“Gaza is about to explode” said Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in a brief to the Security Council on the 26th of April.
Tensions in Gaza have resurged after the recent protests. Current figures estimate that the Israeli military has killed over 40 Palestinians since protests began on the 30th of March. Geneva International Centre for Justice joins the leaders of the international community, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary General, in condemning the use of lethal force by Israeli security forces against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters.
Palestinians gather for a protest. The New York Times
These demonstrations, called the Great March of Return, began on the 30th of March and will continue until the 15th of May. The Palestinians call the 15th the Nakba - catastrophe - the day that Palestinians were expelled from their land due to the creation of Israel in 1948.
Protesters have gathered by the Gaza fence six Fridays in a row to protest the blockade. Demonstrations have taken place at tent camps around 600-700 meters from the perimeter fence. A few hundred protesters, out of tens of thousands, have approached the fence, burning tyres, throwing rocks, and using kites to fly flaming materials into Israeli territory. According to Israeli sources, protesters have also thrown fire bombs and other explosive devices. Israeli security forces responded with lethal force, using rubber bullets, tear gas (thrown and dropped by drones), and live ammunition. Over 40 Palestinians, including four children and journalists wearing press jackets, have been killed while more than 7,000 have been injured. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
Doctors in Gaza have seen wounds consistent with rifles that fire 5.56mm military ammunition, as well as those that shoot 7.62mm hunting ammunition which expand and mushroom inside the body. There have been reports of a high number of knee injuries. This suggests that the Israeli security forces are intentionally aiming to inflict life-changing injuries.
Likely due to international pressure, Israel has said that a fact-finding mechanism will review the use of force, including fatalities of Palestinian protesters. Additionally, Friday the 4th of May 2018, showed a significant decrease in the use of live ammunition. Israeli forces gave verbal warnings to protesters about incoming live fire and urged protesters to retreat from the fence. However, just two days later, on May 6th, Israel attacked northern Gaza in an air raid, stating that it was in retaliation for the kites that had set fire to Israeli land. The strike apparently targeted the location from which the kites were being launched. No fatalities were reported.
Palestinians burn tires to protect them from Israeli snipers. Times of Israel
The Palestinian people, who number over eight million, live in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. These Occupied Territories include East Jerusalem, Israel, neighbouring Arab States, refugee camps in the region, and in other countries across the globe. Although Israel officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the residents have had to endure 50 years of control, culminating in the closure of the area. In the last 11 years, civilians in the Gaza Strip have suffered from Israel’s illegal blockade and three wars. Residents have lived under severe restrictions of movement implemented by the closure of the land, sea and air space. Around 22,000 people in the Gaza Strip remain internally displaced, almost four years after the 2014 hostilities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Youth unemployment, at 60%, is one of the highest in the world and electricity often only works for four hours a day. Gaza has very limited medical resources and patients are unable to leave Gaza for treatment.
Even after the 2014 war came to a close, Gaza had no opportunity to rebuild as they cannot import building materials. This occupation has damaged the civilian infrastructure and the delivery of essential services. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in January 2015, that examination is still ongoing. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has said that “any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to my Office's scrutiny” and urged “all those concerned to refrain from further escalating this tragic situation”.
A wounded Palestinian is moved away from the site as Israeli forces fire at protesters. Middle East Monitor
The right to protest
Under international law, people have the right to peaceful assembly and expression, meaning that peaceful and non-violent demonstrations and protests must be permitted. In response, Israeli security forces must discharge their duties with necessary and proportionate means. International law prohibits the use of lethal force against civilians unless they participate directly in acts of hostility or pose a concrete risk to life. Participation in a demonstration does not, in and of itself, constitute an act of hostility or direct endangerment of life, and therefore does not justify the use of live bullets. However, images and videos of people running away, posing no immediate threat, and being shot in the back have circulated worldwide.
Children as young as 14 have been killed in the Protests. Mohammad Ayyoub is one such child, killed by a bullet to the head. “The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. “It is difficult to see how children, even those throwing stones, can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel”. Killings from the unlawful use of force may constitute wilful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israeli courts have been accused of applying double standards to Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Ben Deri, an Israeli border police officer, was filmed shooting dead Nadim Nuwarra during protests in May 2014. Deri was recently sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for an additional six months and fined. A plea deal reduced the original charge of manslaughter to negligent use of a firearm. In comparison, Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian, who was filmed slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers, has accepted a plea deal to serve eight months in prison.
Ahed Tamimi at the Role of Women in the Palestinian Popular Struggle Conference.
A UN spokesperson has counselled Israel to calibrate its use of force against the protesters and called on Hamas and leaders of the demonstrations to keep protesters away from the perimeter fence. On the 27th of April, the High Commissioner condemned the "excessive force" used by Israeli Security forces. "The loss of life is deplorable and the staggering number of injuries caused by live ammunition only confirms the sense that excessive force has been used against demonstrators - not once, not twice, but repeatedly, I am doubly concerned by reports of unusually severe injuries resulting from the use of live ammunition. Furthermore, many of those seeking treatment outside of Gaza have been refused permits by Israel to leave, which has increased the suffering” he stated.
Several NGOs have urged governments to impose an arms embargo on Israel following the Israeli response to the demonstrations. The United States is Israel’s main supplier of military equipment and technology, but other countries, including France, Germany, the UK and Italy, have also licensed military equipment for Israel.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) has a long history of advocacy for the Palestinian cause and for the daily violations committed against this population. GICJ has been working constantly to draw the attention of the relevant UN bodies and the international community towards these violations as well as towards the perpetual refusal of Israel to comply with UN resolutions. The shocking lack of accountability for the crimes committed in Palestine is what has allowed and will allow their perpetration throughout the decades, unless urgent and definitive action is taken.
Geneva International Centre for Justice condemns the use of lethal force by the Israeli security forces against the protesters and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. It is unquestionable that the injuries and loss of life near the fence could have been prevented had the rules of engagement followed international law, rather than by a means of crowd control. Palestinians have the right to protest and Israel must respect this right. In addition, special care must be taken to protect children, as befitting their protected status under international law.
GICJ also calls on the international community to use all means to ensure Israel complies with the obligations enshrined in international law including an arms embargo.
Ending the occupation
None of the violations can be adequately addressed without ending the illegal occupation and guaranteeing the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. Therefore, we reiterate our recommendations to the international community to spare no efforts to establish a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region by granting the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and their right to freely determine their political status and advance their economic, social, and cultural development. The realization of Palestinians’ long-denied rights will constitute a significant victory for all those suffering from injustice as well as for all those believing in human rights and humanity.
Urgent Appeals on Palestine by GICJ:
GICJ Activities on the Human Rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories
GICJ Urgent Appeals on Palestine:
- GICJ - Punishing people for the misdeeds of others clearly violates international law - July 2014
- A match in the powder keg: The occupying force continues to contravene international law - April 2014
- GICJ – Urgent Appeal on the Forcible eviction of Ein Hijleh - February 2014
- UN press release on behalf of Issa Amro - September 2013
- GICJ –Urgent appeal following arbitrary arrest of Sireen Khudiri - June 2013
- GICJ – Follow-up appeal on behalf of HR defender - June 2013
- GICJ - Follow-up appeal on the case of Mr. Issa Amro - April 2013
- GICJ - Urgent Appeal to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders - March 2013
- GICJ – Urgent Appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 - February 2013
GICJ Side-Events and oral statements on Palestine:
Human Rights Council - 30th regular session (14 September - 2 October 2015)
Human Rights Council - 29th regular session (15 June - 3 July 2015)
Human Rights Council - 21st special session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (23 July 2014)
Human Rights Council - 26th regular session (10 - 27 June 2014):
Human Rights Council - 25th regular session (3 - 28 March 2014):
Human Rights Council - 24th regular session (9 - 27 September 2013):
- Side-event: Human Rights in Palestine - Palestinian Refugees in Diaspora and their Right of Return, Where to?
- Side-event: Human Rights in Middle East - Give Peace a chance
- Democracy and the Right to self-determination
- GICJ statements on Palestine
Human Rights Council - 23rd regular session (27 May - 14 June 2013):