US lawmakers urge Israeli soldiers to defy order to shoot Palestinian protesters

Activists on Thursday confronted Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, on her government’s blocking of any international investigation into Israel’s killings in Gaza.

As the video above shows, Haley had no answer as members of the antiwar group CODEPINK stated that “Israel deserves to be held accountable just like any other country” for the “killing of peaceful protesters.”

Meanwhile, five members of the US Congress are breaking the near-silence.

They are backing B’Tselem’s call on Israeli soldiers to defy illegal orders to open fire on unarmed Palestinians taking part in protests in the occupied Gaza Strip.

“We applaud Israeli human rights groups that are calling on Israeli soldiers to resist such illegal orders from their superiors, and are urging IDF forces to fully comply with international law and exercise utmost restraint in their use of deadly force,” the lawmakers said on the eve of the third Friday of Great March of Return rallies.

“Such measures must only be used as a last resort to stop an imminent threat to life.”

“Deeply disturbed”

Over the previous two Fridays – 30 March and 6 April – Israeli forces have perpetrated a premeditated and calculated massacre of more than two dozen Palestinian protesters who presented no threat whatsoever, prompting an unprecedented warning from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Israeli leaders could face trial.

By afternoon this Friday, one Palestinian had been killed and hundreds had been injured as Israeli forces again opened fire across the boundary towards the thousands gathered to demand an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the right for refugees to return to lands from which Israel expelled and excludes them because they are not Jews.

The five House Democrats – Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Barbara Lee of California and Henry “Hank” Johnson of Georgia – declare: “We are deeply disturbed by the tragic loss of life over the past two weeks of protests carried out within the territory of Gaza, with more than a dozen Palestinians killed by sniper fire – including an unarmed teenager and a respected photojournalist – and many hundreds more injured by live ammunition.”

In fact, three Palestinian children – aged 13, 15 and 17 – have been among the more than two dozen slain by Israeli forces in Gaza over the last two weeks.

The lawmakers also state that they “strongly reject” Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s “dangerous contention that ‘there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip,’” as well as the orders Israeli commanders have given “in contravention of international law” to engage in “sniper fire on Gaza residents who come within 300 meters of the border fence or engage in other non-life-threatening actions.”

Defending children

Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat who has introduced an historic bill to protect Palestinian children from Israeli army detention and abuse, did not sign onto the statement.

But McCollum was one of the handful of lawmakers who condemned Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians after the first Great March of Return rally on 30 March.

And she demonstrated her willingness to continue speaking out for Palestinian rights by tweeting a photo of a meeting she held Thursday with B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad.

“Together, we are working to end the detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children by Israel’s military,” McCollum wrote.

Who uses “human shields”?

It is highly unusual for members of Congress to openly criticize Israel and support Palestinian rights.

But what has also been notable is the near-total absence of lawmakers, Republican or Democrat, willing to defend Israel’s killings in Gaza.

The powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC has managed to find a couple, however, and it retweeted them on its official Twitter feed.

Indiana Republican Jim Banks repeated the Israeli government talking point that the rallies in Gaza are a ruse by Hamas “using innocent civilians as human shields.”

South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson also claimed that “Hamas purposefully used a civilian protest to stir up violence and put innocent lives at risk.”
Both lawmakers urged the Senate to pass the “Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act,” a bill sponsored by Wilson.

The bill, which passed the House in February, ostensibly calls for sanctions on Hamas leaders who allegedly employ such tactics.

Hamas has long been designated a “terrorist” organization by the United States, and is already subject to strict sanctions. The bill therefore appears to be little more than posturing to promote a flailing Israeli narrative that seeks to blame Palestinians for their own deaths and injuries.

A Human Rights Watch investigation into Israel’s killings on 30 March found “no evidence of any protester using firearms or any IDF [Israeli army] claim of threatened firearm use at the demonstrations.”

While, as Human Rights Watch acknowledged, some protesters – of the tens of thousands who have taken part in the rallies – have burned tires and thrown rocks towards heavily fortified Israeli positions, not a single Israeli has been reported injured during weeks of protests in which thousands of Palestinians have been killed or injured by live ammunition and tear gas.

While members of Congress like Banks and Wilson promote the false Israeli claim that Palestinians use “human shields,” they ignore the incontrovertible evidence that Israeli forces have done precisely that for years, both in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank:

“People of hope”

Activists in Canada are also decrying their government’s silence on the Israeli massacres in Gaza.

During the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, it was civil society, including churches, trade unions, local legislative initiatives and student campaigners who pressed the US and other governments to finally end their complicity with the white racist regime.

The struggle for justice in Palestine is following a similar path; this week the Dublin City Council became the first European capital to back the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

And in the wake of the latest bloodshed in Gaza, 15 US Christian denominations and religious groups issued what for many of them is perhaps their strongest statement in support of Palestinian rights.

The faith organizations back the ICC prosecutor’s warning to Israeli leaders, also urge Israeli soldiers to defy illegal orders, express full support for Palestinian refugee rights, demand that the US hold Israel accountable for how it uses billions of dollars in military aid, and call for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

“In demonstrating, Palestinians have sought to bring the world’s attention to, and to recover, their rights – rights as refugees, to demonstrate, and to live in dignity,” the Christian groups state. “They have been met with an immediate and tragic rejection of those rights, but as people of hope, and in the season of Easter, we believe that those rights will ultimately prevail.”