How many more Palestinians must die for Israel’s ‘security’?
A large Israeli army campaign is taking social media by storm. The unstated aim of what is known as the “#Untie_Our_Hands” initiative is the desire to kill, with no accountability, more Palestinian protesters at the Gaza perimeter fence. The campaign was motivated by the killing of an Israeli sniper, Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was reportedly shot from the Palestinian side of the barrier on Aug. 21.
An immediate question comes to mind: What do Israeli soldiers want, considering that they have already killed over 300 unarmed Palestinian protesters, and wounded and maimed thousands more at the Gaza fence during what Palestinians referred to as the “Great March of Return” between 2018 and 2020?
This “march” is now being renewed, though it often takes place at night, with frustrated Palestinian youth gathering in their thousands, chanting anti-Israeli occupation slogans and, at times, throwing rocks at Israeli forces.
Months after the Israeli onslaught on Gaza — a relatively brief, but deadly, war from May 10-21 — the stifling status quo in the besieged enclave has not changed: The hermetic Israeli siege, the snipers, the occasional nightly bombardment, devastating unemployment, closures, and a lack of vital supplies from clean water to cement to even cancer medication.
So it should be no surprise that Palestinians in Gaza, especially the youth, desperately seek a platform to express their justifiable rage at this continuing misery — thus, the renewed mass protests at the fence.
Israeli politicians and media intentionally exaggerate the “threat” posed by Gaza protesters to Israel’s security. They speak of “incendiary balloons” as if these were 500-pound bombs dropped by fighter jets. They are terrified by the prospect of Gaza youth “breaching the border,” with reference to fences that Israel has arbitrarily established around Gaza without respecting any cease-fire demarcations as recognized by the UN.
This fear-mongering is now back with a vengeance, with the killing of the Israeli sniper offering Israeli politicians the opportunity to present themselves as defenders of the army and champions of Israeli “security.” A political witch hunt quickly followed regarding those who are supposedly “cuffing the hands of our troops.”
This same assertion was made by Naftali Bennett in 2019 before he became the country’s prime minister. “The high court is cuffing the hands of Israel Defense Force troops,” Bennett said, vowing to “free the IDF from the high court.”
A year earlier, Bennett offered more details on how he intends to end Palestinian protests at the Gaza barrier. Responding to a question during an Israeli Army Radio interview on what he would do if he were the country’s defense minister, he replied: “I would not allow terrorists to cross the border from Gaza every day, and if they do, we should shoot to kill. Terrorists from Gaza should not enter Israel. Just as in Lebanon, Syria or anywhere else, we should shoot to kill.”
The emphasis on “killing” in response to any form of Palestinian protests seems to be the common denominator between Israeli officials, military leaders and even ordinary soldiers. The latter, who are purportedly behind the social media campaign, appear to be enjoying their time at the Gaza perimeter. Israeli snipers, according to their own testimonies, keep track of the number of Palestinians they shoot, try to break each other’s records, and cheer on video when they document a “clean shot” of a Palestinian protester, demonstrating the horrific violence meted out against Palestinian youth.
Israeli snipers at the Gaza border wall work in pairs. A third person, known as the “locator,” helps the snipers locate their next target. Eden, an Israeli sniper who gave testimony to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in March 2020, revealed his pride at the grisly milestone that he and his team achieved.
“On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all,” he said. “My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees. In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”
The emphasis on ‘killing’ in response to any form of Palestinian protests seems to be the common denominator between Israeli officials, military leaders and even ordinary soldiers.
Such testimonies are further validated by video footage of Israeli snipers celebrating after shooting Palestinian youth at the perimeter. In April 2018, a video of cheering soldiers, along with dialogue that indicates that some Israelis have no regard for Palestinian lives whatsoever, was leaked to international media. Even CNN reported on it.
This violent phenomenon is not confined to Gaza. The debate on Israel’s “shoot-to-kill” policy in the occupied Palestinian territories has been raging for years. In 2017, Human Rights Watch linked the increased number of Palestinians killed at the hands of trigger-happy soldiers to the violent discourse emanating from the Israeli government itself.
HRW “has documented numerous statements since October 2015, by senior Israeli politicians, including the police minister and defense minister, calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life,” the report read.
This issue was highlighted by the execution of an incapacitated Palestinian, Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif, in the occupied city of Al-Khalil, Hebron, in March 2016, and by the killing of Ahmad Erekat at a military checkpoint in the West Bank in July 2020. Not only did Erekat pose no immediate threat to the lives of the occupation soldiers, but according to a statement by 83 Palestinian and international NGOs, he “was left to bleed to death for an hour and a half while the Israeli occupying forces denied him access to medical care.”
Considering the disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties, it is difficult to understand what Israeli soldiers, army generals and politicians want when they speak of “untying their hands.” Far more bewildering is the international community’s apathy while Israelis debate how many more Palestinians ought to be killed.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud