OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS-As a strong defender of human rights, with one of the best human rights records in the U.S. Senate, and in the context of your support for a democratic Israel, we urge you to join your colleague, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, in condemning the Israel military for shooting and killing 110 unarmed, non-violent Palestinian protesters at the Israel-Gaza fences over the past two months.
We urge you to take this action to support human rights and the rule of law:
This is a human rights issue. It is not about Israel defending its borders because the three parallel fences that Israel constructed within Gaza are not an international border. Israel totally controls and operates freely on both sides of these three barriers.
The Palestinian protests did not threaten Israel, which is a world leader in crowd control technology. Even if the protesters had managed to cross all three fences, Israel could have quickly contained them through non-lethal means.
Israel’s crime was to preemptively use deadly force against non-violent protesters as its only tactic. Israel did not consider alternative, non-military options to stop the protesters.
This is what happened:
The Palestinian Great March of Return started on March 30, 2018, Palestinian Land Day. This date commemorates a 1976 protest against an Israeli action to confiscate Palestinian land, during which the Israeli army killed six Israeli Arab citizens. The subsequent marches continued for the following six Fridays, through May 11. Two additional marches were held: on May 14 to coincide with the official U.S.-Israeli ceremony unilaterally moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and on May 15 to commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic).
The marches consisted of tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children, gathering near the three Gaza-Israel fences, with two demands:
- End Israel’s 10-year blockade of Gaza. This siege prevents Gazans from traveling, studying abroad, easily importing goods into Gaza, and exporting products to the outside world. At this point, two-thirds of Gazans rely on philanthropy for food; unemployment hovers around 50%; and Gaza’s electric, water, and sewage systems barely function.
- Honor many United Nations resolutions supporting the Palestinian legal right of returnto the homes and lands that Israel expelled them from in 1947-48.
Almost all attendees were peaceful. Although some demonstrators threw stones, flew burning kites, burned tires, and even snatched fragments of the innermost fence, in two months of demonstrations only one Israel soldier was injured, when a stone nicked him.
Israel claimed these Palestinian protesters threatened the lives of Israelis and, in advance, dispatched 100 military snipers to shoot marchers. In total, the Israeli army killed 110 Palestinians, including reporters, doctors, invalids, women, and children. The snipers, supported by tear gas released from drones, also injured about 10,000 protesters. The Gaza Health Ministry reports that many of those wounded were shot from behind by outlawed, hollow-tipped “dum-dum” bullets that caused many permanent injuries.
May 14 was a critical day for the March because it occurred at the same time as the joint Israel-U.S. celebration to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinians are particularly upset by this Embassy move because it clearly demonstrates that the United States government rejects negotiations over the final status of Jerusalem. Instead, the U.S. government now supports the Israeli claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is their capital. That unilateral action permanently negates the Palestinian position that East Jerusalem should become the capital of an independent Palestinian state. Finally, the Embassy move violates the Oslo Accords, which considered the status of Jerusalem to be a final status issue.
While the White House and State Department have echoed the Israeli government’s justification for these Gaza massacres, Israeli and international human rights groups have documented Israel’s use of excessive force, including war crimes. For example, B’Tselem, an Israeli organization, called on Israeli soldiers to refuse illegal orders to shoot unarmed civilians. Amnesty International called for an arms embargo against Israel, and the International Criminal Court prosecutor announced she was investigating Israel’s use of excessive force against civilian demonstrators. The U.N. Human Rights Council initiated an investigation, and Pope Francis condemned the killings. Even a significant fraction of Israeli Jews expressed outrage at the IDF’s sniper death toll.
Finally, this is hardly the first time Israel used excessive force against Palestinians. Other cases are described in Amnesty International’s 2014 report, “Trigger-Happy, Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank,” in the 2009 United Nations study, “Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” commonly known as the Goldstone Report, and in many more.
Rule of Law
The United States government has multiple legal requirements to not support state violations of human rights. These requirements are encoded in the Congressionally adopted U.S. Foreign Assistance Actand the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, both amended by the Leahy Law. These U.S. laws are intended to ensure that the United States is not complicit in war crimes committed by other countries using American made and supplied weapons.
Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights involving US-supplied military equipment are well documented, including the two human rights reports cited above, as well as the IDF’s recent murders of civilians participating in the Great March of Return. It is essential that Congress enforce its own laws by restricting future U.S. arms sales to Israel, as well as to Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their similar use of U.S.-supplied weapons against civilians.
The strongest statements to date by U.S. Senators condemning Israel’s use of excessive military force against the Great March of Return non-violent protesters are by Senators Bernie Sanders and your colleague Dianne Feinstein.
We urge you to join these and other colleagues in opposing Israel’s use of excessive force using American weapons. It is ultimately the right thing to do.
(Jeff Warner and Victor Rothman are members of LA Jews for Peace which prepared and adopted this statement. The group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.