel’s most recent massacre by painting the protestors, consisting of doctors, journalists, human rights campaigners and children, as a threat to Israel’s border.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, blamed Hamas for ‘inciting violence for years’ in a speech, and defended Israel’s actions in defense of its border, bizarrely citing the protester’s use of ‘Molotov-kites’ against the Israeli forces. However, there is no ‘border’ for Israel to defend. Gaza isn’t recognised as an internationally sovereign state which might be considered to have a border, which is an important distinction because its population isn’t allowed to leave. Defending borders is indeed a complex political issue, but not one that is at play here.
Global response to the killings
Egypt also announced its intention to open the Rafah crossing – Gaza’s main gate to the outside world – for the longest period since 2013, in response to the killings. The Palestinian Authority, Egyptian-allied government of the West Bank, has also pushed the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a war crimes case against Israel in response to continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Condemnation of Israel’s action in response to the protests has been characterised by euphemistic terms such as ‘disproportionate’ and ‘excessive force’. This language seems to suggest that the protests, which were specifically nonviolent and a direct response to Israel’s previous mistreatment of an occupied and imprisoned population, justified any kind of forceful response from the IDF. It would be far more accurate to refer to Israel’s actions as the continuation of a ruthless campaign of subjugation and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians since their blockade was imposed ten years ago.
Similarly, the Israeli PM has praised the IDF for ‘guarding the country’s borders’, in response to the violence, while Turkish President Erdogan condemned the ‘inhumane attack’. Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement on Twitter beseeching the UK government to take action. Statements of condemnation were also offered by the Jordanian government, Kuwait and Qatar, while the US has blocked the issuing of a UNSC condemnation of Israel’s use of force.
The US has also cut more than half of its planned funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
Although the outlook seems bleak for Palestinians at this stage, it is important to note how this civilian-led protest, organised outside of the machinery of power, has been successful in drawing attention to the inhuman way in which Palestinians are treated as a result of their statelessness and indefinite occupation. Shifting the discourse to treat the protesters killed by Israel, and all the imprisoned non-citizens of Gaza, as human beings rather than ‘terrorists’ or ‘refugees’, is the first step toward restarting negotiations for peace and punishing the war crimes of the present occupation.