The Israeli military massacred unarmed Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border for the second week in a row, and journalist Ali Abunimah says Israel has been granted “total impunity” on the global stage
BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton. For the second week in a row, Israel has massacred unarmed Palestinians protesting on the border of the Gaza Strip. At a protest on Friday, April 6 more than 1350 Palestinians were injured in a violent Israeli crackdown. Israeli soldiers shot approximately 400 Gazans with live ammunition. At least nine Palestinians were killed in the crackdown, including the 30-year-old journalist Yasser Murtaza who had been wearing protective vest clearly marked ‘PRESS’ in large capital letters at the time. Several other journalists were also shot by Israeli soldiers. Thus far at least 29 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli violent repression. Thousands have been injured.
These protests are part of the Great March of Return, which began on March 30. This is a series of unarmed protests that are against the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which United Nations experts have said is illegal under international law. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has said that Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes in these clashes.
To join us to discuss what’s going on we are here with Ali Abunimah. Ali Abunimah is a journalist and the executive director of the Electronic Intifada. He is also the author of several books, including “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” and “One Country.” Thanks for joining us, Ali.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: So, Ali, can you just give us a larger perspective on what the Great March of Return is? And then of course we can speak about the series of violent repressions that we’ve seen from Israel in these past few weeks.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, this is the 70th anniversary this year. In fact, the day we’re speaking today, April 9, is the 70th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, which was one of the turning points in the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which sparked a major expulsion and flight of Palestinians. It was on April 9th, more than a month before the declaration of the state of Israel, which is important because, of course, you know, the propaganda is always that Israel was declared and then the Arab armies invaded it, and then all these refugees just happened. No, there was a deliberate ethnic cleansing.
And now today in 2018, more than 60 percent of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees, or their direct descendants, from that ethnic cleansing. And the Great March of Return is a series of marches every Friday, or rallies, starting on Land Day, the 30th of March, which commemorates the theft of Palestinian land in the Galilee and the killing of unarmed protesters in the Galilee in 1976, going every week until May 15, until Nakba Day. And these marches, by all accounts of these rallies, have been, you know, really mass movements of people. [Rifat Al-Harir], who’s written for the Electronic Intifada and is in Gaza, talked about the festival-like atmosphere of families coming out putting on their best clothes and, you know, the old and the young and children. And Israel, of course, has tried to portray this as a nefarious Hamas plot in which terrorists are hiding behind women and children. This is the usual propaganda line.
It’s been completely debunked by, among others, Human Rights Watch, which issued a very comprehensive report on the massacre that occurred on March the 30th, the first of these Friday rallies. That there was simply no one, no one with a firearm, no armed people. Not even the Israelis have alleged that firearms were used or threatened any of these rallies. And journalists on the ground have, have been tweeting and reporting the observations that no one is armed. These are unarmed people. Israel has given orders, its Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and its top generals, to shoot down unarmed protesters, and they have done that in massive numbers. As you mentioned, 29 dead up to this point. And you know, more than a thousand injured with live ammunition. And the live ammunition is being targeted at people’s heads. Many of the dead are head injuries. Many videos have shown people simply walking and being shot, or moving away from the boundary fence and being shot. Praying and being shot. And the many of the hundreds of injuries are gunshot wounds to the legs, which can cause permanent disability.
Some of the pictures that doctors at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, have posted online show horrific injuries. And the bullets that have been extracted shattered into pieces, or deformed. And if Israel is using fragmenting or deforming bullets that is an additional war crime, because they are banned under international law. And that’s really the story. Israel is repressing a mass peaceful movement of people who are demanding an end to the siege of Gaza, and for the right of refugees to return home to be respected.
BEN NORTON: Well, Ali, can you also speak about the demand that Palestinians have under international law to return to their homeland? Palestinians are refugees under international law. There are millions registered with the United Nations and those in Gaza, the primary demand is this right that they’re guaranteed under international law, in addition to, as you mentioned, the end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. United Nations experts have said this blockade is illegal under international law. And in addition to that, even conservatives like the former British Prime Minister David Cameron, he was certainly a strong supporter of Israel, even they have acknowledged that Gaza is what Cameron called a prison camp, and an open-air prison. What are the situation, what is the situation for Gazans inside the strip under Israel’s blockade? And what does international law say about what Israel is doing?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, look at the issue of refugees more generally. Under international law, nobody disputes that refugees have a right to go home. For example, millions of Syrians have being forced out of their country, displaced by the horrific war that has been going on there for many years, to Germany. To Europe. But most of them to surrounding countries, to Lebanon, to Jordan, to Turkey. Nobody disputes that Syrian refugees have a right to go home if and when it’s safe to do so, and if they choose to. Nobody says Syrian refugees should not be allowed back to Syria. The same with the Rohingya refugees forced by Myanmar into Bangladesh. In fact, one of the key demands of the so-called international community is that Rohingya refugees should be allowed to return home. When the war in Bosnia was ended with the Dayton Agreement in the 1990s one of the key and first clauses of that agreement, which was backed by the United States, was the right for refugees to return to their original homes. And that was implemented, and it was implemented with full American support.
It’s only in the case of Palestinians, uniquely, where we’re told that Palestinian refugees do not have a right to return. And the reason they supposedly don’t have this right is because their presence in their homeland would threaten Israel’s so-called Jewish character. In other words, the sole reason they are not allowed to go home is because they’re not Jews. And there is nothing in international law, nothing in human rights law, that says a state can exclude refugees from returning home just because they’re the wrong religion or wrong ethnic group. But that’s how to understand Gaza. Gaza is a ghetto for two million people, the majority of them refugees, who Israel will not allow to go home solely because they are not Jews. And if they try to leave the ghetto, or even protest for their right to leave the ghetto, they are shot down in cold blood.
BEN NORTON: And then can you speak about the international community’s response? What’s interesting is we’ve seen, rightfully, a lot of outrage about the war in Syria. However, at the same time we’ve seen very little outrage not only from the United States, but from European countries over the violent repression of unarmed protesters in Gaza. It reminds me of the war in Yemen, where just today, on Monday, the U.S. Saudi coalition killed 15 Yemenis, including children. And there there’s virtually no outrage and no international attention.
So why do you think that there’s a double standard on Gaza and Yemen, whereas the United States and other countries are speaking out so vociferously on other countries, like Syria?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, let me just, your question about international response. I want to point to the statement that was issued on Sunday by Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. You mentioned that in the introduction. But let me correct you on one thing. She did not mention Hamas in that statement. She only mentioned Israel. And she warned that anyone taking part in violence against unarmed civilians could be liable for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Now, as I wrote at the Electronic Intifada, she did in her statement make a nod to Israeli claims of hiding military activities behind civilians, which is the Israeli claim that, you know, Hamas are manipulating people, using them using them as human shields. But as I mentioned, there’s zero evidence of that. Nobody has found any evidence. Not even Israel has been able to show a video or a photo. And we know they’re observing everything with drones and scopes and everything. Anyone with a gun. There’s just zero evidence of that. But she put that in the statement, I think, that to appease Israel, in a way.
The most important part of the statement, and what’s unprecedented, is her direct warning to Israeli leaders. And this is particularly significant because the International Criminal Court has been dragging its feet on investigations into Israel’s previous war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, and against the Gaza flotilla in 2010. So it, it’s, it’s significant, and whether it signals a change of the International Court actually starting to take its mandate to end impunity seriously when it comes to Israel, we’ll have to see.
Other than that, you know, the response from the so-called international community has been pathetic. The European Union has absolutely refused to condemn the cold-blooded deliberate shooting of unarmed protesters, which nobody disputes is happening. I mean, the Israelis have been praising the Israeli Jews have been praising their soldiers for doing this and saying that simply entering the Israeli declared buffer zone, you put your life at risk. So the Israelis agree that they’re shooting unarmed people. The human rights groups agree that they’re shooting unarmed people. And of course, Palestinians and their families and their loved ones bear witness to that. But the European Union has utterly refused to condemn it. The only country, as far as I know, the EU country that broke ranks with that official silence and complicity is France, which condemned indiscriminate fire by Israel. But it did so belatedly, and of course, none of these statements, whether they’re weaker or stronger, carry any consequences. The EU and the U.N. secretary general, after the 30th of March massacre, called for an international investigation. Israel promptly rejected that. And then we didn’t hear anything about it ever again.
And that’s the way it is. Whereas if you take the reported chemical attack in Ghouta, in Syria, the very next day the European Union not, didn’t, they didn’t ask for an investigation. They demanded, quote, immediate response by the international community and accountability. So the difference in language is striking. Israel continues to enjoy this total impunity and can carry out these crimes in front of the eyes of the world without anyone acting or moving to stop it.
BEN NORTON: Well, and this is actually a great segue to my final question here. I’m interested in what you think about the media response to all of this. A point you just raised reflects, I think, what we could say is objectively very biased reporting. So the Associated Press released a wire that was reprinted by Time magazine and other outlets. And the title was “ICC: Israel and Hamas May Have Committed War Crimes in Gaza,” and it mentions the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s statement, and it tries to create this false equivalence between both the IDF and Hamas. But as you just mentioned, I guess Hamas is not even acknowledged in this statement.
So can you speak about the media reporting? And we also saw the Associated Press use language like ‘Israel shot back,’ as if implying that the Palestinians were shooting, themselves. Of course, we saw the New York Times use similar language. What do you think the media response has been to this?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Very quickly, there’s two broad media responses. One is to ignore it, which is what I think much of the media do. There’s very little discussion of Palestine and what Israel is doing in mainstream media. The other is to create this kind of false balance and false equivalence to do everything possible to erase and justify the Israeli, you know, the total Israeli dominance. The fact that we have a major military power besieging a defenseless and impoverished refugee community in a caged ghetto is absent when you use this language that creates this false balance. And the one word that is used so often is ‘clashes,’ the passive language. Ten Palestinians die in clashes. That makes it sound, well, first of all, they just drop dead. Nobody shot them. Who killed them? You know, they just die in clashes.
And then the term ‘clashes’ suggests a kind of military conflict with two sides shooting each other when the undisputed reality, and the Human Rights Watch investigation into this particular incident on the 7th of March is very good and very clear about this, there were no clashes. There was Israelis shooting unarmed protesters, and Israeli leaders inciting soldiers and ordering them to do so. And B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, between the first massacre on the 30th and the second one on April 6, issued unprecedented ads in Israeli media and newspapers calling on soldiers to disobey orders to shoot at unarmed civilians, because those orders are patently illegal.
And remember, that’s one of the most fundamental principles that came out of the Nuremberg trials after the Holocaust, which is that it is not an excuse. It is not a defense to say, ‘I was just following orders.’ And that is the message B’Tselem is giving to Israeli soldiers. You cannot absolve yourselves of these crimes by saying, ‘I was just following orders,’ because the orders to shoot to kill Palestinian civilians caged in the Gaza ghetto are illegal.
BEN NORTON: Well, thanks so much for joining us and providing your analysis, Ali Abunimah. Ali is a journalist and reporter. He is the executive director of the Electronic Intifada and the author of several books, including “The Battle for Palestine.” Thanks so much for joining us, Ali.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: And I’m Ben Norton reporting for the Real News.