UN: Israel may have ‘willfully killed’ Gaza protesters

"No indication was found that the demonstrators – including children who were killed or seriously injured by live fire – represented an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers"

September 9, 2019 19:10
3 minute read.
UN: Israel may have ‘willfully killed’ Gaza protesters

A Palestinian woman shouts slogans during a March of Return protest at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, east of Gaza City August 31, 2018. . (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)

 The UN accused Israel of killing and injuring “peaceful” Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border, when it opened the 42nd session of its Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

“In the vast majority of cases monitored by my office, no indication was found that the demonstrators – including children who were killed or seriously injured by live fire – represented an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury to the Israeli soldiers – or anyone else,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the council.

Her words echoed the conclusion of a UN Commission of Inquiry into the weekly Gaza border protests that began on March 30, 2018, under the rubric of the Hamas-led “Great March of Return.” A report the commission submitted to the UNHRC found that the protests were largely peaceful, even though they included violent riots and border infiltrations. Palestinians have also placed explosive devices by the Gaza border fence and have launching incendiary devices against southern Israel that have burned thousands of acres of forests and fields.

In March, the council asked Bachelet for an update in September about the fate of the protesters over the last half year.

“Serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law have continued” in this period, Bachelet told the council.

She acknowledged that there were protesters who “damaged and breached the fence,” threw petrol bombs, sound grenades and improvised explosive devices towards Israeli soldiers, injuring two, she said.

Between March and August, some “180 burning kites and incendiary balloons” were launched, she added.

In response, the IDF has “used tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, water cannon and sound devices, as well as regularly firing live ammunition against the demonstrators,” she said.

  Since March 22, “13 Palestinians, including five children, have been killed at the border protests. Just last Friday, two more boys, aged 14 and 17, were killed,” she said.

“Initial monitoring suggests they were killed in circumstances where there was no threat to life or serious injury, and thus the use of lethal force may have been excessive,” Bachelet added.

Some 859 Palestinians have also been injured by live ammunition in the last half year, a significant drop from the more than 6,800 demonstrators injured by live ammunition in the first year of the protests, the commisioner said.

In the last six months, the number of demonstrators at the weekly border protests have dropped, from between 10,000 to 15,000 people down to about 6,000 to 8,000 people, Bachelet said.

Fatalities have also dropped, Bachelet said, adding that during the first year of the marches, 189 people were killed at the border, including 38 children.

Lethal force can only be used as a last resort in situations of “imminent threat of death or serious injury,” she  said. Failure to do so, “may constitute an act of willful killing.”

Israel “bears the main responsibility for any killing and injury” of children who participate in the protests, but organizers should also prohibit children from participating.

In a separate statement reviewing global human rights issues, Bachelet said she was also concerned that the IDF was unjustly targeting Palestinians in the West Bank.

“I am particularly concerned by very high levels of settler violence, and Israel’s failure to adequately protect Palestinians from such attacks, or hold the perpetrators to account,” she said.

Home demolitions have increased, with 481 people displaced so far this year compared to 472 in all of 2018, Bachelet said.

“Settler violence, demolitions and forced evictions all contribute to an environment which coerces Palestinians to leave their homes,” she said.

The 42nd session ends on September 27 and is not expected to involve any resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UNHRC will debate alleged Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians on September 23 under Agenda Item 7.

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