Israeli violence in Gaza

Shooting an angel

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The funeral procession of Razan al-Najjar in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on June 2. Photo: Mohammed Salem/REUTERS

Palestinian protesters taking cover from tear-gas shells on June 8. Picture taken from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip. Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP

Palestinians evacuate a wounded demonstrator during a protest marking al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS

An unarmed paramedic was among those targeted and killed by Israeli security forces in the latest flare-up in the Gaza Strip where Israeli violence has claimed the lives of 120 Palestinians since March this year.

The killing of a young Palestinianparamedic, Razan al-Najjar, by an Israeli army sniper in broad daylight while she was attending to injured people, including children, on the Gaza border has been condemned all around the world. The only exceptions are the Israeli government and its all-weather friend and backer, the United States. The Israeli government has refused to acknowledge any guilt whatsoever for the targeting of the young woman. It has so far refused to even identify the soldier involved in the dastardly murder of yet another innocent Palestinian. Razan al-Najjar was shot at from a distance of some 100 metres from the border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli soldier shot her through the chest. At that distance he could have at least aimed his automatic weapon at her feet. A single “butterfly” bullet pierced through Razan al-Najjar’s chest. This new bullet, which Israeli forces have started using against demonstrators, explodes upon impact, pulverising tissue, arteries and bone. The use of explosive bullets such as these are banned under international law.

Before she was brutally killed, Razan al-Najjar already had a small fan following among ordinary Palestinians for her selflessness in the face of extreme danger. After two years of training as a paramedic, she volunteered to join the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. Razan al-Najjar, who was only 21 years old, was in the forefront of medical and first-aid teams helping injured Palestinians as they protested along the border fence, despite being aware of the dangerous situation she was operating in. She had even put in 13-hour shifts since March in order to tend to the wounded and the dying. “The Israeli army intends to shoot as many as it can. I’d be crazy and would be ashamed if I were not there for my people,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview.

In another interview, with TheNew YorkTimes, Razan al-Najjar said that the only goal of her group of paramedics was “to save lives and evacuate the wounded”. Before her funeral, her father held out her bloodied medical vest. He emptied out its pockets which held gauze and bandages. “This was her weapon,” he told the mourners. Since the protests began, one paramedic had already died in Israeli firing and many other medical workers were wounded. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), since the end of March, as many as 238 medical and health personnel, along with 38 ambulances, have been targeted by Israeli security forces.

Great march of return

Palestinians in Gaza have been staging the “Great March of Return” protests since March 30 this year. The residents of Gaza are demanding the right of return to their ancestral homes. Most residents of Gaza are refugees uprooted from their homes in what today is the state of Israel. The main goal of the protests is to end the inhuman blockade of the Gaza Strip that has been going on for 11 years. The blockade has made Gaza a living hell for the 1.8 million people crammed in the tiny strip of land. Israel has stopped the supply of fuel, electricity and potable water. The sanitation system has collapsed. As much as 46 per cent of the population is without work. More than 120 unarmed Palestinians participating in the “Great March of Return” had been killed by the Israeli army as of the second week of June.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) has censured Israel for the disproportionate use of force. Various United Nations agencies described Razan al-Najjar’s killing as “particularly reprehensible” as she had identified herself as a paramedic, wearing a white uniform and an arm band. Video footage taken just before she was killed shows Razan al-Najjar walking with other paramedics towards the Israeli border fence in white coats with their hands raised above their heads. The UNHCR chief, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that “when you shoot or kill someone who is unarmed and not an immediate threat to you, you are neither brave nor a hero”.

The Israeli government has insinuated that Razan al-Najjar and other medical aid givers were participating in the protests. They have so far not been able to provide any proof to back up their allegations. Razan al-Najjar, senior Israeli officials claim, was a “willing tool” of the Hamas government which controls Gaza. Israel has been trying to misrepresent the contents of an interview Razan al-Najjar had given to a Lebanese television network shortly before she was killed. She had told the channel that she was “acting as a human rescue shield to protect the injured inside the international armistice line”. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in Britain, said that Razan al-Najjar’s death “is the latest tragic reminder of the outrageous and indiscriminate brutality being meted out, under orders from the Netanyahu government”.

No amount of international public outrage is sufficient to make Israel mend its brutal ways. A few weeks before Razan al-Najjar’s death, an eight-month-old baby, Layla Ghandour, died after being exposed to Israeli tear-gas shells that were lobbed across the border fence into Gaza. Her parents, grandparents and siblings had gone to witness the protests near the border fence. Lyla was in the arms of her grandmother when acrid tear-gas smoke from grenades lobbed from the Israeli side of the border enveloped her and her family. The Israeli authorities said that a pre-existing heart condition was responsible for the death of the child. Lyla’s eldest sibling, Salim, had died two years ago after he sustained severe burns from a falling candle during one of Gaza’s all-too-frequent power cuts. The child was only 22 days old. In all, 12 children have been killed so far by Israeli security forces since the protests started in March.

U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

The Gaza protests also coincided with the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. This move, which was in violation of international laws and U.N. Security Council resolutions, infuriated the Palestinians. The rest of the international community had condemned the move. On May 14, when the U.S. embassy building in Jerusalem was officially opened, the Palestinian street erupted in anger. It was also the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. More than 700,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of the Palestinian population at the time, had been expelled or forced to flee from their homes when the Zionist state came into being 70 years ago. As the Israeli government celebrated the anniversary, Gaza witnessed its worst single day of violence since the latest round of protests began. More than 60 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Gaza, the epicentre of the protests. The Israeli Prime Minister had described the occasion as a glorious day despite the carnage that marked the opening of the U.S. embassy building in Jerusalem.

The U.S. President was represented by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka Trump at the ceremonial opening. Ivanka Trump had no words of sympathy for the scores of the Palestinian dead. Jared Kushner, who comes from a family of prominent U.S. Zionists, claimed that the opening of the U.S. embassy building in Jerusalem would actually speed up the peace process. He placed all the blame for the escalating violence on the Palestinians, saying that “those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution”. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the new embassy as “an American settlers’ outpost in East Jerusalem”.

Arab response

The reaction of the Arab governments to the shifting of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was comparatively muted. There is now a strategic alliance between Israel and key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Egypt is also cooperating with Israel on terrorism-related issues. For the elites in these countries, Palestine is no longer a cause celebre. In fact, Cairo and Riyadh have been advising the Palestinians to accept the U.S.’ move and settle for an even more truncated state without Jerusalem as its capital. The Egyptian government has, in fact, called for the protests in Gaza to be withdrawn. It has offered to ease the blockade on Gaza by allowing in food, medicine and fuel supplies if Hamas suppresses the ongoing demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza seems about to go out of control with the Israeli government threatening to stage yet another invasion of the enclave. In the last week of May, there was an exchange of rocket fire between Israel and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militias in Gaza. Rockets were fired from Gaza by fighters belonging to the two groups after the targeted killing of three Islamic Jihad fighters by Israel. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said that the firing was in response to the killing of innocent Palestinians protesting peacefully along the Gaza border. The firing lasted for around two days before both sides agreed to a ceasefire. The government and the people of Gaza are not prepared for another war at this juncture.

The U.S., which has rarely condemned Israel’s gross violation of Palestinian human rights, got a special U.N. Security Council meeting convened for the sole purpose of blaming Hamas for the violation of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza. Kuwait, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, instead called for “international protection” to be provided for the Palestinian people. In April, the U.S. had vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for firing on unarmed civilians. Other leading Western nations have looked the other way as Israel continues with its murderous rampage. Without saying as much, European governments also subscribe to the Israeli Prime Minister’s statement that “Israel has the right to defend itself” even against unarmed civilians.

Among mainstream European leaders, Jeremy Corbyn is among the rare ones who have the courage to criticise Israel’s action. He has called for a review of the United Kingdom’s arms trade with Israel in the light of the “inhumane and illegal” killings of Palestinian protesters. He has called on the U.K. government to support “an independent and transparent inquiry” by the U.N. Corbyn accused the Israeli army of showing “a wanton disregard for international law”. The Labour Party leader’s views have, however, been contradicted by around 80 Labour Members of Parliament who have grouped themselves under the “Labour Friends of Israel” banner. This group, aided and advised by Israel, has been trying its best to replace Corbyn with a Blair-like figure who would be protective of Israeli interests.

Corbyn has said that “the silence, or worse, support” for Israel’s policies from many Western governments, including the U.K., has been “shameful”. Since the protests began, more than 3,500 Palestinians have been injured by live fire from the Israeli side. When the massacres in Sharpeville and Soweto took place in apartheid-ridden South Africa, the entire world took notice. In the Sharpeville massacre, 69 protesters were killed and 289 suffered gunshot wounds. With that massacre, the days of the apartheid regime became numbered. Anthony Bourdain, the late celebrity chef and astute social commentator, was among the few leading media celebrities in the U. S. to summon up the courage and tell the truth about the situation in occupied Palestine. “The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinians, none more shameful than the robbing of their basic humanity,” Bourdain had said after a reporting trip to the Gaza Strip.

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