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Israel receives criticism for Palestinian casualties in Gaza; protests are expected to continue until May 15

Tensions in the Middle East have continued to escalate as protests along the Israeli border have resulted in mass casualty in Gaza. Palestinian civilians were among those encouraged to protest, backed by the Palestinian rebel group Hamas. Both sides have been trading violence over the past few weeks, but one of the most pronounced atrocities was the steep rise of Palestinian casualties, caused by Israeli snipers. Protests erupted the night of March 26, and it is estimated that over 25 Palestinians have died since demonstrations began. The live fire injured an additional 1,000 Palestinians. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has claimed that even with mounting casualties, the protests will continue until May 15. May 15 is significant because it was the day Israel declared its independence and is considered by Palestinians as Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe. 

The New York Times

The region that is now Israel and Palestine was initially settled by Palestinians, who had long been struggling under the British Empire’s imperialistic mandates. After World War II, the United Nations partitioned the land into two sections: the Israeli state and the Palestinian state. When Israel separated from the UN in 1948, widespread violence ensued. The UN-drawn borders were promptly disregarded by Israeli and Palestinian forces, who both attempted to seize control of the region. In 1967, the Six-Day War broke out between Israel and Arab nations (Jordan, Egypt and Syria), and large numbers of Palestinians were displaced or subject to Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Violence between the Palestinians and Israelis intensified with the formation of the Palestinian rebel group Hamas in the late 1980s. Hamas would later emerge at the forefront of Palestinian efforts to overthrow Israeli rule in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The remaining tensions about foreign governments recognizing Israel as an independent state were exacerbated by the United States in 2016. The United States promised 38 billion dollars of funds in the next ten years to develop Israel’s military. This financial support by the U.S. government was compounded by President Donald Trump’s statement in December of 2017, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.

As Israel gained territory, the Palestinians have been pushed further and further back toward the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Egypt and Israel. Unfortunately, for most Palestinians, migration is not possible due to the strict immigration laws of Israel and Egypt, along with strong border security that discourages illegal entry. This poses many problems for Palestinians, who are not recognized as an independent state by many Western powers. This qualifies almost all Palestinians in the area to be deemed “displaced.” Because they are not recognized as an independent state, they possess no national citizenship and therefore have few options for emigration.

Even if emigration was an option, Palestine lacks the resources needed to provide a stable infrastructure, such as airports and electricity. Palestinians, who historically herded cattle as sustenance, must now rely heavily on outside aid for resources such as food, medical supplies and clean water due to increasing violence and economic instability. Lack of stable electricity in Gaza, which was reduced to just hours a day by Israel in 2017, is detrimental to the fresh water supply and to keep crucial services, such as hospitals, up and running. A 2018 World Report by Human Rights Watch estimates that 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.9 million residents rely on humanitarian assistance to survive.

The extreme violence that has plagued the region in the past few weeks caused International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to caution Israel about its use of live fire on civilians. Bensouda also alluded to the action of Hamas leaders who may be using civilian protests “for the purpose of shielding military activities” and warned both states about the possibility of incurring war crime labels. UN secretary general António Guterres also warned Israel to “exercise extreme caution,” while Elizabeth Throssell, the UN human rights spokesperson, raised questions about a possible breach of the 4th Geneva Convention by Israel, citing the “willful killing of civilians.”

The demonstrations along the Israeli border since March 26 have resulted in the deaths of over 25 Palestinians, including a Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, age 31. Murtaja was reporting on protests in Gaza, near Khuzaa, at the time of his fatal shooting. The death of Yasser Murtaja incited outrage among protesters who accused Israeli snipers of purposely targeting the journalist, even though he was wearing a vest prominently marked “press” and was holding a camera.

Israeli officials responded to criticism by justifying the use of deadly force because of instigators on Gaza’s side who were possibly armed and threatening the lives of Israelis. Many civilians were injured as tires were lit on fire, to create a shield of smoke, in hopes of rendering Israeli snipers inadequate. However, the United Nations has urged Israel to acknowledge the Palestinian’s right to demonstrate peacefully but also cautioned demonstrators to stay away from the border wall to avoid injury. Hamas leaders have deemed the last day of protest, May 15th, the “Great March of Return” leading people to believe that Palestinians may attempt to breach the Israeli border in the coming weeks.   

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