The deliberate shooting down of unarmed civilians, for no other reason than their exercising the right to protest, is not something one associates with modern civilisation, anywhere in today’s world. Such behaviour is beyond mere explanation, utterly resistant to post-event spin. It is wrong. That it has just been practised in the name of that rare entity - a Middle East democracy - only serves to make matters worse.
What happened can be put simply: as the BBC has reported, “Thousands of Palestinians had marched to the border at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed the Great March of Return. The protest comes ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel and the exodus of many Arabs … Sixteen Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border … Israeli officials said soldiers opened fire after rioting broke out”.
However, footage exists showing civilians being shot down while not rioting. Hundreds have been injured. Israeli claims that the march was “organised terrorist activity” have received little support outside the country. Instead, there has been condemnation.
Adam Ramsay at Open Democracy observed “Gaza's been blockaded 11 years. Food, medicine have been stopped from entering. People can't leave. Yesterday, ahead of the 70th anniversary of 800k Palestinians being expelled from Israel, tens of thousands protested, unarmed. Israel's response? 1,400 wounded. 773 shot. 16 dead”.
Human Rights Watch put out a statement, concluding “The number of Palestinians killed and gravely wounded by Israel's soldiers firing into #Gaza is shocking”, while Paul Lewis noted “The appalling killings by Israel on its border with Gaza … are made even worse by the defence of it by the Israeli ambassador”. There was more.
Owen Jones pointed out our own involvement. “A Western-armed and backed state just shot dead at least 15 Palestinian protestors, mostly aged between 17 and 35, and shot 773 protestors with live ammunition. And this is the headline on the BBC website. This is utterly shocking - as is the lack of outrage from our government”.
Press Gang linked to an Israeli media outlet - Ha’aretz - telling “This is a must-read article which shows how the Israeli government will not tolerate even peaceful protests”. Peter Oborne, hardly a raving leftist, was dismayed: “15 unarmed protestors shot dead by IDF, hundreds wounded by live ammunition. Israel's Bloody Sunday”.
Sarah Woolaston - a Conservative MP - remarked “Terrible & wholly disproportionate use of force in #Gaza Shooting unarmed protesters is not defending a border”. And David Schneider, noting that this weekend sees important anniversaries for both Jews and Christians, simply said “Grim to be having Passover which celebrates the liberation of an oppressed people in the Middle East, and then read this”.
Soldiers opening fire on unarmed civilians should never, but never, be a part of any modern democracy. Nor should such acts be allowed to happen again. But they will happen again, with the inevitability of night following day.
This is not merely a failure of decency, or of tolerance. It is a failure of humanity itself.