Rights groups slam Israeli ‘crimes’ in Gaza

Human rights organizations have come out in full condemnation of Israel's violent response to massive unarmed civilian protests in Gaza on March 30, which left 16 Palestinians—one farmer and 15 protesters —dead along the Strip's border. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, released a statement condemning Israel's use of military snipers against the civilian protesters. "The Israeli military's use of 100 snipers against unarmed Palestinian civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip is illegal," the statement said, adding that "live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants." 

"Israel is obligated to act in accordance with international law," Adalah said, adding that it will be calling for an investigation into those responsible for the deaths in Gaza, and "will demand that those found responsible for the killings be brought to justice."

According to the group, o the day before 16 Palestinians were shot dead along the border with Gaza, Adalah and the Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Israeli Military Advocate General "demanding they act to prevent the use of sniper fire against protesters or for crowd dispersion, and to clearly and directly order Israeli forces to refrain from use of live ammunition of any variety – including sniper fire."

The groups also sent a second letter calling on the Israeli military "to remove all social media posts threatening participants in today's Gaza march that they will be military targets and also remove social media posts threatening the civilian population in Gaza."

Leading up to the march, the Israeli army released a statement saying it had declared the border area along Gaza a "closed military zone," meaning that any Palestinian who got close to the border fence could risk getting shot. The Israeli army released statements on Twitter describing the protests as "violent riots."

Meanwhile, Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem released a statement March 29, condemning the repeated threats by Israeli officials to use lethal force against the civilian protesters. "Completely ignoring the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and Israel’s responsibility for it, they are couching the planned protest in terms of a security risk, framing the demonstrators as terrorists and referring to Gaza as a 'combat zone'," B’Tselem said.

"Fragments of information reported by the media indicate that: soldiers will be ordered to shoot anyone coming within 300 meters of the fence; snipers will fire at anyone touching it; live fire will be used also in circumstances which are non-life-threatening. In other words: shoot-to-kill unarmed Palestinians taking part in these demonstrations," the group said.

B’Tselem highlighted that Israel's policy of lethally shooting Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza has been in practice for some time, noting that "in December 2017 alone–the most lethal month in the last year–Israeli forces shot and killed eight unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza."

"Israel's presumption that it can dictate the actions of Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip is absurd. The decision where and whether and how to demonstrate in Gaza is not Israel's to make–not with regard to tomorrow's demonstrations nor in general with regard to daily life,"  B’Tselem said.

The group concluded by noting that official Israeli statements "have made no reference to the actual reason for the protest–the disastrous reality in Gaza–or to the right to free protest. Israel has the power to immediately change life in Gaza for the better, but has chosen not to do so. It has made Gaza a huge prison, yet forbids the prisoners even to protest against this, on pain of death."

Despite the Israeli army's claims, Palestinian activists and leaders in the Gaza Strip have maintained that the "March of Return" was organized as a massive non-violent, protest advocating for the return of Palestinian refugees to their original homelands in historic Palestine, now present-day Israel. March 30, Land Day for the Palestinians, was the first official day of the march. Leading up that day, Palestinians set up tents along the border with Gaza, where protesters plan to stay until the Nakba anniversary.

The majority of the nearly two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to the continuation of the military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border. The destruction from three Israeli offensives over the past six years, including damage to the enclave's water, sanitation, energy, and medical facilities, coupled with slow reconstruction due to the blockade, led the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be "uninhabitable" by 2020.

From Ma'an News Agency, Jan. 6

Note: The dates of the March of Return take on a particular significance, as March 30 was the Jewish holiday of Passover, while on this Nakba Day (Israel's independence day), the US is slated to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Nakba Day protests have occassioned violence in repeatedly in recent years. The UN has been warning since 2015 that the Gaza Strip is approaching "uninhabitability."

Photo: Maan News Agency

  1. Funerals begin for 15 Gazans killed by Israeli army

    The funerals of the Palestinians who died during the March 30 mass protests on the Israeli border began in Gaza, with the burial of a 15-year-old. The UN has called for a transparent inquiry into the deaths. "These peaceful demonstrators posed no threats whatsoever to Israel or its heavily armed soldiers. Yet its trigger happy soldiers used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets to shoot indiscriminately at those non-violent protesters," claimedd the Palestinians' UN envoy, Riyad Mansour.

    Israel insists Gaza medical officials have exaggerated the casualty figures, and denies using excessive force. Palestinian health officials said more than 750 Palestinians were hit by live rounds. Gaza City's Shifa Hospital received 284 injured people that day, the majority with bullet injuries. A spokesman said 70 were under the age of 18 and 11 were women.

    Israel claims several dozen at most were injured by live fire while the rest were merely shaken up by tear-gas and other means of riot dispersal.

    Said Major Keren Hajioff, public spokesman for the IDF: "What we've seen is a violent riot in its clearest form. The Hamas terrorist organization have sent their people to the border with Israel and Gaza in order to camouflage their true intentions of terror. They've sent their women and their children as a ploy to hide their true intentions."

    The weekend saw far fewer people in the five tented camps set up in the border zone, and the Israeli army warns if violence there continues, it will move against what it calls "terror organizations" in Gaza. (EuroNews, March 31)

  2. Seven more killed along Gaza Strip

    Palestinians returned to the Gaza border April 6, albeit in smaller numbers, holding a "Black Friday" or "Friday of Tires" protest, burning tires in an effort to block visibility for IDF forces. Nonetheless, seven Palestinians, including a 16-year-old youth, were killed by Israeli forces. (YNet, Maan)

  3. UN experts urge impartial investigation into Gaza killings

    UN human rights experts on April 6 urged the international community to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the killings by Israeli security forces of at least 16 Palestinian protesters near the Gaza fence. (Jurist)

  4. Palestinian journalist among slain on Gaza border

    Hundreds, including Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, attended the funeral of a well-known Palestinian journalist in Gaza on April 7, who was killed while covering mass protests along the Israeli border the previous day. Yasser Murtaja died from a gunshot wound he sustained while filming in an area engulfed in smoke from protesters setting tires on fire. Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least nine Palestinians and wounding hundreds of others in the second mass border protest in eight days. The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire over the past week. The Israeli military says it fired only at "instigators" involved in attacks on soldiers, and is investigating the circumstances of Murtaja's death. (AP)

  5. Avigdor Lieberman: ‘no innocents’ in Gaza

    Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Israel's Reshet Bet radio service: "There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip. Everyone’s connected to Hamas, everyone gets a salary from Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are Hamas military wing activists." (AFP, April 8)

  6. Ironies of Abbas Holocaust flap

    Amid all this, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offers a "history lesson" in which he asserts that the Holocaust was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by the "social behavior" of the Jews, including money-lending. He described the "social function" of Jews as "usury and banking and such." (ToF, BBC News) Cute. But not really surprising. We've noted before that Abbas wrote his doctoral thesis on the Holocaust, and has been widely accused of denial for citing historians who quibbled over the number of dead. Which sheds a questionable light on his calls for a Jew-free Palestine.

    Of course he issued an apology after the global outcry. But note the wording: "If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them." (Reuters) First, it is the "sorry if" construction, a form of pseudo-apology beloved of politicians. Second, it is in the usual problematic terms of "people of the Jewish faith" rather than Jews. This is a means of denying any Jewish identity other than a religious one. In other words: a Polish Jew is just a Pole who happens to be Jewish (which is bunk). Sorry, Mahmoud. I don't accept your apology. As an atheist, I am not a person "of the Jewish faith." But I am a Jew—and even as a non-believer, I'd have been Jewish enough for Hitler's gas chambers.

    But also rejecting the apology (of course) is Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has his own fascistic tendencies—to say the least.

    Not exactly the company I want to be in. Sigh…

  7. Israel convicts Palestinian poet of incitement to violence

    The Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour was convicted by the Nazareth District Court of incitement to terrorism and support for terror organizations because of posts on social media. Tatour, 36, a resident of the Galilee village of Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested in October 2015 after publishing, among others, a poem titled “Resist, my people, resist them." The indictment against her includes a translation of the poem, which includes the lines: "I will not succumb to the 'peaceful solution' / Never lower my flags / Until I evict them from my land."

    "My trial ripped off the masks," Tatour stated. "The whole world will hear my story. The whole world will hear what Israel's democracy is. A democracy for Jews only. Only Arabs go to jail The court said I am convicted of terrorism. If that's my terrorism, I give the world a terrorism of love."

    Tatour was arrested at time when lone-wolf stabbing attacks on Israelis were practically a daily event. She is charged with publishing on "various publications that call for violent acts or terrorism" on Facebook and YouTube, and "for praising and identifying with acts of violence or terrorism." (Haaretz, May 3)