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How Israeli 'rules of engagement' allow soldiers to shoot children in the back

The Haifa-based Palestinian human rights group Adalah has done a lot of important work over the years. Its name is Arabic for "justice". Much of Adalah's work focuses on the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the "Palestinians of the 1948 territories" as they often describe themselves.

The group maintains an important database chronicling more than 65 laws in Israel which systematically discriminate against 20 per cent of its population. It is a fact that Israel has always been an apartheid state, not only since the Knesset passed the openly racist "Jewish Nation State Law" last summer.

That new measure did not really change much in terms of the letter of Israeli law. What it did do, though, was to explain clearly, in black and white, the motives behind much of Israel's existing racist laws. It made things clearer, in other words, sending a signal to the Palestinian people that the historic land of Palestine – what the law terms the "Land of Israel" – belongs to the Jews alone, and no one else.

This clarity explains some of the tactical disagreements with the law that many pro-Zionist liberals had. Liberal Zionists do not disagree on the racist principle that "the right to national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people," as the new law claims. Rather, they disagree with spelling this out in such brazen terms, leading to adverse international publicity, and the resultant decline in long term political support.

However, the naked racism of the Jewish Nation State Law is in reality only the latest such measure. As Adalah documents in detail in its database, the trail of these racist laws goes back to the very foundation of the state.

READ: Supreme Court does not have power to cancel Nation State Law

Take Israel's 1950 "Law of Return," for example. This law bestows upon any Jewish person in the world the right to migrate to the land of Palestine and automatically become a citizen of Israel. It applies to the children and grandchildren of Jews, as well as to their spouses, and the spouses of their children and grandchildren.

No comparable Israeli law exists guaranteeing the same rights for Palestinians, who are, after all, the indigenous people of the land. On the contrary, Palestinian refugees – expelled by force by Zionist militias over the course of several years starting in 1947 – are still excluded, despite having the right to return under international laws and conventions.

In Israel, though, laws were passed to ensure that the refugees never did or could return, starting with the 1950 "Absentees' Property Law". This essentially provided a legal fig leaf for the mass theft of land, homes, bank accounts and other Palestinian property on a grand scale. The 800,000 or so Palestinian refugees – who were expelled by force, remember – were declared to be "absentees" under Israeli law, and their lands and properties were confiscated. Hundreds of Palestinian villages had in any case already been bulldozed and dynamited, wiping them off the map. Thus Israel always has been, and remains, an intrinsically racist, apartheid state.

Adalah also does lots of important work documenting Israel's human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the parts of historic Palestine which Israel invaded and has occupied illegally since 1967. Some of this work is detailed in the racist laws database I referred to above, which also lists Israeli laws which discriminate against the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation since the June 1967 Six Day War.

READ: Israel's Six Day War on the Internet

Recently, Adalah obtained official Israeli documents revealing the military's "rules of engagement", which it uses to justify its violence against Palestinian protestors, specifically in Gaza in this case. The rules show that the Israeli military has officially ordained to itself the right to shoot unarmed Palestinian protestors in the back, people it smears and slanders as "rioters".

Those organising the Great March of Return protests since March last year can be targeted even when posing no threat to Israeli soldiers; even when walking away. As Adalah points out, "Israeli snipers… may open fire with live ammunition on 'key instigators' or 'key rioters' even when they are no longer participating in the protest or are resting."

Many of the protestors in Gaza are children. Adalah says that since the marches began last year, Israel has killed 207 Palestinians during protests, including 44 children. A staggering 16,831 Palestinians have also been injured, 3,905 of them children.

The documents were presented during hearings at Israel's high court. Disgustingly, the court ruled last year that the army was permitted to use live rounds against unarmed protestors. This is a measure that it would never sanction against Jewish protestors.

READ: UNICEF 'saddened' by Israel's killing of 2 Gaza children

Adalah attorney Suhad Bishara explained that Israel's fictional category of "key instigators" was "created retroactively in order to justify the shootings of people who posed no real and immediate danger to Israeli soldiers or civilians. The military's document attempts to explain away the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed demonstrators which results from a total disregard for human life."

The apartheid state of Israel should be held to account for such crimes against humanity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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