Naked Politics Blogger
Trying to keep up with the Middle-East’s longest-running conflict is like playing a game of buzzword bingo – Rocket Strikes. Disproportionate. Occupation. Illegal. Human Shields. Hamas. IDF. War Crimes. Self-Defence. Right of Return. Embassy. Trump… Bingo! Whether or not you are acquainted with the Israel/Palestine conflict, you will have no doubt heard one or more of these terms in the last few weeks. More than anything, what makes these terms so tragic is not their frequency of use or indeed the ugly and divisive phenomena they describe, but their routine, almost formulaic, predictability.
Every two to four years, as sure as the seasons come and go, you can almost guarantee that a major incident will escalate on the Gaza border:
Operation Cast Lead (2008) – Approx. 1,400 dead
Operation Pillar of Defence (2012) – 200+ dead
Operation Protective Edge 2014 – 2,000+ dead
Conflict on the Gaza Border almost invariably follows the same pattern. A spark, followed by a reaction, followed by an over-reaction. The nature and cause of the spark varies. The intensity and source of the reaction varies too. The over-reaction, however, does not. The disproportionate and deadly use of force has become almost customary.
Last week, the latest in a string of sparks lit the tinderbox that is Gaza. For the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been protesting at the border. The protest, which was organised by Hamas, was initially peaceful, but has now turned ugly. The violence actually began back in early April, when IDF troops opened fire on protestors attempting to scale the fence on the frontier. This was simply the preview, however. On Monday, at least 60 Palestinian protestors were shot dead or killed by tear gas. But this was not a case of the red mist descending on a handful of jittery Israeli troops. This was a calculated and premeditated policy, with clear instructions to fire upon anyone within 100 metres of the border fence. To date, Palestinian health officials report that over 100 have been killed and 10,000 injured since the protests began.
The reasons for the protest – labelled ‘The Great March of Return’ – are multi-layered and reflect the deep wounds that perforate the region. It is beyond the scope of this article to unpack these reasons in detail, but simply put, the reasons were threefold: to demand the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their ancestral homelands in Israel, to oppose the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and to express their outrage at the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
I will leave it to you to decide whether these constitute justifiable reasons for protest. I have my views, and anyone who has researched with even a modicum of detail the legality of the situation in Gaza and the abhorrent humanitarian disaster that has been engineered within the border fence, will have theirs.
The Israel/Palestine debate has become a merry-go-round of partisan, poorly constructed views based on very little fact – an ideological football pumped up and brought out to play in certain circumstances by both left and right. Often, where one stands on the issue depends on worldview, politics, ideology, or indeed theology. So, let’s look at some facts.
Yes, Hamas probably used the protest to callously illicit a response from Israel.
Yes, Hamas operatives were present at the protests.
Yes, some protestors did turn violent, approached the fences and threw stones and explosives towards Israeli troops.
However, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the vast majority of those killed or injured were unarmed protestors posing no threat whatsoever to IDF soldiers.
Thousands have received life changing injuries.
One of those injured since protests began was 23-year-old football player Mohammad Khalil Obeid, who was shot in the knees whilst filming with his back to the border, some distance away from the fence and away from the crowds. He will be fortunate to walk again. His career is certainly over.
International Human Rights Law stipulates that “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” That Israel has violated this requirement is simply beyond question. They displayed no regard for Palestinian life whatsoever. Opening fire on unarmed protestors is wrong, illegal and must be condemned.
As Amnesty International’s Middle East Director, Philip Luther stated: “This is a violation of international standards, with Israeli forces in some instances committing what appear to be wilful killings constituting war crimes”.
In 1960, during a protest at Sharpeville Police station in South Africa, police officials opened fire on unarmed demonstrators killing 289, including 29 children. The parallels with last Monday are all too chilling. Make no mistake, this was a massacre.
The international and domestic outcry that Sharpeville evoked changed the course of South African history and laid the foundations for the end of Apartheid. Like Sharpeville, my hope is that the international exposure of the events on the Gaza border last week will lead to consequences and justice, both diplomatically and internally within the IDF, prompting a cease to the horrific suffering of Gazans. Given the relentless cycle of carnage and impunity that has gripped the Gaza Strip for the last decade, however, I am not holding my breath.