Opinion

The Big Lie: How Apologists for Israel’s Occupation Justify Killing Unarmed Palestinian Protesters

Israel’s military and government ministers claim Israeli snipers opening fire across the fence into Gaza are 'defending our border.' That’s just not true

Palestinian protesters flee from incoming tear gas canisters during clashes following a demonstration along the Gaza - Israel border. June 1, 2018
SAID KHATIB/AFP

In a recent article by the IDF spokesperson in the Wall Street Journal, Brigadier General Ronen Manelis laments the damage to Israel’s image caused by the shooting of thousands of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza. Brig. Gen. Manelis writes, "Part of the Western press aided Hamas through publishing its lies instead of checking the facts. If in order to win world public opinion I must lie like Hamas, I prefer to speak the truth and lose."

Pathos – check. A semblance of morality – check. Reflection of reality? Now that’s a different story.

I saw the massive destruction of the Gaza Strip from inside during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. I was a platoon commander fighting in northern Gaza. Hamas combatants killed my friends while we flattened entire villages with bulldozers and our tanks crushed agricultural fields abandoned by those who fled. Artillery and air strikes thundered over our heads into one of the most densely populated areas on earth, taking the lives of thousands of Palestinians, including 547 children.

My encounter with our unbridled destruction in the summer of 2014 ultimately convinced me that, contrary to Brig. Gen. Manelis’ claim, Israel’s problem is not public relations or "hasbara" – but a moral problem. And again, since the Palestinian "March of Return" began, we see the same process of distorting reality taking place, as the IDF spokesperson and other occupation propagandists justify our lethal response to the protests along the separation fence.

Over the past two months, Palestinian demonstrators – the vast majority of them unarmed – have marched toward the fence that symbolizes the 11-year-blockade we have been enforcing on two million Gazans. Having served as an officer in both the West Bank and Gaza, I am not surprised that all Palestinian protests are perceived as terror threats, regardless of how violent the protesters are.

But this time our response was different. The poorly equipped hospitals of Gaza were overwhelmed as close to a hundred Palestinian protesters were killed, and thousands more were wounded by live sniper fire. Meanwhile the IDF tweeted, and then erased, "We know where every bullet landed."

In hindsight, such an aggressive and deadly response was foreshadowed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s direct threat, issued in Arabic, to the people of Gaza a day before the first march: "Anyone approaching the fence endangers their life." The orders given by politicians were clear. Unfortunately, to our sincere dismay, some IDF officers don’t simply follow orders – they also feel obliged to justify them.

The biggest lie occupation apologists are spreading to justify the killing and injuring of unarmed protestors is that we are defending our border.

A Palestinian runs after throwing a stone towards Israeli forces as smoke billows from burning tyres during a demonstration along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza city on June 1, 2018.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

While Israelis recognize the importance of maintaining secure borders with neighboring – often hostile – countries, the Gaza fence is simply not an international border. The fence separates the legitimate state of Israel from 2 million Palestinians living under its effective military rule.

As long as we in Israel control Gazans' water supply, electricity, land and sea crossings, and airspace – and also their future – we must accept their right to protest without ordering our snipers to open fire from behind a fence.

Another false claim is that the killing of unarmed protestors is legitimate because of their political affiliation. Even if 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were in fact affiliated with Hamas, the snipers pulling the trigger couldn’t have identified who among the tens of thousands of protesters were plain-clothed Hamas operatives in real time.

This claim entails a twofold admission – that serving as a low-ranking Hamas member is punishable by death and that we may retroactively issue death sentences to unarmed protesters whom we kill.

But these simple truths don’t prevent the IDF spokesperson from continuing to justify our "right" to kill and injure Palestinians who live under our control. Those who side with the policy of occupation and try to conceal its moral implications, like using live fire against the unarmed, reinforce blindness to this reality. They have given up on the war being waged for the moral character of our society in order to partake in an international propaganda battle.

Israeli tanks along the border with the Gaza strip, on Israel-Gaza Border, May 29, 2018
Ariel Schalit/AP

So long as these senior officers and officials remain more loyal to the government’s decisions than to the citizens they serve, so long as they refrain from revealing to Israel and the world the degenerating consequences of controlling millions of Palestinians – they will continue to pave the way for the next unnecessary war.

We have recently witnessed yet another reminder of these consequences and we’ve seen the speed with which escalations can quickly become operations, and operations can become ground invasions. So long as senior officers and officials continue to maintain blindness and silence, the public will continue to believe that we were sent to fight in Protective Edge, and to shoot down demonstrators, to preserve our national security.

Thus, we, the simple soldiers and junior officers who carried out orders, are breaking our silence. Because we know what carrying out the occupation looks like, and that the goal of the reoccurring operations and firing at demonstrators is not national security, but rather maintaining our control over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Dean Issacharoff served as a lieutenant in the IDF infantry during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and is the spokesperson for Breaking the Silence. Twitter: @Iss_Dean