Israel must be held to account for Palestinian killings

The unfolding tragedy is made possible by the impunity granted to Tel Aviv by its allies

The Israeli persecution of thePalestinians has always occurred in the context of absolute impunity supplied by Israel’s backers in the West.   Said Khatib / AFP
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What is the cost of spilling the blood of defenceless civilians? Nothing, if you are Israel. The Israeli persecution of Palestinians – from the theft of their land to routine abductions, assassinations, indiscriminate bombings and massacres by trigger-happy soldiers – has always occurred in the context of absolute impunity, thanks to Israel's backers. As Palestinian families in Gaza were laying to rest the 15 men slain by Israeli bullets yesterday, its forces once again rained fire on peaceful protesters demanding the most basic human rights from one of the most ruthless colonial regimes in history. In total, at least 1,400 Palestinians have been wounded and 18 now killed.

There is no comparison between the two sides. A hail of stones was met with live ammunition, steel pellets and tear gas, with Israel firing the first salvo – a completely disproportionate response in an occupied land where they are the invaders. Gaza is overwhelmed; its infrastructure, ravaged by Israeli bombing raids, cannot meet the demands of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Hospitals, inundated with patients, are at breaking point. Hundreds of people need emergency care but facilities are crammed, medicine is scarce and there are crippling shortages of electricity and fuel. This nightmare is the direct consequence of Israel's armed blockade of Gaza's land and sea borders. Yet Israel, protected by the US, considers itself above accountability. On Saturday, Washington blocked a draft UN Security Council resolution by Kuwait demanding an independent investigation into the deaths of protestors. UN and European Union officials have joined the clamour for an independent inquiry and Pope Francis urged for reconciliation in the Holy Land.

Those appeals have fallen on deaf ears. The country's defence minister Avigdor Lieberman scoffed at the idea of an inquiry and instead called for medals to be handed to the soldiers who fired at Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu praised the same soldiers – who in any other civilised state would be facing a military trial – as members of the "most moral army in the world". This would all be risible if it weren't so tragic. Israel is not just killing Palestinians on a whim; it is congratulating itself for doing so. This is a measure not just of the Israeli state's deep contempt for Palestinians and international law but also of Israeli society's indifference to the torment of those described as "defenceless" by the pope. Here is a country that has drifted so far from moral rectitude that it has lost any ability to radiate empathy or relate to others. As the 70th anniversary of Al Nakba looms, Israel is charging towards its goal of breaking Palestinian will for good. It cannot be allowed to do so unimpeded.