HAVANA TIMES, Sep 18 (IPS) — Controversy is building up over a 91-year-old man, his 17-year-old grandson and a 20-year-old neighbor, all farmers, who were killed by Israeli shelling and gunfire as they tried to tend their land 700 meters from northern Gaza’s border with Israel.
The narrative according to the Israeli and foreign media is one of “self-defense”. During the last few weeks a number of crude missiles have been fired at the Jewish state by Gaza-based Palestinian fighters, causing little damage and no casualties or injuries.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed the three were “terrorists” trying to shoot rockets at southern Israel.
Israel has declared a 300-metre “security zone” within Gaza and next to the Israeli border, no-man’s land. This buffer area is where some of Gaza’s most fertile land is situated. The Gaza strip is approximately 40 km long and eight km wide, and home to 1.5 million.
The exclusion zone has been strictly enforced by the IDF since the takeover of the coastal territory by the Islamic movement Hamas in 2007.
Since the blockade a number of Gazan farmers and shepherds have been killed by the IDF as they tried to farm their land and attend to their livestock. More have been injured and maimed. Some of the deaths and injuries took place outside of the buffer zone.
Controversy has been raging on the Internet between Palestinians and their supporters and supporters of Israel, over the way events were presented by the mainstream media.
Palestinian critics claim a Western bias in favor of Israel. They argue that the West’s perspective of the events encases an entrenched form of colonialism and double standards which excuses certain behavior by Israel while condemning the similar when perpetrated by Arabs.
They point to the clash between Lebanese and Israeli troops on Israel’s northern border last month during which soldiers from both sides died after Lebanese troops opened fire on members of the IDF as they were pruning trees along the border fence. The U.S. strongly condemned the Lebanese military for an “unprovoked attack”.
Simultaneously, over the years there has been no condemnation of the fatal shootings of unarmed Palestinian farmers, clearly civilians, attempting to pursue a living on their own land near Israel’s border.
Further controversy was sparked following the drive-by shooting deaths of four Israeli settlers residing in an illegal settlement near Hebron in the southern West Bank, by Hamas gunmen several weeks ago. Another two Israeli settlers were injured in a similar attack near Ramallah.
On the other hand, barely a day passes without media headlines outlining a new outrage perpetrated by the settlers against Palestinians. The settlers are militarily supported by the IDF and receive legal and economic assistance from the Israeli authorities.
Many of the male settlers are armed with sub-machine guns and IDF-issued M16 weapons. Furthermore, many settlers of compulsory military conscription age serve for three years in the IDF. Other settlers are in the IDF’s reserve units, which involves attending a month’s camp annually until the age of 40 and sometimes thereafter.
Two IDF brigades comprise solely of settlers. The Nagmar unit is on full-time call to the IDF and is part of the Israeli army’s regional defense. The Nahal brigades are also served primarily by settlers.
This is where the status of the settlers gets blurred. “Clearly the women and children who don’t serve are civilians,” Shawan Jabarin from the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq in Ramallah tells IPS.
“But armed settlers, and settlers serving in the IDF, are armed combatants and fall under the category of armed militias. Armed settlers do not fall under the category of protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention,” adds Jabarin.
According to international law expert Cordula Droege from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Tel Aviv, an armed settler can still be regarded as a civilian. “But those settlers serving in the IDF do not have civilian status and are not protected persons,” Droege told IPS.
While the experts pontificate about the legality and morality of attacks on settlers, several Palestinian armed groups have vowed to continue the attacks on settlers residing, contrary to international law, in the Palestinian territories as peace talks reach a critical point.
The settlers, meanwhile, are continuing their daily rampages and have further vowed to retaliate for any Palestinian attacks. Once again it will be the defenseless on both sides of the bitter divide who will pay the ultimate price.