Gaza hopes - and doubts - that Israel will ever be held accountable

Gaza hopes - and doubts - that Israel will ever be held accountable
In-depth: A new UN report suggests war crimes have been carried out against Palestinian protesters. But Gazans have heard this before, reports Rami Almeghari.
6 min read
25 March, 2019
Israel has killed hundreds of Palestinian protesters in the past year, maiming thousands more [AFP]

The United Nations has this month condemned Israel's use of violence against peaceful protesters along the Gaza-Israel border over the past year.

A new UN report suggests that Israel's use of force against unarmed protesters on the Gaza border has been disproportionate and caused hundreds of deaths and many more serious injuries.

The panel's report also indicates the Israeli army could have committed war crimes against civilian protesters. The  panel plans to hand over its findings to UN Human Rights chief Michele Bachelet, who could pass it on to the International Criminal Court and national authorities for prosecution of Israeli army officials.

A glimpse of hope?

In the Gaza Strip, the families of the dead and wounded have had mixed reactions to the report.

Jamal Mohammad Misleh was a 20-year-old shot dead by an Israeli sniper on the eastern border of the central Gaza Strip. His family has expressed hope his killer will not go unpunished.

Jamal was one of at least 255 Palestinian men, women and children killed during protests, in what Palestinians call the Great March of Return.

"We hope that the occupation is brought to justice and punished," Tahrir Misleh, mother of the late Jamal, told The New Arab in the family home in the Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of the Strip.

"We do hope that the occupation's soldiers are being punished by means of international courts. Those soldiers have claimed the lives of our children and caused many others to get wounded. We all hope that our rights are restored."

No mother in the world can bear the death of her beloved son, no one

Another grieving mother, Samira Albaz, from the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, echoed the same hope when The New Arab met with her at her family home.

"We call upon the whole world to help us Palestinians get rid of the Israeli occupation and blockade of Gaza," she said.

"We look forward to the end [of the occupation]; my son is one of many killed by Israel. My son, Montaser, along with many others, have defended their rights to live in dignity. Though their protests were very peaceful and non-violent, the Israeli military has deliberately killed them all and wounded many thousands of others."

Montaser Albaz was 18 years old when he was killed, his mother told The New Arab.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, Samira continued: "Those international courts of justice, should promptly bring those Israeli occupation soldiers to justice, in order to hold them accountable for the crimes against my son and others. 

"No mother in the world can bear the death of her beloved son, no one. Though I try to get on with my daily life, every night when I put my head on my pillow, I begin crying until I fall asleep with a great deal of sadness."


Close to Montaser's family home is the home of Mohannad Abu Tahoun, a 20-year-old Palestinian who was also shot dead.

"My son was apparently shot dead in the head by a sniper, right to the east of al-Buraij refugee camp, when he and many other local guys were protesting peacefully, several months ago," Baker Abu Tahoun, father of thr late Mohannad, told The New Arab.

"Actually, I doubt that the world will act this time, I do not think that Israel is acting within international laws. Israel is now acting above the law and unfortunately, it is being utterly backed by USA. Moreover, some Arab countries' positions towards Israel, mainly normalisation moves, have helped Israel go ahead with its brutal actions against the Palestinian people - including the killing of our children, continuing illegal settlement-building in the West Bank and turning a blind eye to real peace with the Palestinians.

"Previous similar UN reports have failed. How come this new one will succeed? How come?"

Among those affected by the Israeli army's actions along the eastern borders of Gaza are many thousands of young Palestinian men and children, who have been shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers.

The 28-year-old Tareq Alsa'dy, father of three young children, spoke to The New Arab while at his home in the Maghazi refugee camp. He is now relying on a walker, after he was shot in both legs. One shot was an explosive bullet and Tareq is now waiting for a surgical operation for his right leg.

"I can never believe that this report will do something," he said. "I do not know really what to say. We in Gaza are merely helpless refugees and Israel is a state. I never expect this report to come out with any concrete action."

Mohammad Almalak, 25, was also shot and wounded with an explosive bullet in his right leg, fracturing his bones. He is also in need of surgical operations.

"I do hope that any actions by world bodies - including the UN - would eventually lead to better treatment of my leg," he said at his home in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

"In here, local doctors can not intervene because of shrapnel in my leg. I have been advised that my treatment could be completed successfully outside of the Gaza Strip."

Before the injury, several months ago, Mohammad worked at a local water desalination plant, distributing clean water to nearby households. Now Mohammad can hardly move, and only then with the help of a stick.

Since March 30, 2018, Palestinian crowds have been protesting each week along the eastern borders of Gaza.  The march is to assert the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their historical homeland and attempt to lift a 12-year Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The real relief for the grieved families should be holding the Israeli military accountable and then punished for the crimes it has committed against Palestinian protesters

It looks different 

Organisers of the Great Return welcomed the UN report, looking forward concrete actions being taken for the sake of justice for Palestinians in Gaza.

"We have decided to use the peaceful methods and with this report by the UN, which comes while such a peaceful struggle is going on, the report, itself, looks different from previous ones," said Essam Hammad, a member of the organisers' legal and international communication committee.  

"This would mean the march has been recognised internationally. This is probably the first kind of report that has been issued, while the struggle itself is continuing. We just hope that the report will [result in] forcing the Israeli occupation to stop its brutal actions against the peaceful protesters.

"The real relief for the grieved families should be holding the Israeli military accountable and then punished for the crimes it has committed against Palestinian protesters."

According to the Gaza-based Palestinian health ministry, Israeli army fire has so far claimed the lives of at least 255 Palestinians, including children, women, paramedics and journalists. The number of those wounded has exceeded 20,000, and 114 of them have had limbs amputated.

"The international community should help us get rid of the occupation and blockade," said Samira Albaz, the mother of the late 18-year-old Montaser Albaz.

"My son and many others have been protesting for the sake of dignity and normal lives."

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari