- Raji Souraniaward-winning human rights lawyer. He is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He is on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
- Diana Buttuattorney based in Palestine. She has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. She was previously an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
- Miko PeledIsraeli peace activist and writer. His father was an Israeli general, a military governor of the Gaza Strip and a member of Parliament. Miko’s new book is titled Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. He’s also the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.
At least 18 Palestinians have died in Gaza after Israeli forces opened fire Friday on a protest near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border with Israel. As many as 1,700 Palestinians were wounded. The deaths and injuries came as 30,000 Gaza residents gathered near the wall, as part of a planned 6-week-long nonviolent protest against the blockade of Gaza and to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The protests began on Friday, March 30, known as “Land Day,” marking the anniversary of the 1976 killing of six Palestinians protesting the Israeli confiscation of Arab land. Video posted online shows unarmed Palestinians being shot in the back while taking part in Friday’s protest. Another 49 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces on Saturday. Israel’s actions have been condemned around the world, but Israel is rejecting calls to investigate the killings. At the United Nations, the U.S. blocked a move by the U.N. Security Council to open an investigation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where 18 Palestinians have died, after Israeli forces opened fire Friday on a protest near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border with Israel. As many as 1,700 Palestinians were wounded. The deaths and injuries came as 30,000 Gaza residents gathered near the wall as part of a planned 6-week-long nonviolent protest against the blockade of Gaza and to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The protests began on Friday, March 30th, which is known as “Land Day.” The annual event marks the anniversary of the March 30th, 1976, killing of six Palestinians protesting the Israeli confiscation of Arab land. Video posted online shows unarmed Palestinians being shot in the back while taking part in Friday’s protest. Another 49 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces on Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: Israel’s actions have been condemned around the world, but Israel is rejecting calls to investigate the killings. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the U.S. blocked a move by the U.N. Security Council to open an investigation. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, condemned Israel’s actions.
RIYAD MANSOUR: These peaceful demonstrations posed no threat whatsoever to Israel or its heavily armed soldiers. Yet its trigger-happy soldiers used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets to shoot indiscriminately at those nonviolent protesters, who were demonstrating inside the Gaza Strip near their side of the well-fortified barrier that separates them from Israel. How could that be condoned?
AMY GOODMAN: Israel has defended its use of lethal force. Captain Keren Hajioff is the head of public diplomacy in the Israel Defense Forces.
CAPT. KEREN HAJIOFF: What we’ve seen over the last 24 hours is anything other than a peaceful protest. What we’ve seen is a violent riot in its clearest form. The Hamas terrorist organization have sent their people here to camouflage their true intentions. And we’ve seen that on the ground, just behind where I’m standing right now.
AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Gaza City to attorney Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
Raji Sourani, take us back to Land Day, to Friday, and talk about what took place.
RAJI SOURANI: Gazans, after 11 years of criminal, illegal, inhuman siege, which suffocated Gaza socially and economically, and after three wars, where Israel was targeting, in the eye of the storm, the Palestinian civilians and civilian targets. And this time, where Israel didn’t allow rebuilding Gaza, and denied us from our basic rights, I mean, to that level we are not able to treat our water or our sewage. Gaza, after 11 years of siege, having 65 percent unpaid or unemployed, having 90 percent under poverty line, and 85 percent depends on UNRWA rations, so they shifted us to be a nation of beggars in a biggest man-made disaster. Two million people are crippled, not because we are lazy. We have one of the highest percents of university graduates, and we have one of the most fantastic skilled workers, and we have no illiteracy. But with that, they didn’t allow us to function normally, and they decided to disconnect us from the West Bank and from the outside world, and invested all reasons to make Gaza, really, I mean, ISIS space, where people lose hope, no future and no opportunity for—at any level or by any chance.
So, people wanted, after all this conspiracy of silence, after all this pain and suffering, to demonstrate for their dignity, for their right of having an end for this criminal, illegal, inhuman siege, which all international human rights organizations, all U.N. bodies and all world civil society denied and denounced and condemned Israel of practicing it. They just wanted to have an outcry. We want to have an end. We want to be free. We want to have, you know, access to the outside world. We want to be normal. This is incredible, what’s going on. And people just decided to resort, in Land Day, to a peaceful means, peaceful demonstration.
And they went, in hundreds of thousands—men, women, young, old. From early morning, everybody marched and went to very specific points designated by the political parties to demonstrate that. And all political parties declared and committed themselves to have it clearly peacefully. I personally was there. I was on the border with the people, from the early morning. I can assure you 100 percent what I have seen, what I witnessed, what I felt, what all our field workers across the Gaza Strip felt and watched and noticed, that this was 100 percent peaceful demonstrations. Nothing—nothing—weird had happened. All people were away from the fence, tens of meters, between 50 to 100 meters at least.
And the Israeli soldiers on the other side, 100 to 150. I can assure you one harvest of this day: Not a single Israeli soldier were hurt or injured or shot. But we have almost 1,500 people injured, many of them in critical conditions. Many of those in a critical conditions are children. And we have 16 killed that day. We are talking about purely civilians people, peaceful demonstration. It was very costly.
And Israel wanted to provocate people, to have the retract for the Gazan total, to retaliate, to retaliate in a violent way. But people were committed to this notion: peaceful, peaceful demonstration. And they wanted to show their moral superiority on criminal, aggressive occupation, who do flagrantly war crimes and crimes against humanity on the daylight. This was on the record, in front of the media. It wasn’t, I mean, hide. And I challenge if Israel can prove one single violent act was taken by the demonstrators at that day. It was, for us, day of pride and day of challenge for this anniversary of 50 years of criminal occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer, activist, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He is on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll continue our discussion about what took place in Gaza. It’s believed 18 people killed by Israeli forces on Friday, more than a thousand wounded. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “The Night Has Fallen Down” by Rim Banna, a Palestinian musician who recently died of cancer. Banna has performed all over the world calling for the end of the Palestinian occupation. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at the crisis in Gaza, where 18 Palestinians were killed after Israeli forces opened fire Friday on a protest near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border with Israel. As many as 1,700 Palestinians were wounded.
In addition to human rights activist Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza City, who was there on Friday, we’re also joined by Diana Buttu in the Israeli city of Haifa. She has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, previously an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by the Israeli peace activist and writer Miko Peled. His father was an Israeli general, a military governor of the Gaza Strip and a member of Parliament. In 1997, his niece was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I’d like to bring in Diana Buttu to talk about the claims of the Israeli Defense Forces, one, that the protesters turned violent, and also that most of the people killed were young men between the ages of 18 and 30, including several folks that they’ve identified as Hamas leaders. Could you respond to that portion of what the Israelis have claimed?
DIANA BUTTU: Well, of course the Israelis are going to try to claim that this was anything but a peaceful protest, because they have no way of justifying what it is that they did. I think it’s important, Juan, to keep in mind exactly the layout of the Gaza Strip. We’ve got the Gaza Strip, which is completely fortified on both the north and eastern side by an electrified fence. And then, in addition to that electrified fence, that people cannot pass, Israel has imposed a 350-meter, about a thousand-foot, buffer zone that is unmarked in that area, as well. And that buffer zone, that no-go zone, is an area where if Palestinians go there, they will be shot by the Israeli army.
And so, their claim is that they were somehow trying to protect Israel. But, first, there was no—there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that there was any—any of that sort of thing. And then, secondly, the type of force and the weaponry that was used, they made it clear, from even the day before the protest was taking place, that they were going to use live ammunition to shoot to kill. And they announced as much by saying that they were going to be using and putting forth a hundred snipers on the border that day. So, this idea that this was somehow not a peaceful protest is simply their attempt at revisionist history. But video footage and all the footage that is coming out of Gaza has clearly demonstrated the opposite.
In terms of the people who were killed, there were people—the vast majority of the people or all the people who were killed were under the age of 30, because that is the composition of the Gaza Strip right now. More than 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18 years of age. So, what Israel was shooting at was a child population. It’s a defenseless population, a civilian population and a refugee population. And they made it very clear that they were shooting to kill, and so they did.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, the Israeli army tweeted, “Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.” The tweet was later deleted. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the tweet was akin to saying, “Israeli army takes full responsibility for the killing of all unarmed protesters and the injuring of hundreds with live ammunition.” Raji Sourani, in Gaza, your response to what Israel is saying and the fact that Israel is saying they will not investigate this, despite what the U.N. Security Council is calling for?
RAJI SOURANI: …investigated. And my experience for the last 40 years as practicing lawyer in the Israeli legal system, never, ever, I mean, they hold accountable anybody, I mean, for crimes, you know, have been committed, vice versa, I mean, even with the cases we submitted once and again. I mean, all the way along, the Israeli legal system provided full legal cover for organized, systematic crimes perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army. On the other side, Israel never cooperated with any investigation committee ever, by the U.N. or any other body. They only recognize their justice. And they know how to justify for themselves all these willful killings and crimes they are perpetrating against international law.
We do act according to very simple formula, supported by international community. There is facts, standards, conclusions. The facts, we know. I mean, we are living here, and I think we have enough credibility and professionalism to say this is peaceful demonstration. And Palestinians can be peaceful. We are not terrorists. We are freedom fighters. We are romantic revolutionaries. We have absolute legitimate right of be free of occupation, and the history never, ever spoke about just or fair occupation. It’s vice versa. The Israeli occupation showed, by default, I mean, how criminal they are.
Now, the demonstrations were peaceful. And the Israeli army, before this Friday, in a clear-cut way, politicians, a spokesperson, army spokespersons and different army and security leaders said, “We are going to use the snipers. We are going to kill any who come close to the borders, peaceful or not.” And these statements are on the record. Believe me. Believe me, Amy, I was there. It can be me who was shot and killed or injured. In short, lottery numbers. Snipers are hundreds of meters away, and they are shooting, picking people like animals—I mean, shooting at them, for no reason whatsoever. I mean, you can see people falling down among those peaceful demonstrators—you know, one injured, one killed, one in the back of his head, one in his spine. And you don’t know, I mean, where your lottery number can be. So, Israel really committed very intentionally crime. They did willful killing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Raji—
RAJI SOURANI: This was—in advance, has been decided.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Raji Sourani, I’d like to also bring in Miko Peled, an Israeli peace activist. I wanted to get your response to the current violence. And also, if you could talk, as you have often talked about, the treatment of Palestinians who are—who live within Israel, who are Israeli citizens, and yet they are also continuing to suffer under Israeli rule?
MIKO PELED: Sure, yes. I mean, look, the issue here is a threat to the Israeli legitimacy. As long as this humanitarian catastrophe continues to fester, there is a threat to the story that Israel somehow has legitimacy. And the people who have to pay the price are the Palestinians. And so, when they dare to stand, and they dare to challenge the claim that Israel has legitimacy, then they have to be shot.
The only reason that there’s such poverty in the Gaza Strip, the only reason there’s such poverty in the Negev desert, where Palestinians have Israeli citizenship, the only reason the Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship are on the lowest—the lowest level, you know, the very bottom of the economic totem pole within what is called legitimate—so-called legitimate Israel, is because they are—Israel wants them either dead or out, because as long as they survive, as long as they are there, there’s a challenge to the legitimacy of the state of Israel. If the existence of the state of Israel comes at a cost of what we see in Gaza, then there cannot be legitimacy. And this is why they’re killing.
So the claim that somehow there is a threat to Israel from Gaza or a threat to Israel from any Palestinians, who never had an army, who never had a tank, who never had an F-16 fighter plane, is nonsense. The threat is that people will see that Israel has no legitimacy, that the price for the establishment and the existence of the state of Israel is Palestinian suffering, is Palestinian refugees, is the ongoing killing of Palestinians, denial of their rights, denial of their right to water and a normal life. I mean, 2 million people in Gaza live without access to clean water or medical care. The same goes for Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, who are—who have no access to clean water and other services. So, it’s an insult to the intelligence, really, when they start to claim that somehow this or any of the other Palestinian protests around Palestine at any point in time were somehow a threat.
And this nonsense claim that somehow Hamas was behind it and did not declare their intentions—their intentions are very clear: It was a nonviolent protest. It was designed in order to remind people the Palestinians have a right to return, and they want to return to their lands and their homes, the lands from which they—in many cases, they can see from the border of the Gaza Strip. And the bottom line is that we have Palestinians—a young Palestinian child in Gaza with a curable disease will die, whereas a young Israeli child a few miles away will live, because Israel has declared it has the right to decide who lives and dies. You know, this is a reality. It’s a question of legitimacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Miko Peled, you’re the son of an Israeli general, the uncle of a—your niece was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. What is the response right now of the Israeli people? I mean, you have this nonviolent demonstration, 18 Palestinians gunned down. More than a thousand have been wounded.
MIKO PELED: Look, if we want to see what Israeli society thinks, all we need to do is look at the makeup of the Israeli Knesset, of the Israeli parliament, and the Israeli government, because Israelis vote in very high numbers. So, from time to time, as in this case, you see a few hundred people protesting there, a few hundred Israelis protesting here, but the vast majority of Israelis support the government, support its actions and call for more and more violence. They see this as completely justified. If you look at the Israeli press, the narrative is that these were clashes, that there were somehow violent intentions on the part of the Palestinians. They’re completely lock and step behind what the government spokespeople are saying. So, this is what the Israelis think. Israelis agree to this. They voted for these people. And it’s not like it’s only Netanyahu. Netanyahu has a broad coalition and broad support all over, you know, the—among politicians, among the press and among people in the street. It’s a very, very—it’s a very sad state of affairs within Israeli society, because there is support for this. If Israelis wanted to end the siege on Gaza, they could be out there, in hundreds of thousands, protesting, or vote for somebody else. They support this 100 percent.
AMY GOODMAN: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for an independent, transparent investigation into the Gaza bloodshed. However, on Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel’s public radio that there will not be an inquiry. He said, quote, “From the standpoint of the [Israeli Defense Force] soldiers, they did what had to be done. … I think that all of our troops deserve a commendation.” Raji Sourani, can you respond, as we wrap up, what you’re calling for and your response to what the Israeli military is saying?
RAJI SOURANI: I know the victims of 2008, '09, and I know the victims of 2012, and I know the victims of 2014. And we know what Israel is doing on day-to-day basis. I represent those civilian victims. I represented them all my life. And I know what Israel is doing, and what quality and kind of crimes they are doing. Israel doing ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, for Palestinians and Christians and Muslims. Israel building a new brand of apartheid in the West Bank and in Gaza with the siege. They are doing social, economic, health suffocation. That's the harvest of 25 years of Oslo Accords, which was intended to end by having a Palestinian self-determination, independent, and state in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem.
Lieberman, first-class criminal, I can assure you one thing: One day he will stand for justice, and he will be held accountable for all the crimes and orders he gave to those criminal soldiers due to the chain of command.
They want to push us for one thing: to give up, to be good victims. Never, ever we will give up. And we will continue the fight for our freedom, for our dignity, for our people, for our right to be free, to have an end for this criminal occupation, in its 50th anniversary. They want to steal tomorrow from us, but tomorrow is ours. We are on the right side of history. And that will happen, irrelevant to what Lieberman is saying, our people so determined to go with this. And these peaceful demonstrations will continue to the day of Nakba, in 15th of May. And it will be, in 15th of May, a big day for Palestinians. In millions, there will be, with their friends, supporters, those who support rule of law, democracy and the human rights, and against the rule of—
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani—
RAJI SOURANI: —[inaudible] Israel is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza; also Miko Peled, joining us from Washington, D.C., Israeli peace activist; and Diana Buttu, joining us on the phone from Haifa, Palestinian lawyer.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. We go to Memphis. Stay with us.