UN human rights experts condemn Gaza protest killings

Palestinians protest in eastern Gaza on 30 March.

Mohammed Zanoon ActiveStills

Six United Nations human rights experts have condemned Israel’s use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

”We express our outrage over these shootings that may have resulted in unlawful killings and the incomprehensibly high number of injuries sustained,” the experts stated on Tuesday.

Israeli forces have killed 36 Palestinians in Gaza since 30 March, when the Great March of Return rallies were launched. The six-week protest is set to culminate on 15 May, when Palestinians commemorate the ethnic cleansing of the lands on which the state of Israel was declared in 1948.

At least 28 of those killed, including three children and a journalist marked as a member of the press, were fatally wounded during protests, according to the UN experts.

More than 1,600 protesters have been wounded by Israeli forces, including six journalists, one of whom is being treated in the occupied West Bank for serious injuries.

The experts who condemned Israel’s killing of Gaza protesters include the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; adequate housing; human rights defenders; and the rights to freedom of assembly and association.

The group reiterated the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’s warning to Israeli leaders that the lethal crackdown on protests could constitute crimes liable for prosecution.

Human Rights Watch has stated that the deadly force against the protesters was “planned at the highest levels of the Israeli government.”

Call for independent investigation

The UN experts stated that an Israeli probe into the killings “may lack the independence, impartiality and effectiveness required by the international law.”

“Coupled with reports that some Israeli officials have suggested the purpose of the investigation is to avoid scrutiny from the international community and the ICC, we believe an independent investigation is the only way to truly address what has happened in Gaza, and to prevent its recurrence,” they added.

Probes undertaken by Israel’s military have been excoriated by human rights groups as whitewashing mechanisms that only serve to bolster impunity and and deter investigation by the ICC.

The UN experts also called for an immediate end to Israel’s 11-year blockade of Gaza “which is imposing untold suffering on the population.”

The blockade is a form of collective punishment, which is “prohibited under international law, and there must be international accountability for such actions,” the group stated.

Hundreds of those injured by Israel during the last three consecutive Friday protests in Gaza may be temporarily or permanently disabled, according to the World Health Organization.

Medical personnel have reported devastating gunshot wounds, and doctors in Gaza have shared images of bullets recovered from patients that appear to have fragmented or expanded when entering the body.

Using bullets that expand or flatten is a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court.

Yusif Karnaz (Image courtesy of Yusif Karnaz)

On Monday, Israel’s high court ruled that a Palestinian youth shot and wounded by soldiers on 30 March must be permitted to leave Gaza for urgent medical treatment in the occupied West Bank.

The youth, 20-year-old Yusif Karnaz, has already had one leg amputated after Israel initially denied him permission to travel for surgery that would save his limbs.

Israel admitted that it refused Karnaz’s request, as well as that of 17-year-old Muhammad al-Ajouri, as a form of punishment for protesting.

“During the court hearings, state representatives made clear that Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman had decided to prevent the evacuation for urgent medical care of wounded Gazans who had participated in protests and sit-in demonstrations – even at the cost of amputation,” the human rights group Adalah stated on Monday.

Routine deaths and injuries

Four human rights groups based in Israel petitioned the country’s high court on Sunday, demanding that it revoke open fire regulations allowing soldiers to shoot at unarmed demonstrators.

The court rejected the groups’ request for an urgent hearing ahead of protests on Friday but ordered the army to respond to the petition within 10 days, according to the rights group Gisha.

“The Israeli army’s use of live ammunition in proximity to Gaza’s perimeter fence occurs routinely, not only during protests, and frequently results in death or injury,” Gisha stated.

Israeli soldiers operate under an apparent shoot-to-kill policy in Gaza’s boundary areas. The exact range of the zone is undeclared but is generally understood to be within 300 meters of the Gaza-Israel boundary.

Eight Palestinians inside Gaza were killed protesting against Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December alone.

Israeli forces and armed civilians have killed 58 Palestinians since the beginning of the year, more than three times the number killed during the first four months of 2017.

Five Israelis were killed by Palestinians since the start of 2018.

No Israelis have been killed or injured in the course of the Great March of Return rallies that started in Gaza on 30 March.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.