Debunking Four Myths Surrounding the Palestinian Protests

The justifications given for the deaths of Palestinian protesters just don’t add up

Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip, June 1, 2018. Israeli tear gas canisters fall toward Palestinian protesters and medics during clashes with Israeli security forces along the Israel-Gaza border. Photo courtesy dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo.

Muhammad Shehada and Jamie Stern-Weiner, VICE, Jun 12 2018

Over the past ten weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the “March of Return,” mass nonviolent demonstrations to protest Israel’s illegal siege. Throughout, Israel has responded with violent force.

As of June 7, Israeli forces had killed more than 110 Palestinians in the course of the protests, including 14 children, and injured more than 3,700 with live ammunition. In order to brutalize the people of Gaza into submission while minimizing the international criticism that accompanies lethal force, Israeli snipers deployed along Gaza’s perimeter fence methodically shot the legs of Palestinian demonstrators. “The aim,” reports the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, was “to leave as many young people as possible with permanent disabilities.” To this end, the snipers used expanding bullets that “pulverized” bones and left exit wounds the size of a fist. According to the Secretary-General of UNRWA, the United Nations agency providing education and healthcare for refugees in Gaza, “many” of those shot will suffer “life-long disabilities.” Mission accomplished.

In order to legitimize its resort to overwhelming force, Israel has sought to cast doubt on the popular character of the demonstrations in Gaza and to present them as a threat to its security. A number of myths about the Gaza protests have consequently gained widespread traction. They bear as tenuous a relation to reality as Israel’s insistence back in the 1980s that the overwhelmingly nonviolent First Intifada comprised a “campaign of terror” by “mobs,” or, more recently, its repeated denials that the Israeli military deployed white phosphorus in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

No one is suggesting that Palestinian forces have never engaged in violent forms of resisting Israel’s protracted, illegal siege—which has made Gaza “unlivable,” according to UN officials. But the current protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent, and have been met with murderous force.

Here are some of the most prominent myths about these recent protests, and why they’re not true.

The demonstrations in Gaza are violent

The Government of Israel claims that the Gaza demonstrations have featured “violent mass incidents” that were “exceptional in their scope and the extent of threat they posed.” These violent incidents allegedly included the throwing of grenades and explosive devices, as well as the firing of live ammunition at Israeli soldiers. But such claims are either un-evidenced, implausible, or blown so out of proportion as to misrepresent what transpired.

First, credible observers report that, while a minority of demonstrators threw stones and flaming bottles toward out-of-reach Israeli soldiers, the demonstrations “have largely involved sit-ins, concerts, sports games, speeches, and other peaceful activities.” An American journalist in Gaza found that, even among those demonstrators who approached the fence, “[t]here were no guns, no grenades, no rockets.” Fieldworkers for the respected Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza “did not witness weapons or armed persons even dressed in civilian clothes among the demonstrators,” while Amnesty International informed us that, as of June 8, it had “not seen evidence of the use of firearms by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers during the protests.” This would explain why Israeli soldiers felt able to stand around in plain sight of the protesters while taking pot-shots into the crowd. Armed security personnel in civilian clothes were present at the protest tents—but not near the fence—in order to guard the high-profile political figures in attendance, obstruct intelligence-gathering by collaborators, and maintain public order. Although a couple of isolated violent incidents occurred far away from the perimeter fence, none of the numerous witnesses we contacted had seen even a single “armed protester” or any armed individual approaching the perimeter fence.

Second, Israel has presented no credible evidence of armed protesters or armed attacks. Even a veteran Israeli military correspondent noted that “[n]either we nor the international media received images and firsthand testimonies illustrating the danger and the threat to the snipers and other IDF [Israeli military] forces deployed along the fence.” The same correspondent mocked Israel’s refusal to permit journalists to approach the Gaza fence, instead positioning them “at a safe distance… where they were in no danger of being hit by a rock or by a marble fired from a sling or, God forbid, inhaling teargas.”

The connection between the underwhelming threat that confronted Israeli soldiers and the military’s failure to provide reporters with compelling propaganda material appears not to have occurred to him. Did he expect the IDF to send him a photo of a “marble fired from a sling?”

Inasmuch as Israeli forces were equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment, including “footage from drones hovering” overhead, and insofar as Israel claimed to use lethal force only against “those who are with weapons,” the lack of evidence of these alleged explosives and live ammunition is surely cause for wonder. What “evidence” Israel has provided only underlined the absence of a military presence at the demonstrations. Witness, for instance, the images and footage of what Israel termed “grenades” and “improvised explosive devices,” but which were in fact homemade firecrackers, familiar to Gazan teenagers who sometimes set them off at weddings and parties, which make a loud noise and little else.

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Bernie Sanders’ Criticism Of Israel Is Radical. And He’s Taking It Mainstream

Aiden Pink, Information Clearing House, June 13, 2018

Not many in the media are noticing, which is understandable given the burden of keeping up with Donald Trump, but in the shadow of Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, Bernie Sanders is dramatically challenging Beltway discourse on Israel.

In 2020, when Sanders likely runs for president, and journalists begin paying attention, they’re going to be shocked. The Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment will be scared out of their minds.

Last month, Sanders crossed one of the red lines demarcating politically acceptable Washington discourse about Israel. He organized the first letter written by multiple senators criticizing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Then, last week, he raced past that line again with a video that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from an American senator.

To understand how radical Sanders’ video is, it’s worth remembering how liberal Democrats like Barack Obama, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton talked about Israel and the Palestinians as recently as two years ago. While Obama, Kerry and Clinton did sometimes criticize Israeli policy, they generally did so in the language of Israeli self-interest, not of Palestinian human rights. Israeli settlement policy was bad for Israel, they argued, because it threatened Israel’s future as a democratic Jewish state.

On Gaza, the Obama administration never publicly urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas, even as former Israeli security chiefs did. And Obama effectively endorsed Israel’s position that Palestinians should not be allowed to hold elections because Hamas might win. (This despite the fact that Israeli parties that oppose the two state solution — among them, Likud — run in Israeli elections all the time).

When Gaza came up in a 2016 Democratic primary debate, Clinton placed the blame for its people’s suffering exclusively on Hamas. “Remember,” she declared, “Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza. So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.” Her comments, which are demonstrably false, could easily have come from Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

Contrast that with the video Sanders released last week. (It’s the third he’s released on Gaza since April). For starters, it consists entirely of interviews with Palestinians in Gaza. That alone is extraordinary. Palestinians in Gaza are almost never included in the debates on American TV. Palestinians are rarely invited to hold public briefings on Capitol Hill, and when they are, it’s hugely controversial.

In his video, Sanders lets Palestinians from Gaza speak for themselves. And they say things American politicians simply don’t say. Again and again, the speakers, who are not politicians but rather academics, students and journalists, call Gaza a “prison.” They talk about having only four hours of electricity per day. In one comic-tragic moment, the lights go on behind a young woman while she is speaking. She notes that the power has just returned after being off for 16 hours. Then it flickers off again.

A professor of political science notes that his family hasn’t left Gaza in more than twenty years. A young man says his “biggest dream is to travel from Gaza for one time in my life. To see how life is from outside the walls of the prison.” He later comments that many of his friends have contemplated suicide: “They cannot continue to live without any types of hope.” A young woman says, “I want the situation to change to where I feel like an equal human being to Israelis.”

By allowing ordinary Palestinians to describe their plight, Sanders’ video allows Americans to see the Great Return March as the product not of blind hatred of Israel but of a quintessentially human desire for a better life. “This protest,” says the professor, “was designed and orchestrated by young, independent and frustrated Palestinians who were sick, tired and exhausted of their living conditions.”

And by allowing ordinary Palestinians to speak for themselves, the video shows how dehumanizing it is to describe the people protesting Israel’s blockade as mere pawns of, or “human shields” for, Hamas. Brilliantly, Sanders’ video shows clips of American pundits blaming Hamas for the protests, and then lets Palestinians in Gaza do something they can rarely do on American television: respond.

“I’m talking with you. I’m not Hamas,” exclaims one man.

“It’s a big lie to say that Hamas is pushing Palestinian children and Palestinian women in the front line,” says the Palestinian professor.

“The majority of the people are not following Hamas,” insists the young man. “They are just participating peacefully because they just want to be free.”

Criticizing Hamas is both legitimate and necessary. But Sanders’ video shows how the media’s obsession with Hamas obscures the human causes of Palestinian protest, and the human consequences of Israel’s brutal response.

“The right question to ask is not whether there is someone asking them to go to the fence,” argues a young woman. “The right question is what is driving these people to walk up to the fence. What kinds of conditions would drive someone to risk their lives knowing that there are snipers who are willing to shoot them?”

And when you look at her, you imagine being that desperate yourself.

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Gaza hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed


Gaza Needs Your Help

DONATE NOW!

I am far from Gaza right now, in the UK, but I am speaking with my friends, my family and my medical colleagues there every day. I know doctors and nurses are working night and day to treat the people injured in the recent massacres.

The aftermath of this massacre is overwhelming every health facility in Gaza. I’m writing now to ask you for your help to fund a medical shipment.

Here are some statistics that show the enormous challenges health workers in Gaza are facing:

  • The Israeli army killed 112 Palestinians and injured 13,190 since the March for Return began on March 30th
  • 13 Palestinian children killed and 2,096 injured
  • 323 emergency medical workers hit by live fire and gas bombs, one worker killed and 37 ambulances damaged
  • 785 people shot in the head, neck, chest and or back
  • 27 leg amputations

Some of the injured will heal, others will be left with chronic pain and disabilities that will last a lifetime. Hundreds of thousands will suffer from psychological wounds, especially children.

The number and seriousness of injuries would be overwhelming in a normal situation. But, as you know, nothing in Gaza is normal. The Israeli siege, now in its eleventh year, has caused shortages of everything from anesthesia to fuel to keep the electricity running.

While doctors, nurses and volunteer medical students are working around the clock, you can support their efforts in a very significant way. Every dollar you give will go directly to Gaza. And with your contribution you’ll be sending a powerful message of solidarity.

DONATE NOW!


Shukran (Thank you),
Dr. Mona El-Farra
MECA Director of Gaza Projects
 

Donate for Gaza Now

I know you’re horrified by the news from Gaza—the slaughter of unarmed protesters who are simply demanding freedom; the deliberate targeting of medical staff and journalists; The murder and maiming of women, children and so many young men.

Families in Gaza desperately need medical aid and food. With your help now, MECA can provide them:

  • MECA Gaza staff can purchase medicine and medical supplies in Gaza and deliver immediately to hospitals and clinics.
  • There is terrible poverty and hunger in Gaza due to the Israeli siege. MECA will distribute emergency food parcels to more than 1,000 families in greatest need.

I ask you, please, just to give, as much as you can. People are desperate in Gaza and they need your help now.

Every dollar will go directly to Gaza. And with your contribution you’ll be sending a powerful message of solidarity.

Please Give What You Can.

DONATE


 

Shukran (Thank you),
Dr. Mona El-Farra
MECA Director of Gaza Projects
 

Standing with my Muslim neighbors in the wake of Jerusalem and Gaza

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, The Cap Times, May 17, 2018


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, 2018, left, and on the same day, Palestinians in Gaza City carry the body of Mousab Abu Leila, who was killed during a protest at the border of Israel and Gaza. Netanyahu praised the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem as a “great day for peace,” as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza amidst ongoing clashes. (AP Photo)

As I watched the glitz and glamour of the celebration marking President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, I was filled with shame. The backdrop of Israeli and American flags emblazoned with “Thank You President Trump” smacked of self-righteousness and complacency. One political leader after another emphasized his or her unwavering support for Israel without regard for Palestinian rights or sovereignty. Two evangelical pastors invited to bless the celebration had long public records of vilifying Muslims and Jews, among many others. As a rabbi I felt deeply shaken; this spectacle was a violation of everything I believe in.

As I watched, scenes of the Israeli military firing live ammunition on protesters in Gaza flashed across my screen. On this one day, May 14, the military killed 58 Palestinians and injured thousands. The excessive and lethal force against protesters who posed no imminent threat to Israeli soldiers or civilians was chilling. Palestinian leaders explained why they were protesting in the Great March of Return: Israel’s military siege was strangling their economy, making every aspect of their lives intolerable. They wanted the world to know that 70 years ago their people became refugees as Jews, many of them refugees themselves, established the state of Israel.

While most American Jewish organizations rejoiced at the Embassy move and defended the killings in Gaza, I sensed that many American Jews were not so sure. After all, we overwhelmingly distrust President Trump and oppose every move of his presidency, from the Muslim ban to anti-immigrant legislation to support for the NRA to stripping the poor of what’s left of a meager safety net. That he panders to antisemitic white supremacist groups and aligns himself with the Christian right’s anti-woman platform only fuels our disgust.

We recognize that Jerusalem is a city of many faiths, filled with religious sites that are sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. By moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the United States and Israel have destroyed Palestinian aspirations that it could be the shared capital of both peoples, and Trump has sent a clear message: He is opposed to brokering a just and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

To fully appreciate why Palestinians are protesting in Gaza, we must try to comprehend the humanitarian disaster on this tiny strip of land that is home to 2 million Palestinians. Gaza is an open-air prison. Israel controls its borders, allowing very few people or goods in or out. As the unemployment rate soars over 40 percent, despair runs deep. Three wars have pounded the Strip to dust, destroying its basic infrastructure. Now, most people enjoy just a few hours of electricity a day. Hospitals are gravely short on medications and supplies. Most Palestinians do not have access to clean drinking water. In just two years, according to the United Nations, their one source of water will be depleted.

Our leaders refuse to listen. Instead, they celebrate the Embassy’s move to Jerusalem and defend Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza. But we must recognize this for the hubris it is. As the Hebrew Bible teaches, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

As the holy month of Ramadan begins for my Muslim neighbors and friends, please know that many Jews stand with you. We refuse to be silent in the wake of the Embassy move and Gaza killings. We hold the Israeli government responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. We embrace a vision of a shared Jerusalem as we honor your religious traditions.

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman is rabbi with Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison.