Israeli Troops kill 20, wound Hundreds at Golan

Israeli troops on Sunday fired live ammunition into unarmed crowds of protesters who moved toward the barbed wire fence marking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (which is Syrian territory). Aljazeera reports:

Israeli troops have a lot of experience with crowd control and have tear gas and other non-lethal measures at their disposal, argues UN special envoy Richard Falk, and one can only therefore conclude that they were deliberately ordered to kill protesters with live ammunition as a lesson to anyone who wanted to try to stage such demonstrations in the future. That is, these shootings and woundings of unarmed protesters are a crime against humanity. Note that the soldiers were standing on Syrian territory (occupied) and shooting into Syrian territory.

There is no reason to question the sincerity of those who risked their lives. Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967 from Syria. It is illegal according to the UN Charter for a state to permanently acquire territory from another nation-state, or for the occupying power to introduce significant change into the occupied territory. The population living in the occupied Golan is cut off from relatives in Syria. Some 400,000 Palestinian refugees, deprived of citizenship in any state by their families’ expulsion from their homes by Israelis in 1948, live in Syria.

Israeli officials charge that Syria is promoting the protests to divert attention from its own violence toward protesters. But there is no evidence for this allegation, and Palestinians have every reason to protest their fate.

It would be fairer to say that Syria’s execrable behavior is diverting attention from the Netanyahu government’s crimes against Palestinians. The Arab Spring has made most governments in the region look bad, and Israel has not behaved better than the others.

Meanwhile, some 5000 Israelis of the Mensch variety marched in Tel Aviv in favor of a Palestinian state on Sunday. They were opposed by counter-demonstrations by the schlemiel faction.

25 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    I looked up the definition of a Crime agaisnt humanity in response to your piece.

    The characteristic is that the events are part of widespread or systematic practice.

    Individual events may be war crimes but not crimes agaisnt humanity.

    Given the IDF record over the last many years of widespread and systematic practice I would issue issue warrants.

  2. Sorry Juan, but I have to disagree with your assumption as well as your conclusion that today’s shooting constitutes “a crime against humanity.”

    I happen to be quite familiar with IDF rules of engagement. If you have evidence that commanders (or politicians) ordered soldiers to kill protesters in order to send a message, I’d like to see it. In briefings, IDF protocol features a well-documented series of orders where the first resort is to shoot into the air along to disperse the crowd. If that fails, soliders are told to shoot for the legs. The last resort is to aim to kill. A blatently illegal order, such as the one you suggest, would inevitably get leaked to the press. That’s why I doubt it’s true.

    But you know why today’s confrontation took place. The Assad regime orchestrated a PR stunt – and yes, that is what this was – to divert attention to what’s going on in Syria. Sadly, they apparently succeeded.

    Until Israel and Syria work out a formal peace treaty – and I do hope that happens soon – the Israelis are well within their rights to prevent infiltrations of their territory from the Golan or anywhere else.

    • A policy of shooting unarmed civilians in the legs rather than deploying non-lethal means is itself criminal.

      Shooting in the leg risks severing arteries and being lethal. They don’t have tear gas? Rubber bullets?

      If Alabama police had treated Martin Luther King like that…

      • Let’s hope the fighting stops and Palestinians can have the homeland they need to live properly.. Still, fact remains under current conditions pressure for resources will only increase and use of force as a solution will become harder and harder to stop. Things are going to get mean, real mean unless people can learn to work together from the heart to stop overheat.. Gaza highest elevation is not much more than expected sea level rise with all land ice melting off and seas heating up. Who will know Palestine or nation’s border when atmosphere heat build up gets really going next century.. Assad shudders at the thought of doing no harm.
        Not much more time from now since Israel became a nation.

    • The Assad regime orchestrated a PR stunt – and yes, that is what this was – to divert attention to what’s going on in Syria. Sadly, they apparently succeeded.

      And the NAACP orchestrated Rosa Parks’ arrest as a PR stunt. And the SCLC organized the march across the bridge at Selma as a PR stunt.

      And…? So…? Does that mean that the behavior of the police doesn’t matter.

      Tell you what, look at it this way: those terrible, awful Palestinians and Syrians hoped to goad the Israelis into using extreme, lethal force, in order to score a PR victory. Are you pleased that the IDF did exactly what they were expected to do, as part of the PR campaign? Do you hope they keep playing their assigned role in this PR campaign in the future?

      Or do you think they should have behaved in some other manner?

  3. “Israeli officials charge that Syria is promoting the protests …”. Wrong: note the date on this e-mail to Dr Franklin Lamb in Lebanon.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: .
    Sent: Thursday, October 22, 2009 5:02 PM
    Subject: Take back the Golan

    Take back the Golan? … easy.

    a) Bus one million ordinary, unarmed Syrians to the border on a particular day, maybe next Yom Kippur.

    b) In front of as many of the world’s television cameras as can be assembled, the people march over the border and reclaim their territory – peacefully.

    Spread the idea around … who knows, velvet revolutions aren’t the only use for people power.

    Love your work.

    • be better if one million Syrians bussed into Damascus and took back their own governance, getting back the Golan might follow.

  4. The WSJ headline for this massacre is “Violence Flares Up At Israeli Border.” What perception is that trying to convey? What if the headline was “Unarmed Syrian Protesters Murdered By Israelis?”

  5. This is the first site I read in the morning so when I leave this article and read the NYT’s version I’m overwhelmed at the Isralie biasis. It makes me wonder what else is not reported accurately?

  6. Quote from Haaretz:

    “Official Syrian news agency SANA quoted Health Minister Wael al-Halki as saying the death toll included a woman and a child, adding that another 350 people suffered gunshot wounds.

    The IDF said that since all the casualties were on the Syrian side of the border it was unable to provide an exact count, but it expressed great skepticism about the Syrian figures. Soldiers fired “with precision” at the bottom half of the bodies of the protesters, the army said.”
    Question: Why do you give more weight to the Syrian version than the IDF version?

    • Because a) the Israeli Army provided no figures and b) they admitted firing on unarmed civilians in another country and c) ‘precision fire’ under these circumstances is a ridiculous aspiration.

    • If all the casualties were on the Syrian side of the border, as claimed by the IDF, doesn’t that mean that this was a crime?

      If this happened as a result of government policy with the intent of deterence, I am starting to worry about the activists on the flotilla. The Israelis have acted with impunity in Gaza and against the last flotilla. I am very concerned about another massacre.

  7. I watched the taking of the Golan Heights from the vantage point of a bunker at the base of the Golan Heights and witnessed General Moshe Dayan’s army match through Kibbutz Ein Gev (where I worked) on to Damascus. I was struck by the militancy of the Israeli army (and it’s supporting government) towards the disadvantaged Palestinians and said to myself, “this cannot stand”. And so, it has come to pass. Israel cannot stand given it’s present government. Shalom.

  8. As an American Jew and member of “J Street,” I am appalled by the actions of Israel not just in the Golan Heights massacre but in its overall treatment of Palestinians in general.

    There was absolutely no reason or justification for the IDF to shoot unarmed and peaceful protestors. And I am disgusted by the “Israel Right Or Wrong” attitude not just by that nation’s government but by organized cabals in the US led by AIPAC, who do as much intimidation of members of Congress as does the NRA and Tea Party loonies.

    There will never be peace in that region of the world until the US demands that Israel act like a civilized nation and stop grabbing land that hasn’t belonged to it for some two or three thousand years. If Americans follow the Israel logic, then the US and Britain ought to give back the entire North American continent to its aboriginal peoples.

    • Actually, I think the Israelis for the last century have been intentionally following the American logic: take the land, remove the inhabitants, create a Western-looking economy, and the Eurocentric world will call it “progress”.

      Failing that, there’s always the backup defense: If we can just steal the land and hold onto it until we die and our children take over, then they can claim they are innocent of theft and that they would be victims if the natives got their land back. We Americans so overwhelmed the Indians with immigration and birthrate that we never had to go to the backup plan. Israel, on the other hand…

      • The differences between Native Americans and Palestinians are myriad. Native Americans were mown down by European, animal-borne and human-borne diseases. Most of this demographic decline was unintentional (indeed, Europeans looking for labor were dismayed as the Native Americans melted away). In contrast, Palestinians are part of the Mediterranean ecology of disease and demography and their numbers have increased. Israeli policy has had to deal with this refusal of the Palestinians to go away, and indeed, their great natural increase. The current policy is Bantustans, but denaturalization may be next.

  9. I believe you have a misspelling:

    “They were opposed by counter-demonstrations by the schlemiel faction.”

    I think you misspelled “schmuck” A schlemiel is someone who spills soup, not blood.

    • Well I was trying to imply that the Likudniks are above all not very bright or good at navigating the world, but stand corrected. I’m quite sure that they are schmucks.

  10. thank you for this piece, Prof. Cole. this stuff gets me so upset, the sleazy way it “passes” here, the offhand way this kind of thing is reported by the American press…

    it really gets my blood pressure up. and then when I read a piece from you that so fully expresses what I am feeling about it — yes, of course! they were unarmed. and Israel has the usual police equipment/techniques for crowd control/crowd dispersal.

    all we hear from the mainstream press is how Israel is justifiably concerned about the integrity of her borders, etc, etc, etc.

    I am so tired of this kind of thing. Israel has a bunker mentality for sure, all kinds of worries, surrounded by hostile enemies. And it’s true, Israel is vulnerable. It looks like her only option is to make peace with her neighbors, otherwise they will surely continue to harass her.

  11. A fantasy: Imagine the IDF just let the Palestinian protesters cross into Israeli territory. No shooting, no gassing, just a cutting of the border fence, making an opening, and standing back wondering what’s next. In this fantasy, the Palestinians would stop dead in their tracks, caught of guard, dumfounded; almost in shock from the precipitous shift in paradigm. Then, cautiously trickling across border, still under the momentum of “getting home”, coming face-to-face and eye ball-to- eye ball with an apprehensive and tired soldier, they both just stand looking, and waiting for the next move to redefine the vacuum of behaviors caused by this new “diplomacy”. Standing, standing, waiting, waiting…and then, a soldier says to a Palestinian, “would you like to have dinner”. So off they stroll, awkward but adjusting, to settle their differences over a glass of wine and good food. Imagine! So simple!

    • imagine, indeed!

      it takes more creativity and more true courage to make peace than to make war. let us hope the Israelis are up to the task.

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