NLG Condemns Israeli Military Attacks on Unarmed Civilian Demonstrators in the Gaza Strip

April 16, 2018

Huwaida Arraf, NLG Palestine Subcommittee Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the International Solidarity Movement:

Audrey Bomse, NLG Palestine Subcommittee Co-Chair:

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is shocked and outraged by the Israeli military’s recent slaughter of unarmed civilians peacefully protesting in Gaza during the “Great March of Return.” The NLG demands an end to the massive, uncritical diplomatic and financial support that the U.S. continues to provide Israel, enabling it to engage in ongoing gross violations of Palestinian human rights with impunity. Furthermore, the NLG insists on the right to protest such inhumane policies, including those outlined in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, despite attempts by US politicians to criminalize it.

Last month, Palestinians in Gaza announced a plan to engage in six weeks of nonviolent protest, beginning on Land Day, March 30, and leading up to May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba or “catastrophe” of 1948 when nearly 800,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their land to create Israel. The demonstration involved camping out in tents along the northern and eastern edges of the Gaza Strip to highlight Palestinians’ right to return to their cities, towns, and villages from which they were expelled 70 years ago—one enshrined in international law and UN General Assembly Resolution 194. “It’s been 70 years and no one is listening to us,” said one elderly demonstrator.

In response to declarations by organizers that participants would be unarmed and protests strictly nonviolent, Israeli officials threatened lethal force and deployed more than 100 snipers to positions overlooking the areas where the encampments were planned. An estimated 30,000 Palestinian men, women and children participated on the first day of demonstrations. Despite the demonstrations remaining nonviolent, Israeli soldiers opened fire on the unarmed protesters, killing 17 and wounding over 1,400—750 of them with live ammunition.

Rather than condemn the manifestly illegal and immoral actions of the Israeli military, the US blocked a UN Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully and endorsing the call by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for an independent investigation. As of April 16, 34 unarmed Palestinian civilians have died—including a journalist conspicuously wearing a flak jacket marked PRESS—and more than 2,000 remain wounded and maimed from the attack.

The killing and wounding of peaceful civilian protesters despite no threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers is a violation of the most basic tenets of international human rights and humanitarian law, and the restrictions that these bodies of law place on the use of force. B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, urged Israeli soldiers to refuse the illegal command to shoot unarmed protesters and stressed that Israeli policy makers bear responsibility for issuing unlawful orders and their lethal consequences.

Indeed, Israel’s leaders and their policies and conduct in the occupied Palestinian territory, specifically Gaza, must be seriously investigated by the International Criminal Court. As the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), to which the NLG is affiliated, noted in a statement denouncing the massacre, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power has a legal duty to protect the occupied civilian population. Instead, Israel has declared Gaza a “hostile entity” and has used this as a pretext to institute inhumane policies designed to punish its people. As a direct result of these deliberate policies, the UN has warned that Gaza will become “unlivable” by 2020.

Far from being a “liberal democracy in a hostile neighborhood,” Israel has exposed itself as a rogue state. Its officials have made statements verging on support for genocide, such as the recent comment by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman that there are “no innocent people in Gaza.” With the support of the U.S. government and U.S. politicians—both Republican and Democrat—it calls Palestinian armed resistance against the Israeli occupation forces “terrorism.” It labels as antisemitic the Palestinian attempt to launch a nonviolent boycott of Israel, on the model of the successful boycott against the South African apartheid regime.

“An occupied people have the right to resist their occupiers. It is time that the international community recognize that Palestinians must have the same rights as people everywhere to seek their national liberation to protest, and resist foreign occupation and colonial domination,” said Audrey Bomse, co-chair of the NLG International Committee’s Palestine Subcommittee.

“Roughly 70% of Gaza’s residents are refugees from towns and villages that were destroyed and/or depopulated by Israel in 1948 and 1967. They live only a few short miles from home but have never been allowed to return. When these imprisoned refugees decided to organize nonviolent demonstrations to try to draw the world’s attention to their plight, Israel ordered its soldiers to open fire in blatant violation of international law. Were it any other county doing this, there would rightfully be swift condemnation and the imposition of sanctions,” said Huwaida Arraf, co-chair of the NLG International Committee’s Palestine Subcommittee and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement.

Until the U.S. ends its ongoing financial and diplomatic support of Israel which allow the state to continue its deadly policies with impunity, the U.S. government will continue to be complicit in everything Israel does.

The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

Image: Palestinian protester injured by Israeli soldiers on March 30 (still via video footage from Democracy Now!).

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