The argument over Israel’s right to defend its borders

  • paula_slier
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva voted to establish a Commission of Inquiry in order to examine possible war crimes committed by Israel during recent confrontations on the Gaza border. America and Australia were the only two countries to vote against the resolution. Washington said it was one-sided and failed to hold Hamas responsible, echoing Israel’s position.
by PAULA SLIER | May 24, 2018

Jerusalem has never believed international investigations into its conduct are objective. It argues that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has its own checks and balances to determine if soldiers have adhered to its strict rules of engagement. During recent protests, these included stationing senior commanders at every confrontation point along the border so that each shot fired was approved by a responsible figure.

In addition, every staging area had an especially large number of troops in order to make sure soldiers were not put into life-threatening situations where they would have no choice but to fire indiscriminately.

Every bullet and every hit was carefully reported, documented and investigated.

But this doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact among Israel’s detractors. Ever since violence flared up along the Gaza border nearly two months ago, the IDF has been accused of using “excessive force” against “unarmed protesters”.

The army, by comparison, insists it behaved the way it did to prevent a bloodbath. While this argument is valid, there is no way to guarantee what would have been the outcome had the army not fired on protesters.

Those who criticise Israel often point to the lack of casualties on the Israeli side to support their position. The counter-argument is that Jerusalem obviously doesn’t need to apologise for protecting its civilians and soldiers.

During the same afternoon that the new American embassy was being inaugurated in Jerusalem, a group of eight protesters attacked two IDF armoured vehicles with explosives and light weapons. According to intelligence reports, the men were planning to damage the border fence so that there could be a mass infiltration into Israel.

Soldiers opened fire and all eight were killed.

The army claims that at the location of engagement, they found a pistol, grenade launchers, charges, and preparations for opening the fence.

The Washington Post newspaper quoted a protester, who said that he and others wanted to cross into Israel to do “whatever is possible, to kill, throw stones”.

Hamas admitted that of the 61 Palestinians killed on May 14 in the single worst day of violence since the last Gaza war in 2014, 50 were Hamas members.

The IDF has consistently insisted its troops open fire only at protesters who engage in violence  or attempt to breach the fence.

But Hamas has released footage of soldiers firing at Palestinians who pose no threat.

The IDF, in turn, has accused the footage of being fabricated and/or edited.

The youngest of those killed to date was a 14-year-old boy.

“It is difficult to see how children, even those throwing stones, can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel,” remarked UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

This is the most problematic of the charges levelled against the IDF – its use of live fire.

The rights to life and integrity of body are protected in international law and can only be violated if a direct threat is posed. When it is, lethal means has to be a last resort and should always minimise bodily harm and irreversible damage.

Why couldn’t tear gas or rubber bullets have been used? They would have caused enough of a debilitating effect to secure the fence and avoid most deaths.

But Israeli state attorneys have defended the IDF’s use of live fire, arguing its rules of engagement are within Israeli and international law, and that the riots on the Gaza border cannot be considered simple civilian demonstrations. They insist they are instead “part of the armed conflict between Hamas and Israel”.

Jerusalem insists it was defending violent attacks by an enemy openly calling for its destruction. Any other sovereign country, Israeli officials argue, would have behaved the same way, and rightly so.

They also point to the huge numbers of people who stormed the border fence, saying it was through restraint and meticulous action that only a few dozen were killed. If one looks at the names and ages of the protesters who died, the vast majority were 18-year-old or older males.

But inside Israel, some human rights groups are pushing for the Supreme Court to deem the use of live fire illegal. They claim that sniper fire/live ammunition amounts to wilful killing and injury, and is classified as war crimes.

They also point to testimonies from doctors in Gaza who said that the injuries they treated were caused by ammunition designed “to cause massive wounds and irreparable damage upon impact”.

Amnesty International argues there was “prior intent” to use sniper fire and live ammunition against Palestinians, which, it concludes, illustrates the premeditated and “cold-blooded” nature of the IDF.

The IDF doesn’t shy away from the fact that it warned protesters in advance that snipers would be used against attempts to breach the security fence. On the contrary, it says such warnings were issued precisely to discourage protesters from coming too close to the border.

Instead, the IDF blames Hamas for telling protesters that their mission was to “liberate Palestine” and falsely report that Israeli soldiers were running away in fear.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, called on the UN Security Council to condemn Hamas for inciting violent riots and using its people as human shields – but that call fell largely on deaf ears.

And so, the arguments continue. It seems a foregone conclusion that the UN Commission of Inquiry will find Israel guilty. Israeli’s will ignore its findings and argue that they will continue to protect their country and never be beholden to those intent on its destruction.


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