Israel kills Gaza protesters as UN body condemns “unlawful” force

A paramedic treats an injured protester during Great March of Return demonstrations east of Jabaliya, northern Gaza Strip, on 22 March.

Ramez Haboub APA images

Israeli forces killed two protesters in the occupied Gaza Strip on Friday as the UN Human Rights Council condemned the “apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force” against Great March of Return demonstrators.

The UN body also passed a resolution opposing Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, one day after President Donald Trump tweeted in support of US recognition of Israel’s claims to the Syrian territory.

Gaza’s health ministry identified the Palestinians slain on Friday as 29-year-old Nidal Abd al-Karim Ahmad Shatat, shot in the chest, and 24-year-old Jihad Munir Khalid Harara, shot in the head.

Israel directly targeted medics and ambulances with gas grenades during Friday’s demonstrations, the ministry stated.

Around 190 Palestinians were injured during Friday’s protests, more than half of them by live fire, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza. Two were critically injured, the health ministry said.

Four journalists were hit by tear gas canisters and live fire while covering the protests, according to Al Mezan.

Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed during the Great March of Return mobilizations, including 41 children, two women, two journalists, three paramedics and eight persons with a disability, Al Mezan said.

UN body adopts Gaza inquiry

Meanwhile the UN Human Rights Council adopted the report of a commission of inquiry formed after more than 60 Palestinians were killed during a single day of Great March of Return protests in May last year.

The commission has found that Israel’s use of lethal force against protesters warrants criminal investigation and prosecution and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Human Rights Council’s resolution regrets Israel’s lack of cooperation with the commission of inquiry and failure to implement previous recommendations made by the UN, particularly after Israel’s 51-day military offensive in Gaza in 2014.

The resolution also notes the lack of meaningful Israeli investigations into human rights abuses by its forces, as well as the “numerous legal, procedural and practical obstacles in the Israeli civil and criminal legal system contributing to the denial of access to justice for Palestinian victims and of their right to an effective judicial remedy.”

While calling for strengthened UN monitoring in the Gaza Strip, the resolution falls short of recommending specific actions towards accountability, only urging cooperation with an existing preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court.

However, the commission of inquiry report adopted by the Human Rights Council does urge UN member states to consider sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes on those responsible for crimes and to arrest or extradite “persons alleged to have committed, or who ordered to have committed, the international crimes.”

Twenty-three states voted in favor of the Human Rights Council resolution. Eight countries opposed and 15 abstained, including the UK, which had initially called for an independent UN inquiry into Gaza protest deaths.

Of the 10 European Union countries on the Human Rights Council, four voted against the resolution and five abstained. The fact that Spain was the only EU country to back the resolution underscores the bloc’s ongoing complicity in Israel’s crimes and belies official propaganda that defending human rights is a fundamental EU value.

A group of UK charities accused the UK government of “a dereliction of responsibility” for refusing to endorse the commission of inquiry’s findings.

UK blames Hamas for protest deaths

British officials repeated the Israeli government line that Hamas was to blame for protest deaths even though Palestinians were killed by bullets and tear gas canisters fired by occupation soldiers.

Julian Braithwaite, the UK ambassador to the UN, paid deference to purported Israeli probes into protest deaths and said that “Hamas of course bear principal responsibility as their operatives have cynically exploited the protests. And we are clear that Israel has the right to self-defense.”

The UK had also pledged to vote against four Human Rights Council resolutions raised under a permanent agenda item dedicated to human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.

The UK, like the US, which under the leadership of former ambassador Nikki Haley quit the body in protest last year, contends that the permanent agenda item singles out Israel for human rights abuses.

Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return, as well as Land Day, the annual commemoration of six Palestinians killed during protests against Israeli land confiscation in the Galilee in 1976.

The UN Human Rights Council resolution passed Friday condemning Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights reflects global opposition to Trump’s declaration of intent to recognize Israel’s claims to the territory.

Last year the US voted for the first time against the annual UN resolution opposing Israel’s occupation of the Syrian territory, and this year the State Department dropped the word “occupied” from its annual human rights report, referring to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” territory, as it also did in reference to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Senior Republicans have been pushing for US recognition of Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

As recognized by international law, the Golan Heights is Syrian territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war along with the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, from which Israel eventually withdrew.

After Israel claimed to annex the Golan Heights in 1981, the UN Security Council declared the move “null and void and without international legal effect.”

Trump boosts Netanyahu’s reelection bid

Trump’s tweet on Thursday that “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights” comes two weeks before general elections in Israel.

The timing of Trump’s announcement was anticipated by Benjamin Netanyahu’s election rival and is widely viewed as an attempt to boost the prime minister’s campaign to retain his seat.

Trump is reportedly planning to sign an executive order recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights while Netanyahu is in Washington next week.

Syria condemned Trump’s announcement, saying that the Golan “was an ‘indivisible’ part of Syrian territory and recovering it ‘via all means guaranteed by international law is still a priority,’” as the Reuters news agency reported.

Al-Marsad, a human rights group based in the Golan, said Trump’s “proposed policy shift is contradictory and threatens peace in the Middle East”:

Amnesty International also condemned the move, saying the US “must stop legitimizing Israel’s systematic human rights violations”:

Trump’s announcement in December 2017 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and move it embassy there, also broke with decades of American foreign policy and was met with worldwide opposition.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were killed by Israeli occupation forces while protesting Trump’s announcement.

Dozens of protesters in Gaza were slain by Israeli snipers on 14 May 2018 as American officials and Israeli leaders celebrated the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The systematic slaughter that day led to the Human Rights Council establishing the commission of inquiry into Israel’s use of lethal force against unarmed protesters.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.