The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem urged the United Nations on Thursday to “do all in its power – and its responsibility” to protect unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, one day after journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein died of injuries sustained while covering protests on 13 April.
Abu Hussein, a photographer for Voice of the People Radio, is the second journalist to be killed by Israeli occupation forces during the Great March of Return protests along Gaza’s eastern boundary since 30 March.
Like Yaser Murtaja, who was fatally wounded while covering the protests on 6 April, Abu Hussein was wearing a protective helmet marked “TV” and a flak jacket marked with the word PRESS when he was shot.
Video shows Abu Hussein, 24, wearing a blue helmet when he was hit amid a crowd of protesters in northern Gaza:
“Protective gear that clearly indicates individuals are members of the press should afford them extra protection – not make them targets,” Sherif Mansour from the Committee to Protect Journalists stated on Wednesday.
Thirty-five Palestinians, including four children, have been killed during the protests that are set to culminate around the 15 May commemoration of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of the lands on which the state of Israel was declared in 1948.
“These horrific casualty figures – the 35 Palestinians killed and 1,500 injured by live ammunition – are the predictable outcome of the manifestly illegal rules of engagement implemented during the demonstrations, of ordering soldiers to use lethal gunfire against unarmed demonstrators who pose no mortal danger,” B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad stated in a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“Like so many other Palestinians in Gaza, it is highly likely that they never had a chance to leave the small patch of land – roughly half the size of New York City – which is the Gaza Strip,” El-Ad added.
“They lived their lives without any political rights, devoid of any hope for a reasonable future, totally subject to the decisions and policies of the Israeli government.”
El-Ad pointed to Israel’s political leadership, in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the army chief of staff, for “responsibility for these fatal outcomes.”
Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov, meanwhile, warned the UN Security Council on Thursday that “Gaza is about to explode.”
He called on Israel to “calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire.”
“Lethal force should be used only as a last resort,” he said, also urging Hamas and protest leaders to keep demonstrators away from the Gaza boundary fence.
Mladenov said that the Palestinian Authority’s suspension of payment of salaries to some 20,000 civil servants in Gaza has had a “devastating” impact and called for the resumption of public sector salaries “without delay.”
“The combination of the security, development and humanitarian deterioration that we see in Gaza, coupled with the political impasse, make the Strip a powder keg,” he said.
Ten Democrats in the US House of Representatives called on Israel “to immediately stop using deadly force against unarmed protesters” on Thursday:
Last week five members of Congress broke the near-silence on Israel’s lethal force against Gaza demonstrators by backing B’Tselem’s call on Israeli soldiers to defy illegal orders to open fire on unarmed Palestinians.
In their statement released on Thursday, the Democrat representatives, like Mladenov, called on both Palestinians and Israeli forces to exercise restraint. However, not a single Israeli has been reported injured as a result of the protests, compared to more than 5,500 Palestinians who have been injured, according to figures released by Gaza’s health ministry on Thursday.
More than 1,700 Palestinians have been wounded by live fire during the protests, and 143 are in critical condition, according to the health ministry.
The human rights groups Adalah and Al Mezan petitioned Israel’s high court this week to order the military to stop using live fire against demonstrators in Gaza.
The army’s “open-fire policy against protesters in Gaza is patently illegal … This policy perceives the [Palestinian] human body as an expendable, worthless object,” Adalah attorney Suhad Bishara argues in the petition.
The petition includes “12 video clips documenting Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed protesters – including women and children – who did not endanger any lives,” Adalah stated.
“Testimony and video documentation reveals a chilling picture of live ammunition fired routinely and in large quantities at protesters who posed no threat or danger,” the petition states.
“Videos and first-person testimonies also reveal a horrifying trend of shooting at specific demonstrators in order to kill or harm them.”
Multiple human rights groups have accused Israel of deliberately injuring and maiming Palestinian civilians during the protests.
Doctors have reported “horrific injuries” likely to leave many of them with permanent disabilities.
In addition to targeting journalists, human rights groups have accused Israel of attacking paramedics and their equipment.
Nearly 80 medics have been injured during the Great March of Return protests, five of them by live fire, according to Al Mezan, and 20 ambulances have been damaged by Israeli shooting.
Medics have reported being wounded while transferring injured protesters to ambulances.
“Israeli forces’ attacks on Palestinian medical staff in Gaza only compound the dire reality of the health sector, defined by lack of resources,” Al Mezan stated.
UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick stated this week that “Over the course of four Fridays of demonstrations, far more Palestinians have been injured in the Gaza Strip than in the preceding three years combined.”
In addition to Israel’s crackdown having a “catastrophic impact” on Gaza’s long-struggling medical sector, McGoldrick added, “For every Palestinian killed or injured in recent weeks, there is a family that is also affected. The physical and psychological impact of recent events will last for years.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released more than $2 million in funds to meet urgent humanitarian needs resulting from the massive number of casualties in Gaza.
It said another $3 million is required “to respond to needs emerging since 30 March, on top of the $406 million required in 2018 to meet humanitarian needs in Gaza, stemming primarily from the ongoing Israeli blockade, alongside internal Palestinian political divisions.”
Meanwhile, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, warned that it may run out of emergency food aid for a million Palestinian refugees in Gaza after the Trump administration withheld $305 million in funding.
- Great March of Return
- Ahmad Muhammad Abu Hussein
- attacks on journalists
- attacks on medical workers
- attacks on paramedics
- Sherif Mansour
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Hagai El-Ad
- António Guterres
- Nickolay Mladenov
- Democratic Party
- Suhad Bishara
- Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
- Jamie McGoldrick