- Massive demonstrations in Gaza resulted in 16 deaths and 1,400 injuries
- A video showing a Palestinian being shot has gone viral
- But the U.S. has voted down a U.N. attempt to condemn violence against Palestinians
- A glaring inconsistency is seen in the U.S.' explicit position on human rights and practice
Widespread demonstrations began inside the Gaza strip on March 30, with 30,000 people marching to demand the right of return to lands inside Israel, from which hundreds of thousands were expelled in the establishment of Israel in 1948. The protests included a range of peaceful and violent means such as prayers and stone-throwing.
The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) response included live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas, killing 16 and injuring over 1,400. In response, Kuwait proposed a resolution to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) condemning the deaths of Palestinians and calling for an investigation into the matter. The U.S. shot the resolution down, despite calls by the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres for an independent investigation into the killings.
The U.S.’ rejection of the UNSC’s resolution follows a familiar pattern of using its position in the U.N. to defend the interests of Israel. But that refusal to condemn violence against protesters further reveals the balancing act the U.S. is on: between human rights and unequivocal support of Israel. Under the Trump Administration, that balance is tilting more in Israel’s favor, with video evidence of unwarranted killings of Palestinians going un-investigated and thus regarded as either un-important or defensible.
The result is that the U.S.’ credibility as a human rights defender is further damaged as it disavows the wellbeing of Palestinian demonstrators.
The video above shows a Palestinian named Abdel Fattah Abed al-Nabi, carrying a tire away from IDF positions, then getting shot in the head.
The IDF released a statement justifying the violence it deployed to quell the Palestinian protesters:
“The Hamas terrorist organization has published several videos, some of which only depict parts of incidents while others are edited or completely fabricated.”
“During yesterday’s violent riots and terrorist attacks, IDF troops faced gunshots, infiltration attempts, damage to security infrastructure, firebombs, rocks, and rolling burning tires. The IDF operated in strict accordance with the rules of engagement, firing only when necessary and avoiding civilians strategically placed by Hamas in harm’s way. IDF operational activity prevented the Hamas terrorist organization’s objective to harm security infrastructure and attempts to violate Israeli sovereignty.”
“Don’t take Hamas’s propaganda as fact. The IDF will continue operating in order to ensure Israeli sovereignty is not breached and to protect Israeli civilians. The participants of the violent riots are situating themselves in a dangerous area, thus putting themselves in harm’s way,”
In the statement, the IDF simultaneously claims that Hamas used civilians as human shields while blaming civilians for being in an area where they may end up being the victim of violence. The IDF also claim that their snipers fired only when necessary, meaning their shooting of the Palestinian man, who was killed, was deemed necessary—if indeed the video is verified to be true and is not a fabrication as the IDF’s statement implies.
Thousands of Palestinians gather near the border with Israel to protest (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)
The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an independent investigation into the violence, and Kuwait’s resolution to the UNSC condemning the killings and calling on Israel to allow for peaceful protests further signalled that the international community was outraged by the shootings.
The video, unequivocal in nature, frames the Palestinian, who was shot not as an aggressor and existential threat to the life of Israeli soldiers, but just another protester who was running away from Israeli forces.
His punishment was death.
In the refusal to condemn the killings despite the evidence that at least a portion of the violence deployed was excessive, the U.S.’ defense of the IDF amounts to disavowal.
This disavowal reflects a lurking suspicion that some Palestinians’ deaths are justified not because they posed an imminent threat to Israelis’ lives, but because their lives may be expendable in the defense of Israel, since many who were injured were deemed threats because of their proximity to the border fence with Israel.
Renowned philosopher and Berkeley professor Judith Butler wrote on how the images inside the torture center in Abu Ghraib illustrated just how expendable and invisible Iraqi lives were, arguing that there are “certain norms are operative in establishing who is human and entitled to human rights and who is not, whose life, if extinguished, is publicly grievable and whose life may leave no public trace to grieve.”
A prisoner stands with electrically-wired cables attaching to various parts of his body (Wikimedia)
“It is this numbing of the senses that we witness in the photograph, the decimation of the capacity to feel outrage in the face of human suffering, the belief that any suffering one inflicts is justified by the suffering that one has undergone, or others have undergone,” She continues, arguing that the Abu Ghraib photos revealed how numb many Americans were to the suffering inflicted upon the Iraqi people by the occupation.
That same numbness seems to also impact the wellbeing of Palestinian in Gaza, since video evidence of their killings is not enough to compel U.S. leaders to condemn the violence.
This numbness, Butler argues, has “become the visual norm.” Her words apply with eerie ease to the video of the Palestinian shot in the head: the spectacle of his collapse, far away from any visible shooter, and the lifelessness with which his body fell, is still not enough to demonstrate wrongdoing by the IDF.
It can be ignored, or disavowed, by those who have the power to jumpstart an investigation or release a condemnation. In the disavowal of the death depicted in the video, a trade-off occurred within the U.S.: that extinguished life was deemed not valuable enough for an independent investigation to hold Israeli assailants accountable, meaning impunity for the IDF was valued above the life of the dead Palestinian.
This trade-off has and will continue to expose more Palestinians to violence that will likely not be investigated, or will be assumed to be necessary as part of a larger mission of Israeli self-defense.
Visual documentation of their deaths, meant to expose Israeli wrongdoing, has instead merely exposed how disposable their lives are.
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