After a violent reaction to Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border, Israeli defence officials are rejecting calls by the international community for an independent inquiry. The demonstration, which was intended to be peaceful by those involved, became violent and resulted in Israeli Defense Forces firing at protesters and killing 16 people. The largest hospital in Gaza reported 275 people from the demonstration were admitted, but the database system fails to specify the extent of their injuries. Doctors at the hospital said that many were victims of gunshot wounds. The Israeli military claims these numbers are exaggerated.
The protest was on March 30th, a Friday, which is an important day for Muslim weekly prayer and tends to be a common day for demonstrations within the Arab world. The demonstration was advocating for the right of return for Palestine refugees. The protesters plan to continue their demonstrations until Nakba Day on May 15th. The day is titled “the catastrophe” by Palestinian activists and marks the founding of the State of Israel and the displacement of Arabs that resulted from it.
In reaction, many in the international community expressed concern for the violence. Top officials of the United Nations and the European Union called for independent investigations into the causes for the Israeli’s use of deadly force. Turkish President Erdoğan went so far as to call the Israeli prime minister a “terrorist” for the violent reaction against the protesters. A UN Security Council resolution, calling for mutual restraint and an independent investigation, put forward by Kuwait, was vetoed by the United States. Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that there would be no investigations and going insofar in saying that Israeli soldiers “deserve a medal.” The Israeli military did not comment on specific orders to troops but said that those approaching the border fence, in an attempt to break it, face the risk of being shot.
Israel claims that these demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas as a cover for terrorist activities. Hamas, which currently governs Gaza and is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, claims that several members of its military wing were killed in the protest. Some protesters that were killed by Israeli forces had makeshift weapons such as Molotov cocktails, and others were throwing rocks. However, many of those killed weren’t involved with hostilities, such as Adam Abu Ghanima, who was attempting to raise a Palestinian flag at the border on the Sunday after the larger protest. After, a man was also shot trying to raise a fallen Palestinian flag. There was also a separate group, further away from the border fence, of women and children protesting with a more celebratory-flare.
The overt use of force in response to Palestinian protest is an example of the militarist policy that the Israeli state uses to maintain the status quo. Subjugating Palestinian voices may maintain Israeli control, but will not lead to long-term peace and a resolution to the conflict. Israeli forces should be more cautious in their response to protests, as attacking demonstrators who are non-violent is a violation of human rights. While Hamas terrorist activity poses a threat to Israeli security, Israel cannot use this as an excuse to murder innocent Palestinians. Soldiers have become trigger-happy from violence in the region, but this is no excuse. There should be more accountability and training to prevent the loss of more innocent lives. In situations where Israeli soldiers must defend themselves, especially against unarmed civilians, they should use non-lethal methods instead of bullets. Overall, restraint from violent rhetoric and action from both sides needs to occur as a step towards peace. Increased dialogue and cooperation can help bridge these groups in the long pathway to peace.