It was a massacre. When 30,000 residents of Gaza pitched up on the border with Israel on Friday to engage in peaceful demonstration against their degrading incarceration, Israeli forces opened fire into crowds of families. Drones sprayed tear gas from the skies. Men, women and children ran for shelter. At least 15 Palestinians were killed by the time the shooting subsided. Of the 1,416 people injured, 750 were struck by live ammunition. In the annals of colonial violence, what Israel did on Friday is comparable to the notorious Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of 1919, when the British fired on hundreds of peaceful protesters in India. That episode had provoked condemnation in London. Yesterday's killings in Gaza, on the other hand, have not even scratched the conscience of Israeli society. Instead, Israel's military spokesman, brigadier-general Ronen Manelis, has threatened to "respond inside the Gaza strip" if the Palestinians persist with their protests.
But Israel is delusional if it believes that it can tame with yet more violence a people who have lost everything. May 15 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when heavily armed agents of the newly created state of Israel stormed Palestinian towns and villages and drove out hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Take a stroll in Jerusalem, and you will still see faded Arab lettering carved into the facades of the city's grand houses. The families who built them have become refugees in their own land. From Gaza, you can see the villages that were once Palestinian, but where no Palestinian is allowed today. Israel's supposedly "democratic" state wields the power of life and death over them even as it denies them the most rudimentary civil rights. If this is not apartheid, the word has no meaning. Israel's history is written in the blood and dispossession of Palestinians. And as Israel gears up shamelessly to "celebrate" seven decades of its founding in May, Palestinians in Gaza are staging protests to remind the world of their own story.
This is a combustible moment. The misrule of Hamas and the Israeli blockade have ensured that conditions in Gaza, an open prison where 5,000 people are packed into every square kilometre, are so appalling that the UN estimates it will become unliveable in two years' time. The rift between Hamas and Fatah means that there is no united Palestinian leadership. This is a gift to Israeli reactionaries as well as Iran, both of whom are exploiting internal Palestinian divisions for their own ends. Making matters worse, the US government has abandoned even the pretence of impartiality by deciding to relocate its embassy to Israel to Jerusalem. The UN's call for an independent investigation into Friday's massacre will likely be thwarted by Israel's allies. There are all the ingredients for protracted violence, with not a single just solution in sight. This is Israel's accomplishment over the past 70 years.