(New York) – Israeli forces’ repeated use of lethal force in the Gaza Strip since March 30, 2018, against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life may amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Israeli forces have killed more than 100 protesters in Gaza and wounded thousands with live ammunition.
The United Nations General Assembly should support a resolution that calls for exploring measures to guarantee the protection of Palestinians in Gaza, and a UN inquiry mandated to investigate all violations and abuses should identify Israeli officials responsible for issuing unlawful open-fire orders.
The killings also highlight the need for the International Criminal Court to open a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine. Third countries should impose targeted sanctions against officials responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations.
“Israel’s use of lethal force when there was no imminent threat to life has taken a heavy toll in life and limb,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“The international community needs to rip up the old playbook, where Israel conducts investigations that mainly whitewash the conduct of its troops and the US blocks international accountability with its Security Council veto, and instead impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”
Kuwait has brought a resolution to the UN General Assembly that deplores Israel’s use of live ammunition against protesters in Gaza, as well as rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups at Israeli population centers, and calls for an end to the closure of Gaza and for the UN Secretary General to consider options to better protect Palestinians in Gaza. Kuwait sought General Assembly action after the US vetoed this resolution at the Security Council on June 1.
Human Rights Watch interviewed nine people who witnessed Israeli forces shooting protesters in Gaza on May 14, the day with the highest toll of deaths and injuries so far when more than 60 people were killed, and another who saw a journalist shot and killed on April 6. Seven of these interviewees not only witnessed people being shot, but were also themselves shot. The shootings happened at places where protests were held near the perimeter fences that separate the Gaza Strip from Israel, including east of Jabalya, Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and Rafah.
Their accounts, along with photographs and videos, show a pattern of Israeli forces shooting people who posed no imminent threat to life with live ammunition. Israel should pay adequate compensation in all cases in which its forces unlawfully shot people or killed their family members.
Six of the witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were 200 to 300 meters from the two parallel fences, that in most places separate Gaza’s eastern periphery and Israel, on May 14 when Israeli forces shot them or people close to them with live ammunition.
The victims include journalists, civil defense workers, and volunteers trying to evacuate the wounded, and a child running away from the fences.
Three other witnesses said that soldiers shot them when they were between 30 and 40 meters from the fences. These three include a 14-year-old boy and a 48-year-old man, shot in separate incidents, who said they had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers.
A third man said he had approached the fences and thrown stones at Israeli forces, but that he was shot later, while attempting to evacuate another man who was shot and wounded. The accounts are consistent with numerous news reports and videos that show Palestinians being shot while standing still or running away from the fences.
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