GAZA CITY, PALESTINE — Israeli officials have deemed peaceful protests by Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip to be tantamount to a “state of war,” arguing that soldiers were well within their rights firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters participating in ongoing mass mobilizations at the eastern fence enclosing the besieged territory.
In response to a High Court petition by human rights advocates, authorities in Tel Aviv noted that “the state opposes the applying of human rights law during an armed conflict,” arguing that even the Red Cross deemed human rights law inapplicable during wartime.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 50 Palestinians have been killed in the protests while over 6,200 protesters have sustained injuries at the hands of Israeli forces deploying live ammunition or rubber-coated steel rounds and other less-lethal munitions.
The state attorneys’ argument attempts to give international and domestic legal status to the military suppression of peaceful protest and the suspension of international human rights law enforcement, allowing occupation forces the right to use lethal force against unarmed demonstrators.
#Watch | Bizarre symptoms appeared on some protesters who suffered suffocation from gas bombs thrown by Israeli occupation forces on peaceful protesters in the #GreatReturnMarch. pic.twitter.com/v5BpB7DtTQ
— Quds News Network | #GreatReturnMarch (@QudsNen) April 21, 2018
Since March 30, residents of the captive region have held large-scale demonstrations to draw attention to the continuing dispossession of the people of Palestine and theft of their ancestral land by the Tel Aviv government, with the support of the U.S. government.
Organizers hope to continue the rallies until May 15, when Israelis will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. The date is mourned by Palestinians as Nakba Day, or “The Day of Catastrophe,” when the ongoing process of ethnic cleansing and expansionism was commenced by the extremist Zionist militia, which later united as the “Israeli Defense Forces” or Israeli military. From 1947 to 1949, around 750,000 Palestinians out of a total population of nearly 1.9 million were expelled from the land of Palestine.
Around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians are war refugees, or their descendants, who are confined to what is tantamount to a large-scale, open-air prison camp. Speaking to Reuters, 24-year-old protester Ahmed said:
If it wasn’t for the occupation we would have lived as free as people like in other countries … If they don’t allow us back, at least they should give us a state.”
Grim facts reveal intentional abuse
The manner in which protesters, including children, have been injured – live ammunition fired at the groin, neck, limbs, and abdomen – suggests that Israeli troops intentionally aim to inflict maximum harm that could result in life-altering disabilities, paralysis, amputation or the sterilization of civilian participants in the marches.
Many are struck by a new explosive type of ammunition known as the “butterfly” bullet, which causes massive deformities and creates exit wounds as large as a fist. The bullet expands upon hitting targets, decimating human flesh and bone or “pulverizing” internal organs, according to local health officials.
Butterfly bullet is a type of bullets that launched faster than sound and causes severe damage in flesh layers and bone when hitting the human body. It is used by the Israeli army snipers against the armless demonstrators on the borders of gaza. #BDSOurWeapon @basemn63 #Israel70 pic.twitter.com/tNc79jqe4Q
— Jamal Naim (@jnaim1) April 24, 2018
According to Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in the Occupied Palestinian Territories:
Half of the more than 500 patients we have admitted in our clinics have injuries where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone … These patients will need to have very complex surgical operations, and most of them will have disabilities for life.”
The Israelis, however, cite the law when justifying their use of deadly force. In a statement to Al Jazeera, an Israeli military official said:
The IDF only employs means that are lawful under international law. No new bullets or gas have been employed during the recent events in the Gaza Strip.”
Cold-blooded mass murder and repression
While Israeli authorities claim that the peaceful protests in Gaza constitute a state of war, videos captured of Israeli soldiers show them casually discussing how best to inflict harm on unarmed Palestinians while facing little to no danger from protesters.
In a video released in April, a sniper can be seen expressing elation after shooting a protester who was allegedly throwing rocks, exclaiming “Yes!”
According to a new survey by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, 83 percent of Israeli respondents “strongly support” the open-fire policy while around 71 percent of Israelis reject the easing of a crippling blockade imposed on Gaza for the past 11 years.
Israeli authorities consistently claim that the protests are organized by Islamist Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since winning elections in 2007, and that the protest aims to provide cover for alleged “terrorist attacks” using stones and Molotov cocktails. Various factions and civil-society groups have endorsed the march, however, and deny that Hamas has a monopoly on leading the mass actions or that the protests have any ulterior motives beyond the stated demands for the right to return to their former homes in historic Palestine.
Palestinian academic Rashid Khalidi noted that the methods used by the Israeli army indicate a fear of peaceful protest as well as an inherently racist attitude toward the people of Palestine:
So, heavily armored Israeli soldiers with sniper rifles at hundreds of meters are picking off, systematically, Palestinian protesters or people who try to approach the fence or whatever. And that this is a policy that the government is proud of … I think it tells us a lot about Israel’s attitude towards Palestinians, that they are subhuman.
… [A]t the rate at which things are going, unfortunately, we’re probably likely to see even more savage, vicious, brutal, murderous repression.”
Top Photo | Palestinian medics evacuate a wounded youth during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.