Israeli Use of Force on Gazan Protesters Was Disproportionate and Unjust


Written by: Ryan Rutherford

This is a response to an article by Liam King.

There is so much to fault in Liam King’s one-sided take on the Israeli government’s slaughter of over 60 Palestinians in Gaza on 14 May 2018, one scarcely knows where to start.

Perhaps the number of dead is an appropriate point of departure.

He claims that 50 were murdered, while the number that has been widely reported is 61, with roughly 2,700 injured. He cites two Hamas-affiliated leaders as the primary proof that the thousands of protesters who had gathered at the fence separating Gaza from Israel since late March as part of the “Great March of Return” were intent on committing atrocities against Israelis, yet provides no links to where he obtained these quotations. While he briefly addresses the charge that he is unfairly maligning an entire group of people based on a few select quotes, this remains a valid objection.

The notion that all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip support Hamas, or that the 2 million inhabitants of the “world’s largest open-air prison,” as former British Prime Minister David Cameron, no lefty dove, described Gaza, do not have legitimate grievances is simply ludicrous. If anything, the radicalism that has culminated in support for Hamas, whatever one thinks of this organisation, is largely a product of the dire living conditions that Palestinians in Gaza have been subjected to since Israel’s occupation began in 1967.

Once again, no discussion on events unfolding in Palestine can ever hope to be meaningfully undertaken without reference to the historical context. King would have us believe this kind of background is irrelevant to a simplistic morality play pitting the evil Hamas terrorists against the plucky Israeli good guys.

In the real world, however, Gaza is an occupied territory, with all its borders, save for the southern Rafah crossing, controlled by Israel. As such, under international law Gazans have a right to resist their occupation. Israel, as the occupying power, has no right to collectively punish Gaza’s population, which is illegal under international law. Once again, these elementary facts were completely absent from King’s propagandistic account.

In trying to undermine the relevance of the argument highlighting the disproportionate death toll between Israelis and Palestinians, King draws an analogy with the disproportionate use of force by the Allied and Axis powers during World War II. According to King, just because the Allies dropped far more bombs than their Axis rivals does not invalidate the superior morality of the former, a valid argument so far as it goes.

However, to use this particular analogy in any discussion of Israel’s actions in Gaza is nothing short of atrocious. In the case of Gazans being massacred by Israelis, we are, after all, not talking about two states, or collections of states, battling each other in a war, but rather a dispossessed, beleaguered, brutalised, harshly oppressed, bombed, collectively punished people without a state facing up against one of the most powerful militaries in the world, and a state that is furthermore supported to the tune of $3 billion each year by the undisputed global hegemon, the United States. A more apt analogy would be to compare the situation in Israel/Palestine to the German occupation of France, or the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, or the power dynamic that prevailed between black South Africans and whites during Apartheid. Cast in this light, the proportionality argument takes on a quite different character.

Even in the best case scenario, which necessarily entails ignoring history and pretending as if a certain parity of power exists between the two sides, Israel is still painted in a bad, if not terrible, light.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Palestinians in Gaza were trying to breach the fence penning them into the world’s largest open-air prison and thereby enter Israeli territory to commit violence against its citizens. Does that give the Israeli Defence Force the right to use live ammunition to kill over 60 Palestinians and injure roughly 2,700 more in a single day? Is it acceptable to have gunned down more than a hundred protesters since protests began near the end of March? Could Israel not have used rubber bullets, or other non-lethal options? How does King explain the clips of snipers killing people as they fled, or firing on disabled people, or medical staff trying to carry the wounded into ambulances, or murdering journalists and children? Or is it simply good enough to justify such murderous behaviour because a few protesters attached Molotov cocktails to kites that the Israeli government claims are equivalent to missiles?

According to King, the only defensible position regarding the events on 14 May is to mildly criticise Israel’s actions as being too drastic, a view the author is quick to declare he does not share.  If is is not too drastic to kill over 60 Palestinians on a single day, is there any number that ever could be deemed “too drastic”?  How about 500? 1000 dead, maybe?

This callous disregard for human life has long been overtly in evidence among defenders of Israel, and whatever protestations might be mounted to claim the contrary, it is impossible to avoid concluding that they simply do not value Arab lives the same as Jewish ones. If they did, far more concern, or really any concern at all, would be shown for the plight of Palestinians since Israel was founded in 1948, whence stems the current conflict.

As it stands, King cannot even bring himself to partially condemn Israel for its murderous barbarism against a defenceless occupied people existing in an unlivable hellhole who have suffered unspeakable atrocities for decades on end.

Drawing a comparison between the dozens of people killed on 14 May in Gaza and the 69 murdered by South African police in Sharpeville in 1960 is more than appropriate, and helps to draw into focus the flawed attempts by King to exculpate the IDF snipers.

One of the excuses for why the South African policemen on that awful day in March 1960 opened fire on unarmed protesters is because they were afraid of the large crowd. Considering how outnumbered they were, these officers had some reason to be fearful of what might transpire. They certainly had more reason than the IDF soldiers safely perched beyond the border area between Gaza and Israel proper to be afraid of a gathering throng surrounding them.

In light of this point, can King honestly justify one of the most infamous massacres in the history of Apartheid South Africa? How about the Marikana massacre in August 2012 when policemen then also claimed to be afraid for their lives?

A civilized state demands of its law enforcement agents that they use force as a last resort, yet from the first day of the protests forming part of the “Great March of Return,” Israel has used lethal means to unceremoniously kill Palestinian protesters, and indeed throughout its history, the supposedly “most moral army in the world,” has regularly committed heinously outrageous acts against Palestinian civilians. 

Of course, King will very likely dismiss all of the foregoing by rehashing the tired song about Hamas being a fanatical Islamic death cult intent on destroying Israel.

I am not in any way trying to excuse or apologise for Hamas’ hateful ideology or their tactics, but the conflation of all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with Hamas is not just unfair, it is egregiously dehumanising, not to mention ignoring the decades of maltreatment Gazans have suffered at the hands of the Israeli government, which has drastically intensified since the siege of Gaza commenced in 2007. Is it any wonder Palestinians turn to a radical group claiming to resist Israel at all costs when they see no hope for a future in a territory where 80% of people are unemployed, electricity is intermittent and often non-existent, where most of the houses and other infrastructure has been badly damaged due to repeated bombardments, and which has been described by a UN report as on course to being unliveable by 2020? Incidentally, the authors of that report have since claimed they were too optimistic and that Gaza is already unliveable.

The contention that all those who are concerned about the well-being of Palestinians are somehow Hamas apologists reminds me of the charge that those who were against the illegal war in Iraq in 2003 were supporters of Saddam Hussein. This is a truly foul smear and is clearly meant to deflect attention from the egregious actions of the Israeli government, and to minimise the suffering of the Palestinian people.

If King really were interested in the truth of the situation in Gaza, he would make a good faith attempt to acquaint himself with the immensely dire conditions that its inhabitants are forced to endure. He could go further and to try to grapple with why this conflict persists, rooted as it is in the ethnic cleansing and mass murder that accompanied Israel’s founding as a state. If King tried to do that, he might be less inclined to serve as a drastically biased spokesperson for the Israeli government, which his piece resembles more than anything else.