Shooting Protesters in Cold Blood: How Israel became a Typical Middle Eastern Dictatorship

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Israeli army snipers who were ordered to shoot unarmed Palestinian protesters last Friday at the Gaza border, killing 17 outright and wounding hundreds of others, were acting according to the contemporary script of Middle Eastern dictators.

The Israeli army initially admitted in a tweet that the tactic was premeditated and precise, but then deleted the tweet, as the Israeli peace group B’tselem pointed out:

Sociologists who study how people mobilize to challenge an oppressive situation have noted that one possible response of any regime under pressure from below is to raise the cost to dissidents of their social action.

Imposing the death penalty is of course the ultimate in raising such costs. But randomly shooting into crowds is more than just threatening people with death. It is a means of terrorizing the dissidents. Simply taking hundreds of people out and executing them has dangers as a course of action for the oppressive rulers, as well, inasmuch as it threatens to create large numbers of martyrs and impel reprisals. Moreover, large massacres can impose costs on the regime in the form of boycotts from other states or civil society actors. Randomly shooting into a crowd, killing a few people but wounding many others, has the advantage for the regime of creating uncertainty and fear.

This tactic was deployed during the youth protests of 2011. Secret police in Tunisia shot into peaceful rallies in provincial towns in late December 2010 and early January 2011 and then denied it and ordered the state press not to cover it. Blogger Lina Ben Mhenni took her smartphone to the hospitals down there and got pictures of and interviews with the victims and put them up at her blog (very bravely, since the regime could have direly punished her; but it fell before it could do so).

(See my The New Arabs.)

In Sana’a, Yemen, during the demonstrations at Change Square, dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh had his troops occasionally fire into the crowd. In one such incident one night, 350 people were injured. Over time a couple thousand people were killed in this way (that is, being sniped at by professional soldiers while peacefully protesting– I’m not talking about clashes among fighters).

In Syria in 2011, the regime would station snipers on rooftops above town squares around the country. In each town a few people would be killed at each demonstration this way by army live ammunition. The regime was trying to discourage rallies by raising their cost, and indiscriminate such fire is a force multiplier, since the uncertainty of where the bullet will come from and whom it will strike is excruciating. Syria’s brave protesters never were cowed by this cowardly tactic, and even today would protest if they were allowed to.

One downside of sniping unarmed noncombatants is a negative reaction from other countries. Israel’s current far right wing leadership does not worry about that. They think that the US and the UK are the only countries that matter. Like Putin, they have tried to shape the US political scene to suit them, targeting uncooperative congressmen and senators for reprisals. This is not only a matter of campaign donations by the Israel lobbies but of government covert ops. They also
do this in the UK.

Of 535 members of Congress, exactly one, Bernie Sanders, has condemned the massacre.

The Likud Party can also rely on an American television news blackout. Palestine is almost never reported on the airwaves and when it is, it is replete with propaganda. There are even problems with print news.

@robertmackey observed,

“By my count, there are currently 163 stories on the @nytimes home page and 116 on @washingtonpost but not 1 is about the Israeli massacre in Gaza, which was featured in print by both. There is also no mention among 126 stories on @CNN’s US home page, or in 100 stories on @latimes .”

Academics in communications departments should look into this remarkable phenomenon. How it is arranged?

Be careful, though— even professors can be fired.

It may be objected that Israel is not a dictatorship like that of Yemen or Syria. But for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, that is precisely what it is. The Israeli military controls the Palestinian West Bank, though it farms out some duties to the PLO. The Israeli military encircles and blockades little Gaza with its 1.8 million concentration camp inmates. Stateless Palestinians experience Israeli military rule as a foreign military dictatorship. Palestinians are probably a majority of the people ruled by the Israeli government.

Moreover, dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, had no bigger boosters than the Likud government in Israel.

So it is not really surprising that the Israeli military would adopt the same tactics as its peers, with which it often collaborates in maintaining the rotten status quo.


Bonus video:

🇵🇸 Gaza hospitals struggle to cope with injuries caused by Israeli fire | Al Jazeera English

20 Responses

  1. You are right to point out that similar atrocities have been committed by other dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. However, it should be added that the Palestinians have been under occupation for many decades, and international law allows people under occupation to protest and try to gain their independence. The problem is that unlike the crimes committed by other countries in the Middle East, the Israeli regime enjoys immunity from serious criticism by Western governments, and the United States vetoed the resolution in the Security Council condemning the excessive Israeli action.

    As it happens, during the past few days the entire British media has been preoccupied with alleged anti-Semitism in the Labor Party and an all-out campaign launched against the Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn. So, again as in the United States, the British media has paid little attention to the death of 17 and the wounding of hundreds of Palestinians who were demonstrating on their side of the fence, although there have been some interviews with the Israeli ambassador to Britain who said that most of the demonstrators were identified as HAMAS members and therefore they were terrorists.

  2. Horrendous ME events like this, won’t happen without the cougar collaboration of the USA Congress.

  3. Find it funny how pro-Israel folks like to tout the state being the only democracy in the region while occupying whole non-citizen native populations militarily. That’s the neighbourhood they chose, so they pretty much blended in with every other historic brutal regime around them with their own unique type of ethnic and religious apartheid. The back and forth between Netanyahu and Erdogan was amusing. Neither leader noted their own violent crimes and hypocrisy with the communities they’ve attacked.

    For a supposedly free country, the US sure practices strong censorship when it comes to certain other nations friendly to hegemonic foreign US policies. Maybe the left should probably agitate about political correctness too on university campuses and academic institutions…though the only reason right-wing folks do, is because they don’t want to be rightly called out for their indecent racist, bigoted, hateful, fascist and offensive views and ultimately detrimental policies against different ethnic/racial/religious/sexual oriented groups of minorities, women and overall democracy they want to enact.

    Wish there were other relatively ethical individuals like Bernie Sanders. Just 1 out of 535. Sad. The level of complicity is incredible.

    • Next time a Zionist tells you that Israel’s colonialism doesn’t count (or doesn’t exist) because Israel is a democracy, just say: same with France and Belgium.

  4. I stand with Bernie Sanders against this cowardly act of back-shooting-from-concealed-positions mass homicide by the uniformed Israeli military.

    Unfortunately, President Trump is strongly influenced by Israeli leadership, identifies with heartless killer-leaders like Rodigo Duterte and WMD dispenser Vladimir Putin as prosopopoeia.

    Those protesting the Second Amendment under Trump, watch your backs!

  5. Most US news media and opinion-shaping elites are protective of Israel, so US public opinion is unaffected by such actions. Almost all US elected officials (at least in public) are fervent supporters of Israel, regardless of its actions. The Trump administration will protect Israel from UN Security Council action, even if some country tried to initiate action there. So Israel is not likely to face real consequences from its actions. Israel continues to commit crimes, and the US continues to be complicit.

  6. When they had protests in Iran earlier this year, Iran was brutally condemned by the US at the UNSC, why don’t we see similar condemnations of Israel? Iran arrested over a thousand people, which is bad in itself but Israel shot around that number, yet they are called a democracy and Iran a dictatorship? I would argue Iran is more democratic than Israel, and based on the way Israel is handling these protests and others, maybe even less repressive, yet freedom house ranks Israel as a democracy, which makes no sense.

  7. They are dropping tear gas from drones. Under the CWC, riot control agents are allowed for law enforcement, but are banned as chemical weapons in warfare. Can Israel claim this is “law enforcement”?
    Israel (along with North Korea, South Sudan and Egypt) is not a party to the CWC but it is “Customary International Law”.

  8. All the Israeli crimes will be swept under the rug by American media and probably the same in Europe and Canada. They are all petrified of being called ‘anti-Semitic’ by powerful Jewish lobbies and interests. They have no sympathy for the victims any more than Nazis sympathized with their victims in their short rule in Germany. Very few people I interact with are even remotely aware of what is going on and if you press them they would ‘rather not know about it, thank you’. How many of our politicians can we count on in Congress and Senate and in important positions ? Possibly one, possibly two ? Out of hundreds. Democrat or Republican it makes no difference. They are all for it.

  9. The Israelis need no Middle Eastern dictators to hone their brutality when they have their own Mythopeia to guide them. Just refresh your recollections of the book of Joshua. Interestingly, I recently found a passage from Procopius’ history of Belisarius’ early 6th century war against the Vandals in Africa, where he relates that Belisarius found inscriptions on pillars where the Maurusians once dwelt, Nos Maurusii qui fugimus a facie Jesu latronis filii Navae. “We Maurusians who fled [from Syria] before Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun”.

  10. In 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel, many sought an early cease-fire but US Congress voted overwhelming in favor of Israel’s “right to defend itself.” I let my Congressman know I was not happy with his vote that led to even more death and destruction, and asked why he voted the way he did. His answer? “Well, it was going to pass anyway.” link to

  11. That Israel’s government is ruthless and acts barbarically at organized whim, and its cultivated constituents are complicitly acquiescent, western governments do not highly doubt that Israel would find a way – openly or covertly – to use its nuclear weapon capability as extortion in answer to any serious crackdown on its policies by the Western democracies, as Western democracies have cracked down on Iran, Iraq, and many other countries. If one Western country initiated war-crime trials in absentia for Israeli leaders, for instance, I fear to see what may conceivably happen to their capital city or military bases, or to a few of their elected officials (Putin style?). Power is a dirty game, especially when a culprit has so thoroughly convinced itself (not without past evidence, to be fair) that its survival is truly threatened. Power corrupts though, and motives become more murky and self-dealing, leading to greater uncertainty and instability within, and greater anxiety within others.

  12. Larry makes an interesting point about other countries being afraid to confront Israel.

    What precipitated the clash between the IDF and 30,000 protesters at the Gaza border? I don’t know.

  13. There is a scene in the movie “Exodus” where a beach full of Jewish refugees is under the guns of a large body of British soldiers, who order them to return to their boats. The Jews stand up and refuse to budge. The British are left with a choice: shoot, or let these people illegally enter.

    As the senior officer is trying to decide what to do, one of the junior British officers says, “I guess this is where we find out whether we’re better than the Nazis or not.”

    And the officer orders his men to hold their fire. And the scene ends with wild celebration by the Jews on the beach.

    It’s a heart-warming incident. Too bad the Israeli Army has apparently never heard of it.

  14. My heart goes out to the persecuted Palestinians. Murder at the hands of the IDF and the criminal state of Israel. Not much better than the Saudis. Sweden had the guts to stand up to Israel and its ‘ally’ Saudi Arabia. Needless to say the Swedish government is not popular in Israel. As for Saudi Arabia it didn’t take long for Sweden to back down given pressure from the Swedish arms manufacturers and other big exporters. As a US citizen I deeply resent that Israel behaves like it was the 51st state of the Union. Citizens of the US are prohbited from joining BDS. This is a clear violation of the first amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Why do we tolerate being told by Israel that we are not allowed to criticize it? Why is it that US business people are not allowed to refuse doing business with Israelis for political reasons. Not that I’m a big fan of the Iranians but they look like a civilized country compared to Israel. The US Congress, president and others should be ashamed of themselves for their hypocritical actions.

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