Palestinians Are Forcing the World to See Their Humanity

The Gaza massacre is a war crime. And the United States is complicit alongside Israel.

Phyllis Bennis

A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag as Israeli soldiers crack down on demonstrators to remark the 'Great March of Return' east of Al Bureij Refugee Camp in Gaza City, Gaza on April 11, 2018. (Photo by Hassan Jedi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

We watch a split screen. On one side: cel­e­bra­tions of the new U.S. embassy open­ing in Jerusalem. The pres­i­den­t’s daugh­ter, son-in-law, cab­i­net offi­cials, Con­gress mem­bers, all smil­ing, proud. The U.S. ambas­sador, long­time set­tle­ment financier David Fried­man, joins Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu, his fam­i­ly, cab­i­net offi­cials, Knes­set mem­bers — all wait­ing for Pres­i­dent Trump to join their festivities.

There is little question that the U.S. decision to schedule the embassy opening for May 14 was designed to be a major provocation.

The oth­er screen: solemn faces, tears, teenagers splayed across makeshift stretch­ers car­ried by oth­er teenagers to wait­ing ambu­lances. Tear gas so thick one can’t see through it even on a tele­vi­sion or com­put­er screen. Sharp­shoot­ers, with live fire com­ing so fast that casu­al­ty coun­ters can’t keep up. It’s 38 dead — just in one day. No, it’s 40. And then it turns out it’s near­ly 60. Anoth­er 1,500 injured, no it’s more than 2,000 already. Twen­ty-four hours lat­er it turns out to be more than 2,400. Not a sin­gle Israeli has been killed — the dead are all Pales­tini­ans. The killers, the maimers, the shoot­ers, the gassers, are all Israeli soldiers.

And Jared Kush­n­er says that the Pales­tin­ian pro­test­ers, whom he defines as those who pro­voke vio­lence,” are part of the prob­lem, not part of the solution.”

But the split screen is an illu­sion: There is only one screen, fram­ing both the embassy car­ni­val and the Gaza mas­sacre. The same screen includes Netanyahu and Trump, as well as peo­ple like Shel­don Adel­son and the rest of their joint back­ers across the Unit­ed States. And the same screen includes Pales­tini­ans. Some appear as they are killed in unprece­dent­ed num­bers, shot by Israeli sharp­shoot­ers who claim their com­man­ders approve every bul­let’s tar­get. And the oth­ers, the liv­ing, con­tin­ue to remind the world that they are here. They are human. They are a nation, and they have human rights.

Some of the embassy back­ers, like the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian Zion­ists John Hagee and Robert Jef­fress who offered prayers and praise of Israel and racist hatred towards Pales­tini­ans, claim to speak in the word of God. They cel­e­brate U.S. col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Israeli gov­ern­ment to the tune of 3.8 bil­lion Amer­i­can tax dol­lars that Wash­ing­ton sends direct­ly to the Israeli mil­i­tary every year.

Trump says the Unit­ed States will always be a friend to Israel and” sup­port a last­ing peace, only one of many such lies. The Trump administration’s deci­sion to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is about remind­ing the world that Israel is the strate­gic ally of the Unit­ed States, and that Pales­tini­ans are not. This U.S. maneu­ver is not about pro­tect­ing Jews: This is about Israel’s claim to the land of the Pales­tini­ans. Israel’s mass killing of Pales­tin­ian pro­test­ers in Gaza is part of that mes­sage: Pales­tin­ian land belongs to Israel, and Pales­tin­ian lives don’t matter.

There is lit­tle ques­tion that the U.S. deci­sion to sched­ule the embassy open­ing for May 14 was designed to be a major provo­ca­tion. Of course, rec­og­niz­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Israel, and mov­ing the embassy to Jerusalem in vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law and a host of UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, con­sti­tut­ed major acts of aggres­sion to begin with. Trump said the fes­tiv­i­ties were timed to cel­e­brate Israel’s 70th birth­day — cit­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of the state on May 14, 1948. But Israelis’ own cel­e­bra­tion was based on the Hebrew lunar cal­en­dar, which placed the anniver­sary back in April. The Unit­ed States chose May 14 because the day after is the Pales­tini­ans’ annu­al com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Nak­ba: the cat­a­stro­phe of dis­pos­ses­sion from their land, the expul­sion of 750,000 Pales­tini­ans from their homes, and Israel’s con­tin­u­ing denial of those Pales­tini­ans and their descen­dants to exer­cise their inter­na­tion­al­ly guar­an­teed right to return to their homes. And Nak­ba Day, as it is wide­ly known, was to be the cul­mi­na­tion of the Great March of Return.

But plans for the Gaza protests were under­way before the embassy open­ing was announced. Pales­tini­ans were con­tin­u­ing to protest the dev­as­ta­tion of their lives in Gaza caused by Israeli wars against the impov­er­ished, crowd­ed strip of land. They were protest­ing the 11-year-old siege that has kept 2 mil­lion Gazans locked into an open-air prison, denied food, clean water, elec­tric­i­ty and con­tact with the out­side world, as well as air, the right to breathe, to trav­el, to leave and to return. Their demands start­ed with the right to return, guar­an­teed by the Gene­va Con­ven­tions and specif­i­cal­ly guar­an­teed to Pales­tini­ans by UN res­o­lu­tion 194. So the protests on Mon­day were not pri­mar­i­ly about the open­ing of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Now, among the thou­sands of Pales­tin­ian casu­al­ties, among the scores of Pales­tini­ans dead, have been many chil­dren. They were shot by Israeli sharp­shoot­ers, whose tar­gets were approved by Israeli com­man­ders. Israeli Brigadier Gen­er­al Zvi­ka Fogel defend­ed the prac­tice. In a radio inter­view last Sat­ur­day, he was asked specif­i­cal­ly about the killing of chil­dren, and answered that any­one who could be a future threat to the bor­der of the State of Israel and its res­i­dents, should bear a price for that vio­la­tion.” The inter­view­er says, Then his pun­ish­ment is death?” And the gen­er­al responds, His pun­ish­ment is death.”

It is a famil­iar refrain. In anoth­er set­tler-colony, a cou­ple of hun­dred years ear­li­er, anoth­er high-rank­ing mil­i­tary offi­cer, Col. John Chiv­ing­ton, com­mand­ed his Col­orado mili­tia to attack Chief Black Ket­tle’s Cheyenne encamp­ment at Sand Creek. It was Novem­ber 29, 1864, in the mid­dle of the Indi­an Wars rag­ing against indige­nous peo­ple across the Unit­ed States. Chiv­ing­ton ordered his sol­diers to attack the fam­i­lies camped in the pre-dawn morn­ing. Some sol­diers resist­ed, say­ing that it would vio­late the mil­i­tary’s promise of pro­tec­tion to the peace­ful vil­lage. Chiv­ing­ton, a Methodist min­is­ter, was hav­ing none of it. I have come to kill Indi­ans, and believe it is right and hon­or­able to use any means under God’s heav­en to kill Indi­ans. … Kill and scalp all, big and lit­tle; nits make lice,” he said. An esti­mat­ed 200 Cheyenne, most of them women and chil­dren, were killed in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Gaza mas­sacre is a war crime. And the Unit­ed States is com­plic­it along­side Israel. U.S. fund­ing of the Israeli mil­i­tary, U.S. pro­tec­tion of Israel in the UN so that Israeli mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal lead­ers are nev­er held account­able in the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court, U.S. pro­vi­sion of its own most advanced weapons sys­tems to Israel — all of these actions make the Unit­ed States a part­ner in crime and respon­si­ble for the slaugh­ter of chil­dren, teenagers, women and men, jour­nal­ists and medics.

Chal­leng­ing that U.S. sup­port, demand­ing account­abil­i­ty for both Israeli and U.S. offi­cials, remains a crit­i­cal task, how­ev­er dis­tant its com­ple­tion. Peo­ple in the Unit­ed States should be demand­ing an end to U.S. aid to Israel, peti­tions to con­gress, vig­ils out­side the White House, sit-ins at the offices of Con­gress mem­bers deter­mined to back Israel’s most extreme vio­la­tions of human rights. All are need­ed, but none are suf­fi­cient. The lega­cy of Sand Creek, the lega­cy of Gaza, remain the lega­cies of mas­sacres. It remains our oblig­a­tion to respond.

Phyl­lis Ben­nis is a fel­low of the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Stud­ies. Her most recent book is the 2018 edi­tion of Under­stand­ing the Pales­tin­ian-Israeli Con­flict: A Primer.
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