Across the occupied territories, Palestinians are preparing for more protests demanding recognition of refugees’ right to return to their homeland and to the villages erased and ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948.

After an orgy of violence by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza, which killed 18 and injured 1,700, solidarity protests around the world have backed calls for an investigation and demanded that Israel be held accountable for its crimes. 

Israel’s violence, described by charity Medical Aid for Palestinians as “the bloodiest day in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 offensive”, has been compared with apartheid South Africa’s Sharpeville massacre, the 1976 Soweto uprising and Bloody Sunday in Ireland, when, in 1972, British occupation forces killed 28 unarmed civilians in Derry. 

However, such massacres have for decades been commonplace in Palestine.

On 30 March, 30,000 Palestinians assembled close to the heavily fortified Gaza-Israel border. Their protest marked the beginning of six weeks of popular mobilisation, which will culminate on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe”), when Israel launched its systematic genocide of the Palestinian people.

Palestinians chose Land Day to begin their protest. The day commemorates the killing of six unarmed Palestinian youth by Israeli military forces on 30 March 1976, during mass peaceful protests against Israel’s large-scale confiscation of Palestinian land to create exclusively Jewish colonial settlements. Land Day is Palestine’s Sharpeville: it is commemorated every year to demonstrate the arbitrary nature of Israeli colonial settler violence.

Like past atrocities, Israel’s latest attack was premeditated. In the days leading to the protest, Israel announced that it would deploy 100 snipers to confront the non-violent demonstration. Embankments were prepared with earth moving equipment, tanks were transported to the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel and drones were deployed to drop tear gas canisters from above. In a tweet after the killings, an Israeli military spokesperson proudly declared:

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

The tweet – a candid display of cold, calculated killing – was deleted when video emerged of soldiers shooting teenager Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi in the back. Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy observed, “The shooting on the Gaza border shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes”.

International reaction

On the evening of 30 March, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the massacre. A draft statement calling for an investigation was blocked by the US. The statement reaffirmed “the right to peaceful protest” and expressed the council’s “sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives”. But it fell short of condemning Israel, instead calling “upon all sides to exercise restraint”.

Following the meeting, UN secretary-general António Guterres called for an “independent and transparent investigation” and for the resuscitation of the long dead Middle East “peace process”. Israel promptly rejected Guterres’ call. 

While such inquiries have in the past uncovered evidence of Israeli war crimes, they have never led to meaningful action to hold Israel accountable. As Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah noted, Guterres himself last year suppressed a UN report that described Israel’s practices as apartheid. Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian negotiator, observed in an article in the Washington Post:

“An independent investigation would highlight that Gaza remains under Israel’s 50-year-old military rule and decade-old naval blockade, cut off from the world. It would undoubtedly highlight that, in addition to the electrified fence on Gaza’s eastern and northern sides, Gaza is blocked in with a concrete wall to the south and by the naval blockade to the west. 

“It would highlight that all of the Palestinians killed were killed inside Gaza, and within the undefined Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” that further cuts into Gaza’s territory, in many places by as much as 1,000 feet.”

The Australian government has remained silent in response to the killings. Last year, in meetings with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sydney and Tel Aviv, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to expanding business and military ties with apartheid Israel. Last October, officials signed a memorandum of understanding allowing for greater cooperation between the two nations’ defence industries.

In recent months, Israel has become increasingly emboldened by the support it has received from Washington. The Trump administration has not only continued the Obama administration’s pledge to fund Israel’s military to the tune of US$4 billion per year, but has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and committed to moving the US embassy there. 

In January, Trump’s ambassador to the UN announced the US government would withhold funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides humanitarian aid to refugees. The announcement followed a tweet by Trump that railed against the Palestinian Authority’s failure to accept a peace treaty on Israel’s terms.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for Palestinian rights, has called for a two-way military embargo to be imposed on Israel, as was imposed against apartheid South Africa in 1977. In a statement, the committee declared:

“Israel [has] yet again used Palestinian civilians as guinea pigs in its weapons laboratory, testing its new teargas-firing drones against civilians in Gaza. The export of Israeli military technology, ‘field-tested’ on Palestinians, contributes substantially to financing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and military aggression against other nations.”

Around the world supporters of Palestine have taken to the streets calling for an arms embargo, and trade and diplomatic sanctions against Israel. Along the Gaza border, protesters remain defiant, with Friday demonstrations set to continue in the lead-up to the Nakba anniversary. Our solidarity has never been more urgent.

Nick Everett is co-convener of Friends of Palestine WA.