The videos that have streamed out of the Gaza Strip over the last two weeks are disturbing, digital testaments to extreme force and terror.
In one widely circulated video taken on March 30, on the first day of what has been dubbed the “Great Return March,” 19-year-old Abdul Fattah al-Nabi can be seen running with a tire, his back turned to the Israeli snipers who have perched on hills overlooking Gaza. Then a shot rings out and al-Nabi falls to the ground, becoming one of 17 people killed that day by Israeli snipers who gunned down Palestinians as they protested Israel’s blockade of the enclave and demanded their rights as refugees.
In another clip, taken on April 6, Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja is seen using a video camera to film Palestinian demonstrators as smoke from burning tires envelops the area he is in. In the next scene, Murtaja, who was wearing a vest marked with the words “PRESS,” is being carried by colleagues while he bleeds from an Israeli gunshot wound. He later died.
As the first of these images began to circulate, the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem launched a media campaign with a simple message aimed at those tasked with responding to Gaza’s ongoing protest encampment. The organization took out ads in Israeli newspapers with the words “Sorry commander, I cannot shoot”—an attempt to encourage snipers to “refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators,” as the group put it in a statement.
Thus far, however, B’Tselem’s campaign hasn’t worked. Israeli snipers have continued to shoot down unarmed Palestinians protesting near the fence that cages in Gaza, a practice human-rights groups say is a crime under international law. And as the Great Return protest heads into the third of its planned six weeks, rights advocates fear more deaths and more bloodshed at the hands of the Israeli military. Already, some 1300 Palestinians have been shot and wounded, and more than 30 killed.
But there’s another strategy for stemming the bloodshed, one that does not rely on the conscience of soldiers—and it starts in the United States. Palestinian-rights groups here have begun urging Congress to demand an investigation into alleged Israeli violations of US laws governing arms exports, and they are calling on the State Department to enforce those laws and cut off the flow of US weapons to Israel. These efforts parallel calls by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee to implement a global arms embargo against Israel, and a call by British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for a review of UK arms sales to Israel, but they keep a tight focus on Israel’s most munificent ally.