Palestinian relatives in Gaza City mourn eight-month-old Layila al-Ghandour May 15 who died one day earlier from tear gas inhalation during clashes at the Gaza-Israel border. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican's observer at U.N. agencies in Geneva, urged people on both sides May 18 to let "wisdom and prudence prevail." CNS photo/Haitham Imad, EPA

Editorial: Assault on dignity

  • May 24, 2018

They are desperate, poor and usually forgotten until violence erupts and the world takes note of them burying their dead.

Palestinians of Gaza are back in the news, which is a way of saying violence has revisited the pitiful strip of land that is locked between the sea and Israel’s fenced border. At least 60 people died and more than 2,700 were wounded May 14 when Israeli snipers and other soldiers opened fire across the border into crowds of protesters. It was Gaza’s bloodiest day in four years.

To state the obvious, Israel’s brutal response when by its count 40,000 people rose up to protest the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem was grossly disproportionate to events on the ground. This use of excessive force, this assault on human dignity, has been rightly condemned worldwide. Evidence supports the widespread calls for an international investigation to determine if a bloodletting that mainly targeted civilians meets the legal standard of war crimes.

The Israeli Defence Forces claimed 24 of the dead were known terrorists, including Hamas members who shot at Israeli soldiers while attempting to breach the border fence. Hamas claimed up to 50 of its fighters were killed. But even accepting Israeli and Hamas accounts at face value — which is asking a lot — leaves at least 10 other deaths and more than 2,000 wounded by soldiers who seemed to fire indiscriminately into unarmed civilian crowds. 

Israel claimed it was targeting terrorists, and cited border intrusions, burning tires, rock throwing and kites laden with incendiary materials as justification for retaliation. But the dead included eight children, a man in a wheelchair and a paramedic, none of whom were beside the border fence. Among the wounded, shot in both legs, was Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian who was dressed in green medical garb. He joined 18 paramedics who were shot but lived.

“Once again we are forced by circumstance to plead and cry out for justice and peace,” said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of Jerusalem.

But Gaza citizens have little hope of justice or peace as long as they remain hapless pawns in a political struggle between ferocious enemies who seem incapable of compassion or compromise. Hamas and the current Israeli government are kindred spirits in that neither shows any inclination to place the welfare of ordinary Palestinians ahead of hardline political objectives. Rather than remorse when callousness leads to slaughter, each side blames the other and uses the body count to advance its cause. It is inhumane.

Canada is among several nations urging an independent investigation of Israel’s use of “inexcusable” lethal force against civilians. This needs to happen, quickly. Those responsible for the May 14 bloodshed must be held accountable.

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