Gaza bleeds while Is­rael cel­e­brates

The bit­ter con­flict high­lights the shame of the world af­ter 70 years of Pales­tinian suf­fer­ing

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Mia Swart

Mon­day May 14 marked the blood­i­est day since the 2014 Gaza War. On this day, the 70th an­niver­sary of Is­raeli state­hood, 58 un­armed Pales­tini­ans were shot and about 2 700 were wounded by Is­raeli snipers. The vic­tims in­cluded eight chil­dren and a baby.

On the eve of the Pales­tinian com­mem­o­ra­tion of al Nakba (the Catas­tro­phe) — the ex­pul­sion of Pales­tini­ans from Is­rael in 1948 — this was a par­tic­u­larly historic and sen­si­tive day. To add to the drama of the week, the United States moved its em­bassy to Jerusalem on May 14.

The killings can be com­pared with those of Sharpeville, and the blood­shed raises ques­tions about the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s lack of po­lit­i­cal and le­gal in­ter­ven­tion.

What made Mon­day’s killings par­tic­u­larly chill­ing was the grotesque “split-screen” re­al­ity pre­sented by the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the cel­e­bra­tion of the open­ing of the US em­bassy and the killings in Gaza. It was ex­actly how Al Jazeera pre­sented the day’s news.

On the left one saw the well­dressed guests in West Jerusalem, with a eu­phoric Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu declar­ing in a mes­sianic tone: “What a glo­ri­ous day.” Those mak­ing speeches, in­clud­ing Jared Kush­ner, an ad­viser to and son-in-law of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, seemed obliv­i­ous to the shoot­ing on the border and de­scribed the open­ing of the em­bassy as a “trib­ute to peace”. The idea that the mov­ing of the em­bassy could pro­mote peace could not have been fur­ther from re­al­ity.

On the right side of the screen, one saw dozens of Gazans be­ing shot by snipers and tear­gassed by drones.

The death toll was higher than any­one ex­pected. Some have spo­ken of the start of a new in­tifada but, af­ter seven weeks of protests, the Gazans do not seem any closer to achiev­ing their goals and it is un­clear whether they will keep up the mo­men­tum of the protests.

The Pales­tinian lead­ers planned the mass protests as a way of mak­ing the strong­est pos­si­ble state­ment against the mov­ing of the US em­bassy and to as­sert the Pales­tini­ans’ right of re­turn to the land from which they were ex­pelled.

The lead­er­ship was mo­ti­vated by the fail­ure of ne­go­ti­a­tions and the fact that life in Gaza, in ef­fect an open-air prison, has be­come so dire that Pales­tini­ans have noth­ing to lose by protest­ing in the face of near-cer­tain Is­raeli vi­o­lence.

Af­ter 70 years of be­ing trapped in the state of be­ing refugees, it is lit­tle won­der that des­per­ate Pales­tini­ans are ready to risks their lives to bring their plight to the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The prin­ci­ple of pro­por­tion­al­ity is one of the key prin­ci­ples of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law. It holds that, in the con­duct of hos­til­i­ties dur­ing an armed con­flict, par­ties must not launch an at­tack if the at­tack could re­sult in ex­ces­sive civil­ian harm. There is con­sen­sus among in­ter­na­tional lawyers that Is­rael vi­o­lated hu­man­i­tar­ian law. The pro­tec­tion of civil­ians is one of the most sacro­sanct prin­ci­ples of hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

There is no equiv­a­lence in the ac­tions of the Pales­tini­ans and the po­si­tion of the Is­raelis. The Pales­tini­ans were un­armed and were not di­rectly threat­en­ing Is­raelis.

What can be done? In light of the dominant and ob­struc­tive po­si­tion of the US, in­ter­na­tional le­gal op­tions re­main lim­ited. The­o­ret­i­cally, the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity, should take the lead in ini­ti­at­ing col­lec­tive ac­tion.

Af­ter the on­go­ing de­struc­tion of Syria, there is a wide­spread sense of dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the UN and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. But all is not lost. Should the US veto, the Gen­eral Assem­bly can de­cide on a Unit­ing for Peace res­o­lu­tion, which would en­able the assem­bly to take col­lec­tive ac­tion and ini­ti­ate a fact-find­ing com­mis­sion. Pales­tine is ready to re­fer the mas­sacre to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court.

A rem­edy that is of­ten over­looked is that the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral en­joys con­sid­er­able dis­cre­tion in mak­ing recommendations. He can ini­ti­ate a fact-find­ing com­mis­sion, as he did in the case of the Is­raeli mil­i­tary shoot­ing civil­ians on the Mavi Mar­mara ship, part of the Gaza free­dom flotilla, which was in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters.

The sec­re­tary gen­eral can also rec­om­mend that hu­man­i­tar­ian aid be de­liv­ered to Gaza. Be­cause of the short­ages in Gazan hos­pi­tals af­ter the mas­sacre, this aid could pre­vent an es­ca­la­tion of the death toll.

Be­cause Is­rael con­trols en­try into Gaza, de­liv­ery of aid may prove near im­pos­si­ble.

With the ex­cep­tion of Egypt, which has as­sumed the po­si­tion of me­di­a­tor be­tween Ha­mas and Is­rael, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has lacked the courage to take con­crete ac­tion. As a stake­holder in the con­flict, Egypt can­not be ob­jec­tive and its own hu­man rights record also makes it a less than le­git­i­mate me­di­a­tor.

This leaves a space for South Africa to fill. So far, South Africa and Turkey and Ire­land have with­drawn their am­bas­sadors from Is­rael.

On Mon­day evening, a Gazan tweeted that death can be smelled ev­ery­where in Gaza. The re­sults of this week’s Is­raeli bru­tal­ity have left many young peo­ple maimed and an­gry af­ter ex­er­cis­ing their le­git­i­mate right to protest.

Whereas Sharpeville led the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to ex­press shock and take var­i­ous kinds of ac­tion, it seems un­likely that there will be any ero­sion of the on­go­ing im­punity en­joyed by Is­rael. Whereas Sharpeville rep­re­sents a point of in­creased ac­tivism by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the bloody events of May 14 in­au­gu­rate more of the same.

Un­real re­al­ity: Gazans run for cover from Is­raeli army gun­fire and tear­gas dur­ing a protest against the United States mov­ing its em­bassy to Jerusalem on the eve of al Nakba. Photo: Ibra­heem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

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