SLAUGHTER ON THE
By Gil Maguire
As recently reported in the media, at least 12 unarmed Palestinian and Syrian demonstrators were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers on May 15 and perhaps as many as 22 more on June 5, along with scores of wounded after hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian refugees demonstrated at the Golan Height border with some attempting to cross the border into Israeli occupied territory. In the May 15 incident, some demonstrators managed to get across the border where they talked to local villagers then returned home. One enterprising Syrian lad managed to hitch-hike to Jaffa where he looked around for his grandparents’ ancestral home then surrendered to Israeli authorities and was deported. In the June 5 incident, none were successful in crossing the border; those killed and wounded were all still in Syria proper.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to justify the killings saying, “Nobody should be mistaken. We are determined to defend our borders and our sovereignty.” An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitz, blamed the latest protest on the Syrian government, said that Israeli forces aimed at the protestors’ legs, and that “We have to protect our borders like any other country.”
These protestors are largely refugees evicted from their homes and villages by Israeli soldiers during and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war or during and after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel conquered and occupied all of the West Bank of Palestine and the Golan Heights portion of Syria. Today, some 63 years after the 1948 war, there are still about 3.5 million Palestinian refugees, of which about 1.5 million continue to reside, unwelcome, in squalid refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. They are protesting their living conditions and Israel’s failure to allow them to return to their ancestral lands, villages and homes, as well as Israel’s failure to allow them a country of their own as promised by the United Nations in the 1947 Partition Plan which was intended to divide the then British Mandate of Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State. In the entire Arab world, only the Palestinians have never received their independence from European colonialism.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 were specifically enacted to prevent the types of war crimes, atrocities and oppression committed against Jews and many other populations during and prior to World War II. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Israel is a signatory, a country which takes over and occupies the land of another during hostilities is restricted in how it can govern the territory it has occupied after hostilities have ceased. Article 3 prohibits the use of deadly force against civilians. Article 47 prohibits an occupying power from annexing or taking for itself all or part of the territory occupied. Article 49 prohibits the occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it has occupied. Article 49 also prohibits the permanent transfer or expulsion of civilians out of the territories occupied, and requires any civilians transferred to be returned to their homes and villages. Article 53 prohibits the destruction or misappropriation of real or personal property of civilians by the occupying power.
Israel has violated and continues to violate all of these provisions, all of which are considered breaches so grave that they are considered War Crimes under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These grave violations include Israel’s mass deportation of almost 1 million Palestinians and Syrians from Israel and the occupied territories in 1948 and 1967, its refusal to allow the return of those deported to their villages, lands and homes, its mass destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages in Israel, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, its annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem into Israeli territory, its de facto annexation of the entire West Bank, and its transfer of 650,000 of its own Jewish citizens to “settlements” throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. These unarmed Palestinian and Syrian refugees who are the victims of Israeli war crimes have every right to demonstrate.
While Israel claims it is protecting its borders and sovereignty, in fact it is not as the Golan Heights, captured by Israeli forces during its 1967 Six Day War, is Syrian territory that Israel has unlawfully annexed. Moreover, using deadly force against peaceful, unarmed demonstrators, or even border crossers is an illegal and barbaric practice which President Obama and other world leaders have justifiably condemned when used by various Arab and other governments such as Egypt, Yemen, Iran and, most of all, Syria. By using deadly force against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators and border crossers Israel is violating Article 3 of the 4th Geneva Convention, again a war crime.
The United States has a major problem with illegal border crossers from Mexico. Millions of undocumented border crossers now reside illegally in our country. Yet, we have never resorted to using deadly force to prevent these crossings. It would be outrageous and barbaric for us to do so. Nor do we use deadly force to control peaceful, unarmed demonstrators. Instead, our police and military are trained to use non-lethal crowd control methods that are invariably successful without causing unnecessary injuries and loss of life.
Criticizing Syria, Libya and Iran for using deadly force against peaceful demonstrators while ignoring Israel’s resort to the same tactics is hypocrisy in the extreme, particularly since Israel’s military is funded by billions of US tax dollars every year. It is one thing for US citizens and US Jews to support US guarantees of Israel’s security, it is quite another for us to support Israeli war crimes and wanton killing of unarmed demonstrators. It is high time we learned to distinguish between the two and told our Israeli allies that there are limits to our patience.
In this “Arab Spring”, hundreds of thousands of Arabs, with our support, have been demonstrating for freedom and justice in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria and other countries. Palestinian Arabs have been deprived of freedom and justice for 63 years. US citizens, including US Jews, need to support justice for the Palestinians and insist that Israel accept the terms of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which would give Israel 78 percent of Mandate Palestine and peace with the 22 nations of the Arab League and allow Palestinians to finally have a state of their own. It is time we support the Palestinian Spring.