Last Sunday, the Israeli army absolved itself of any wrongdoing for its 2014 attack on Israel-occupied Gaza Strip. During that brutal 51-day military offensive, in which Israel bombed the besieged, blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel’s army killed 2,251 Palestinians, including nearly 1,000 women and children. Israel’s bombs wiped out entire families with more than 160,000 homes, mosques, shelters (including a shelter for people with severe disabilities) and buildings destroyed. Israel’s bombs targeted more than 250 schools, 78 hospitals and clinics and vital water infrastructure. Children playing football on a beach were blown into pieces, while others feeding pigeons faced the same fate. And yet, Israel’s military found that all of these incidents were legitimate. Yes, for Israel, the killing of more than 500 children was legitimate.
To be clear, this is not the first time that Israel has dismissed charges levelled against it. Whether the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, its assault on the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla in 2010, its repeated assault on Gaza in 2012 or the thousands of complaints filed by Palestinians, Israel’s army still finds a way to claim that its killing of an occupied, stateless, army-less population is “justified.”
It must be recalled that Israel has always refused to cooperate with international investigations into its crimes, claiming instead that it is perfectly capable of examining, and holding to account, its soldiers guilty of war crimes who seem to think that combat is the equivalent of playing a video game, in which they are never held to account. Take, for example, Israel’s killing of four young boys on the beach of the Gaza Strip as they played football. While Israel claimed the killings as legal, the United Nations concluded that there were “strong indications that the actions of the [Israeli army] were not in conformity with international humanitarian law and that the investigation does not appear to have been carried out in a thorough manner”.
So absurd is Israel’s failure to hold its army accountable that human rights organisations have concluded that, “Israel is unwilling to conduct genuine investigations into suspected war crimes or hold perpetrators to account”.
Another organisation came to the conclusion that after 25 years of submitting complaints to the Israeli army, the purpose of the complaints system was simply to “bring as proof — to Israel and the world — of [Israel’s] claim that the military does everything in its power to investigate complaints against soldiers responsible for harming Palestinians and to prosecute the offenders” while, in reality, the purpose is to “cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators”. Indeed, they are correct. Palestinians have learned long ago that they cannot expect relief from any Israeli court or institution, including the much-lauded Supreme Court. This is the same court that has permitted the demolition of homes and schools, the siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.9 million residents, that has legitimated the use of torture against Palestinians and that has upheld Israel’s racist laws. And yet, although we well recognise that there is no utility in resorting to Israel’s racist institutions to hold Israel to account, Palestinians are persistently told that we must continue to engage in useless bilateral negotiations with the very government that seeks our extinction.
Efforts to press for sanctions on Israel are routinely vetoed in the United Nations with the administration of United States President Barack Obama now going down in history as being the only US administration not to have condemned any of Israel’s illegal actions — whether the killing of children on beaches, destroying Palestinian homes, dropping missiles on hospitals, clinics and schools. The toothless Palestinian National Authority continues to engage in the same failed diplomacy rather than demand that Israel be at the receiving end of international sanctions.
Even two years after Israel’s massacre in Gaza — with only a few of the 160,000 buildings rebuilt, with thousands of Palestinians still displaced by the ravages of Israel’s bombs — Israel continues to block the import of much-needed construction and medical supplies. International humanitarian institutions, including the UN, paint an alarming picture of life in Gaza, with 70 per cent of Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance, unemployment at a soaring 42 per cent, a dwindling water supply and little electricity due to Israel-imposed electricity cuts. Children under the age of nine — nearly one-third of Gaza’s population — have lived through successive Israeli bombing campaigns, through an Israeli-imposed blockade and with the untold trauma of seeing their friends, relatives and classmates blown to pieces. And, with no one holding Israel accountable for these crimes, they are taught the message that this, too, is “legitimate”.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.