Pressure mounts to investigate Israel’s killings of Palestinian civilians in Gaza

Helena Cobban Anti-imperialism, BDS, Blog, Gaza, Israel, Nonviolence, Palestine

On June 1, Israeli snipers deployed along Israel’s 1949 Armistice Line with the Gaza Strip shot dead 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic Razan al-Najjar, who like her colleagues was wearing a vest clearly identifying her EMT role and her task of evacuating civilian protesters whom the Israelis had earlier shot in the zone near the Armistice Line.

Al-Najjar was the only Palestinian shot dead during that Friday’s protest, but the Israeli military had killed 114 other unarmed protesters and wounded more 13,000 of them, many with live fire, over the preceding nine weeks of mass protests. She was shot in the chest while clearly marked and clearly attempting to fulfill her evacuation mission.

Razan Al-Najjar was the subject of very moving short video profile of Al-Najjar, produced by the New York Times, which can be viewed here. Her brutal killing may now help tip the scales of international opinion and international action yet further toward the goal of enforcing accountability on Israel for its chronically criminal behavior inside Palestine.

The same evening that Al-Najjar was killed, the UN Security Council meeting in New York considered a draft resolution proposed by UNSC member Kuwait, that would have

deplored Israel’s use of “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force” against Palestinian civilians. Condemning the use by Israel Defense Forces of live ammunition against civilian protesters, it would have affirmed the Council’s willingness to respond to situations of armed conflict where civilians were targeted or where humanitarian assistance was being deliberately obstructed, including by considering appropriate measures in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

Ten of the UNSC’s 15 members supported the resolution. Four abstained, and one opposed. Since the opposing state was the veto-wielding United States, the resolution did not pass. The United States’ vehemently pro-Israel ambassador Nikki Haley then proposed a version of the resolution that would have

described Hamas… as a terrorist group. It would also have condemned in the strongest terms the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants in Gaza towards Israel on 29 May; demanded that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant groups cease all provocative actions; and condemned the diversion of resources by those groups to construct military infrastructure intended to infiltrate Israel and launch rockets.

Amb. Haley was the only person to vote for her version of the resolution, which likewise did not pass.

Though the US veto at the Security Council is still (as so often previously) being used to protect Israel from any effective international action aimed at curbing its outrageous behaviors, in other official and unofficial fora around the world pressure is mounting to end the immunity that Israel has enjoyed for the past 50, or perhaps even 70, years.

The killing of Razan Al-Najjar may well help build this movement for accountability. Already, on June 2, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territories, the Head of the Office of the UNHCHR in the OPTs, and the Head of the World health Organization’s office in the OPTs have all spoken out forcefully.

Other UN bodies higher up the organization’s hierarchy have also been taking notice.

Back on April 27, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to the use of excessive force, following the many deaths and injuries sustained by Palestinians, including children, in Gaza during the protests of the preceding month. He also called for those responsible to be held accountable.

Noting the already horrific level of casualties inflicted by Israel against the protesters, his statement added that, “Most of them appear to have been unarmed or not presenting an imminent threat to the [Israeli security forces] at the time of their killing or injury. No Israeli casualties have been reported.”

He stated that, “Every week, we witness instances of use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators… Warnings by the United Nations and others have seemingly gone unheeded, as the approach of the security forces from week to week does not seem to have changed.”

On May 15, it was the turn of Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 to sound the alarm. In a statement, he

condemned Israel’s excessive use of force towards largely unarmed demonstrators at the Gaza fence [the previous] Monday, which has left 58 Palestinians dead, and almost 2,800 wounded. He expressed grave fears this figure could rise sharply in coming days unless Israeli authorities uphold their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

“This blatant excessive use of force by Israel – an eye for an eyelash – must end, and there must be true accountability for those in military and political command who have ordered or allowed this force to be once again employed at the Gaza fence,” he said.

“I must reiterate that international human rights law sets strict prohibitions on the use of force by law enforcement officials. Lethal force against demonstrators is prohibited unless strictly unavoidable in the case of an imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury. The killing of demonstrators in violation of these rules, and within the context of occupation, may amount to willful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as a war crime.”

The Rapporteur also expressed deep concern at the apparent disregard by Israeli forces for the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. “These fundamental rights belong to all peoples, and they must be permitted to exercise them within reasonable bounds. There appears to be no persuasive evidence that the use of flammable kites, throwing of stones or Molotov cocktails, or other actions reportedly taken by a small number of the demonstrators presented a deadly threat that justified the force used by the Israeli military.”

However, as has been the case continuously for the past 50 years, the U.S. government has been the main obstacle in the path of all efforts aimed at ending Israel’s numerous rights violations, ending its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan, and restoring the too-long-denied rights of the Palestinians. This places a heavy burden of responsibility on all U.S. citizens, and on governments around the world who are allied with Washington, to work to change this policy.

Over the past ten weeks that the Palestinians in Gaza have been mounting the regular nonviolent protest actions under the rubric of the #GreatReturnMarch, attitudes in some parts of the U.S. elite have started to shift. The New York Times‘s speedy release of its video profile of Razan Al-Najjar was one sign of that shift, as have been recent op-eds or essays published by traditionally pro-Zionist Jewish-American writers like Michelle Goldberg or Peter Beinart, and actions by various people in the entertainment world to turn down well-paid invitations to appear in Israel.

But clearly, a lot more organizing and political action will be needed before Washington changes its policies, thereby clearing the way to finally ending Israel’s gross, long-engrained rights violations and holding its leaders accountable.