Israel intends to persecute Palestinians, rights groups say

Israel has killed nearly 200 Palestinians during Great March of Return protests.

Mohammed Zaanoun ActiveStills

Israel is persecuting Palestinians – a crime against humanity – a Palestinian human rights group and an American law center state in a report submitted to UN investigators earlier this month.

“Israeli occupation policies and practices, including the now 11-year-closure of Gaza, that actively deny Palestinians the right to self-determination collectively amount to persecution, a crime against humanity under international law,” the submission to the UN commission of inquiry into Israel’s use of lethal force against Gaza protesters states.

The 57-page submission was authored by Defense for Children International Palestine and the Human Rights and Gender Justice Law Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law.

The commission of inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May last year following the massacre of more than 60 protesters in Gaza in a single day that month. More than 180 Palestinians have been killed during Great March of Return protests since their launch on 30 March 2018.

Israel declared that it would not cooperate with the commission of inquiry and the US, which was one of only two countries who voted against its formation, withdrew from the UN body in protest.

The panel of independent human rights experts is due to present its findings to the Human Rights Council in March.

War crimes against children

Since 2007, Defense for Children International Palestine has documented the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinian children “as a direct result of Israeli military offensives, incursions, and explosive remnants of war,” including the three major assaults on Gaza over the past decade.

More than 35 children have been killed during Great March of Return protests, most recently Abd al-Raouf Salha, 13, who was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by a soldier during protests east of Jabaliya in northern Gaza on 11 January. He died of his injuries three days later.

At least 16 additional children in Gaza were permanently disabled last year due to Israeli military actions, according to Defense for Children International Palestine.

“In the overwhelming majority of cases, [Defense for Children International Palestine] was able to confirm children did not present any imminent, mortal threat or threat of serious injury at the time Israeli forces resorted to the intentional use of lethal force against them,” the submission to the UN inquiry states.

“Critically, Israeli forces’ repeated use of intentional lethal force against civilian protesters resulting in the killing or maiming of children where they posed no imminent threat to life amounts to war crimes.”

There are no reports of protesters shooting at or wounding, let along killing, Israeli soldiers, the rights group and law center add: “No Israel civilians have been killed or injured as a result of the demonstrations and no member of the Israeli forces has been killed by persons participating in the protests.”

Israel’s use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more, fails to satisfy strict tests of necessity and proportionality required under international law.

The predictable outcome of Israel’s use of live fire against unarmed protesters satisfies the elements for the crime of murder under the Rome Statute, Defense for Children International Palestine and the CUNY law school clinic argue.

The Rome Statute is the founding treaty which spells out the international crimes subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has been under preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court since 2015. Its chief prosecutor issued an unprecedented warning to Israeli leaders last year that they may face trial for the killings of unarmed protesters in Gaza.

“Intent to persecute”

Israeli leaders have stated that snipers are authorized to use lethal force against demonstrators, further indicating that the open fire orders are in furtherance of state policy.

“Criminal liability applies to both the individual Israeli forces who have targeted and killed civilian protesters without justification, and their civilian superiors and military commanders,” the submission to the UN inquiry states.

Public statements by Israeli officials also “illustrate the intent to persecute a group of people,” the submission adds.

“The Israeli Defense Forces Twitter account as well as the public statements made by high ranking government officials consistently describe the civilian population of Gaza as ‘terrorists’ deserving of their punishment.”

Israel’s military and political leadership have sought from the beginning to portray the Great March of Return as a Hamas stunt exploiting civilian protests as a cover for “terror” activities which pose an existential threat to Israeli communities near the Gaza boundary.

Israel seeks to obscure the reality that the Great March of Return is a popular mobilization that includes the participation and leadership of Palestinians of all political stripes who seek an end to the siege and to exercise their right to return to lands just over Gaza’s boundary with Israel from which their families were expelled 70 years ago.

“Such statements illustrate discriminatory speech that aims to create the narrative that the protesters are all terrorists and thus it is justified to kill them,” the report submitted to the UN commission of inquiry states.

“These statements must be understood in the context of operational policies and government practices that have caused, and continue to cause, and indeed, are intended to cause, the severe denial of fundamental rights to Palestinian civilian[s].”




The International Criminal Court has for years refused to issue indictments of Israeli military and governmental figures responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and wars of aggression. Recently, renewed pressure has been brought to bear internally to force the Court to act. Whether this will prove sufficient to bring about a result remains to be seen. But until charges are filed against the senior personnel who set the rules of engagement and those political officials who make government policy, we can expect Israel to continue along its present lines. Pressure must be applied through all UN agencies to compel action at the ICC. No other course appears to hold any promise, since neither global public opinion nor private academic studies have any discernible impact on the prosecutor's deliberations. The mere commission of these atrocities, it goes without saying, has never moved the machinery of justice to confront their perpetrators, who remain defiant and to all appearances secure in their fortified domain.

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.