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What next after UN investigation into the bloodshed at Gaza protests?

Over the course of a year, the Israeli government and its senior army officers have turned the Gaza Strip into a community of funerals, walking wounded and amputated limbs. Israel did not need primitive saws to destroy and sever limbs; its trained snipers deployed around the Gaza Strip were able to do that. These soldiers honed their dubious skills on thousands of peaceful Palestinian protesters, killing and wounding them throughout the first year of the Great March of Return protests, which began at the end of last March. Their victims include children, medics, journalists and people with disabilities.

The Israeli leadership was keen to raise the cost in pain and suffering for the Palestinian people, who continue their peaceful demonstrations every Friday. And the Israeli army has continued to mow them down, killing, wounding and permanently disabling Palestinians taking part in the protests on the nominal border even though they are unarmed and pose no threat to the soldiers or anyone else. Such was the conclusion of the report issued last week by the international fact-finding committee formed by the UN Human Rights Council.

The committee gathered on 18 May last year and has examined evidence carefully to assess what happened on the Gaza border from March to December 2018. There was an overwhelming amount of data for the members to go through. They documented more than 6,000 injuries caused by the Israeli troops, in addition to nearly 200 cases where peaceful demonstrators were killed, although they were not attacking the soldiers at the time. Not a single Israel was wounded or killed, by the way.

Another, less reported, side of the report is that the large number of victims brought Gaza’s already devastated health sector to the brink of collapse. Many of those wounded were denied the opportunity to be transferred abroad for treatment; some now have permanent disabilities due to the delay in getting adequate treatment; some were treated when it was already too late to do anything for them.

The UN report is a reminder to the world of the astonishing result of Israel’s response to peaceful demonstrators calling for their legitimate rights. There is surely sufficient evidence to accuse the totally misnamed Israel Defense Forces and the political leadership of willfully committing an ongoing massacre which the report describes as possible “crimes against humanity”.

On 14 May last year, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, and the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli brutality exceeded its own obscenely high levels. The murder that day of “at least” 58 Palestinians, with thousands more wounded, was reminiscent of South Africa’s infamous 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, which marked a turning point in the world’s awareness of the Apartheid regime. The international community condemned the 14 May massacre in the Gaza Strip but took no serious action to stop it. The Israeli occupation army continues to kill and wound defenseless Palestinians to this day.

The deliberate targeting of young people is clearly intended to create a generation of disabled Palestinians; limbless young men and women are now a common sight in the residential neighborhoods of Gaza. The aim is to punish the Palestinians for having the gall to demonstrate for their rights; the objective is to break their spirit and collective will to stand up against Israel’s military occupation of their land.

The UN report documents the details omitted from Israeli propaganda, which has continued to pump out a false narrative, justifications for mass murder and attempts to blame the victims for their plight. We can now read an independent account of Israel’s targeting of children, paramedics, journalists and people with disabilities during the Great March of Return demonstrations. The question is, what is going to happen next? What will the report into the bloodshed at the Gaza protests lead to?

We can say for certain that this international report will not deter the Israeli government and its armed forces from continuing the killing, wounding and other grave violations against the Palestinian people. It has been preceded by several other reports ignored by successive Israeli governments, which are allowed to act with impunity and contempt for international laws and conventions.

This latest UNHRC report is thus a new test of the effectiveness of the international community’s institutions and the feasibility of their procedures. The conclusions reached cannot be simply ignored; the report cannot be something to be read and then left on the shelf. Serious responses and measures must follow as sure as night follows day, such as the prosecution of those responsible for the crimes documented by the committee in accordance with the international criminal justice system. Israeli soldiers might have pulled the trigger, but they could not have killed and wounded so many thousands of Palestinians on their own; they had to have political backing to do it. The people with the authority to give the snipers the green light are known to us all, including the members of the fact-finding committee. If this report is to have any meaning and value whatsoever, such people must be prosecuted forthwith. Justice demands it. Israel’s impunity has to end.

– Hossam Shaker is a researcher and author, and a consultant in media, public relations, and mass communication for a number of organizations in Europe. He resides in Vienna and has an interest in analysis of European and international affairs, as well as social and media issues. His article appeared in MEMO.