USCPR Policy Director Josh Ruebner speaks to Between the Lines about the ongoing Great Return March in Gaza, and Israel’s targeting of unarmed protesters. Listen:
Over the past two weeks, Israeli snipers have killed 30 unarmed Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600 others. The bloodshed occurred over two consecutive Fridays as tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the impoverished Gaza strip participated in protests along the Gaza-Israeli border, dubbed “The Great March of Return.”
A Palestinian journalist and individuals engaging in prayer were among the killed or injured by Israeli snipers. Israel’s military claims that protesters who attempt to cut through the border fence and burn tires to conceal their movement are a threat to the nation’s security. Israeli officials say that Gaza’s governing Hamas party is behind the protests, a charge denied by Palestinian activists.
The Trump administration has twice blocked a United Nation’s Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully, and endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into the dozens of deaths on the Israel-Gaza border. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Josh Ruebner, policy director, with the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Here, he talks about the events surrounding Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinians during the border protests and his group’s response to the violence. [Rush transcript]
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, several weeks ago, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip announced that they would hold a six-week, nonviolent campaign to actuate and to try to implement the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Most Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – the estimates are about 80 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – are actually refugees. And Palestinians are the largest refugee community in the entire world because when Israel was established in 1948, they engaged in widespread ethnic cleansing. Many Palestinians were expelled from their homes; their villages demolished by Israel. Some fled as well of their own volition. But none were allowed to return back by Israel, despite international law recognizing that refugees have a right to return. So Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere had been advocating for this implementation of this right to return.
And this six-week campaign was announced to begin with what’s called Land Day, which is a Palestinian commemoration of Israel killing six Palestinians in 1976. Palestinian citizens of Israel, it should be mentioned, who are protesting the expropriation of their lands, with the six weeks then culminating on May 15, which Palestinians mark as the Nakba Day or Catastrophe Day in English, referring to their dispossession and their ethnic cleansing by Israel in 1948.
So, immediately after Palestinians announced that there would be this big civil disobedience campaign and peaceful rally, Israel responded by pre-positioning more than 100 snipers along the fence with Gaza, announcing its intentions to shoot to kill anyone who came within 300 meters of the fence, whether they posed an imminent threat to the life of an Israeli or not.
And indeed, that’s exactly what happened. When Palestinians massed at the border, Israel opened live fire. The Israeli military said in a now deleted tweet that it knew where every bullet landed. And those bullets have killed more than 30 Palestinians, have injured more than a thousand in this very grotesque display that’s really reminiscent of the South African massacre of blacks in Sharpeville, which played such a seminal role in changing western opinion toward the South African regime. And, I think we’re seeing a similar dynamic underway when it comes to Israel’s brutal crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Josh, what are the Israeli authorities saying about their justification for these shootings and killings of these Palestinians? One thing I’ve read is that people on the Gaza side of the border were attempting to damage the border fence. That was floated as a justification. What else are you hearing about the rationale for this massive firepower brought against mostly unarmed Palestinians conducting a peaceful protest?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, it is very true that a few Palestinians have approached the fence with the intent to cut a breach in it. But under international law, you can only open live fire against someone to prevent an imminent threat to someone’s life. Human Rights Watch has stated that there has been not one single instance that the Israeli military can point to that would justify the use of lethal force against people even if they were trying to cut the fence which is a vast, vast minority of the people participating in this peaceful protest. Video has surfaced of Palestinians being shot while standing around, while praying, while wearing clearly recognized “PRESS” flak jackets. Palestinians are being shot very deliberately by Israel for absolutely no reason other than the fact that they are exercising their legitimate peaceful right to protest and to demand their human rights.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Josh, what is your group, the U.S. campaign for Palestinian Rights and other organizations who are advocates for human rights in the Middle East – what is your response? What can be done now to draw even more public attention to this bloodshed?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, I think the key thing is to demand that our elected officials hold Israel accountable for its war crimes. And to hold Israel accountable for violating U.S. laws, which are supposed to prevent foreign countries from using U.S. weapons to commit these types of gross human rights abuses that we’re seeing in the Gaza Strip today. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. It gets $3.8 billion of taxpayer-funded weapons every single year. That’s more military aid than every other country on the face of the earth combined. Israel gets more than 50 percent of all U.S. military aid, and we have laws such as the Leahy law, such as the Foreign Assistance Act, such as the Arms Export Control Act, which are supposed to mandate that foreign countries receiving U.S. assistance or U.S. weapons do not use them to commit these types of human rights abuses.
So what we’re doing is we’re mobilizing people to demand the members of Congress enforce these laws, make sure that an investigation is carried out and ensure that Israel is held accountable through sanctions, if it’s found that these laws had been violated, which undoubtedly an impartial investigation would find.