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‘There is nothing cheaper in Israel than Palestinian blood’

Last week's massacre in Gaza shows the urgency of putting pressure on Israel to change

BEN CASPIT is a political commentator who has a daily radio show, regular spots on TV and columns in several Israeli papers and who distinguishes himself in his latest offering on last week’s Great Return March in Gaza by portraying the scale of bloodshed as a triumph for Israeli moderation.

He contributes a piece to Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, laying bare what he calls “Israel's Gaza nightmare,” where a mass breach of the border fence could oblige tanks and helicopters of the Israeli Defence Forces to open fire on marching civilians.

“Picture the outcome if they would have burst through the fence, even at a single point, and begun marching into Israel. It would have ended in a bloodbath,” Caspit quotes a senior Israeli military official as saying.

“We would have no choice but to employ enormous force and that would have resulted in dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties. The images would have been a huge victory for the Palestinians.

“As far as we’re concerned, the fact that the recent event ended with 16 casualties, 12 of whom have already been identified as Hamas terrorists, but without any casualties among the women and children, is a very significant achievement on our part. It should not be taken for granted.”

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 18 people were killed by snipers, 1,400 wounded — half with bullet wounds and others suffering the effects of tear gas and rubber bullets — and at least one woman was shot in the back.

Caspit, however, accepts his government’s figures, while noting that 16 deaths “is still a high number. It is more than either side has suffered in a day, with the exception of when actually fighting.”

On that basis, someone in the Israeli government must surely be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for showing such restraint, even if it may not be repeated.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned: “Next time, we have the capacity to respond more forcibly. We will not hesitate to use any means at our disposal.”

Caspit rolls out another unidentified military figure to speculate that Hamas activists might try, during the next protest march, to “try to shoot at IDF troops. They will try to incite the area and cause us to make a mistake, which would send tens of thousands of people to the fence.”

No wonder these army officers prefer to remain anonymous. Their offerings are a reworking of former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s slur about “the Arabs” — she denied Palestinians’ very existence.

Meir said: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children,” which had the twin value of absolving the IDF of responsibility for shooting dead Palestinian children while dehumanising Palestinian parents for allegedly treating their children as disposable cannon fodder.

This message resurfaced in Israeli media coverage at the weekend when Hamas was accused of sending a seven-year-old girl to breach the border fence only to be returned to her mother by kindly IDF troops, thereby comforting Israeli citizens by reinforcing the myth of the IDF as the “most moral army in the world.”

Hamas, which was one but far from the sole organiser of the Land Day protest, rejected the Israeli line that soldiers killed Palestinians for trying to “infiltrate” Israeli territory.

Its political bureau deputy chairman Mousa Abu Marzook insisted, in line with video evidence, that there was no attempt by protesters to take the border by storm.

“They were killed by snipers from a long distance when they were inside the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Marzook added that the planned six-week-long Great Return March activities were intended to show the world that Palestinians whose ancestral homes are in territory occupied by Israel “that they did not forget their villages and towns, the towns of their fathers and grandfathers.”

He made the valid point that their determination to show that they have not forgotten where they come from should be a “reminder to the whole world that there are UN resolutions that give Palestinians the right to return to their villages and towns.”

Marzook’s view will be ignored by global media networks supportive of Israel’s ongoing illegal colonisation of Palestinian land.

There is, however, a brave minority of Israelis prepared to speak out against the crimes committed in their name by government and armed forces.

Israeli Communist Party leader and Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh denounced the use of live ammunition against unarmed protesters, declaring: “On the Jewish festival of freedom of all days, the residents of the world’s largest prison are asking to live.

“Men, women, and children, residents of Gaza, are marching to demand their freedom, facing off against indifference and cruelty.

“From Israel’s perspective, there is no legitimate form of Palestinian protest. Even such a model of non-violent popular struggle is met with armed soldiers who do not hesitate to fire at unarmed demonstrators.”

Israeli independent blog +972 carried a piece by ex-soldier Shai Eluk who reported being stationed on the border with Gaza six years ago.

“The same marchers, the same protest. Even the orders to open fire at crowds of people remained the same,” wrote the former Nahal Brigade soldier and Combatants for Peace activist.

“The order was clear. If a Palestinian crosses the ‘buffer zone’ — 300 metres from the fence inside the Gaza Strip — one may shoot at the legs of the ‘main inciters.’

“This order, which never explained exactly how a soldier is meant to identify, isolate, and shoot a ‘main inciter’ out of tens of thousands of demonstrators,  disturbed me then. It continued to disturb me this past weekend, after IDF snipers opened fire on Palestinian marchers at the Gaza border.

“‘How can opening fire at a crowd of people be a legal order?’ I asked my deputy company commander six years ago. I have yet to receive an answer.”

On the same blog, Edo Konrad highlighted the gulf between government propaganda and video records, pointing out that even the Washington Post had noticed the absence of Hamas signs at Abdel Fattah Abdel Nabi’s funeral.

His family denied he was linked to the group despite Tel Aviv insisting the opposite.

Konrad says that the videos show that Israel needed no pretext for killing protesters, stressing that “Israeli generals told the cabinet ahead of time that there would be Palestinian casualties.

“Attempts to retroactively portray them as Hamas militants, stone-throwers or human shields serves only one purpose — to quiet the Israeli conscience.”

Charity co-ordinator and Gaza left-wing organiser Hasan al-Kurd, who was among the protest organisers, told +972 on Monday March 26 that they were insistent on non-violent action.

“We’re against stone throwing or even burning tyres. We will make sure the protest doesn’t escalate to violence — at least from our end,” he added prophetically.

Kurd had picked up on co-ordinated Israeli media and security establishment framing of the protest as a Hamas event, thus making it inherently violent.

“By declaring Friday’s protest action to be violent before it even occurs, the army’s own violent response becomes something of a foregone conclusion,” wrote Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man.

Veteran Ha’aretz commentator Gideon Levy was appalled at public acquiescence to the Gaza slaughter, writing: “The killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.

“There’s nothing cheaper in Israel than Palestinian blood. If there were a hundred or even a thousand deaths, Israel would still ‘salute’ the IDF.”

That is true of not only the Netanyahu government but also the Israeli Labour Party, which parades as the Zionist Union, thus reversing the process of its British affiliate formerly known as Poale Zion and now trading as the Jewish Labour Movement.

When Tamara Zandberg, who chairs the social-democratic/zionist Meretz party, dared to suggest that an independent internal investigation was in Israel’s interest and would help in planning responses to future demonstrations, she was slapped down.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused her of representing Palestinian rather than Israeli interests and Zionist Union Knesset faction leader Yoel Hasson declared “there was nothing to investigate, the IDF is doing what’s necessary to defend the Gaza border.”

Their indifference to Palestinian suffering is mirrored by those in Britain who purport to believe that Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to accept a Seder night invitation from an irreverent Jewish group marks him out as irredeemably anti-semitic and worthy of an internal party investigation.

In contrast, Corbyn calls the killing and wounding by Israeli forces of civilians demonstrating for Palestinian rights in Gaza “appalling” and tells Theresa May’s government to “make its voice heard on the urgency of a genuine settlement for peace and justice.”

And shadow chancellor John McDonnell asks: “How many more Palestinians have to die from sniper bullets before the international community, including the UK government, mobilises to press Israel to end this disproportionate response to the Gaza demonstrations? We desperately need a new international peace initiative.”

It might be as well, however, not to bet this week’s rent on Britain’s mass media highlighting these calls rather than printing more shock revelations about Corbyn’s predilection for tolerating anti-semitism.

John Haylett is the Morning Star’s political editor.

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