UN human rights experts have condemned the killings by Israeli security forces of at least 16 Palestinian protesters near the Gaza fence, and urged the international community to ensure accountability through an independent and impartial investigation into the Israeli response.
As many as 1,400 Palestinians have been wounded, some critically, since demonstrations began last Friday. Israeli forces used live ammunition and teargas against the demonstrators, who had gathered in occupied Gaza on the occasion of Land Day to call for their right to return to their homes. Most of Gaza’s population – which has been subjected to a comprehensive air, land and sea blockade by Israel for 10 years – is comprised of Palestinians who have been forcibly expelled from their homes and lands since 1948.
“International law sets strict prohibitions on the use of force by law enforcement officials,” said the human rights experts, who echoed a call by the UN Secretary General for an investigation into Israel’s response. The experts expressed deep concern at reports that Israel’s Minister of Defense stated that there will not be any inquiry into Israel’s actions.
“The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require law enforcement officials to refrain from using lethal force on demonstrators unless strictly unavoidable in order to protect their own or others’ lives – their safety must be in actual danger,” the experts said.
“There is no available evidence to suggest that the lives of heavily armed security forces were threatened,” the experts said. “Israel has ignored repeated demands by the international community to credibly investigate and prosecute substantial allegations of wrongful killings by its security forces,” they added.
A number of the dead and wounded were shot in their upper bodies while at considerable distances from the Israeli security forces, the experts noted, expressing concern at the apparent disregard for the lives of Palestinian protesters. They noted that wilful killing or serious injury of the protected population amounts to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The experts also noted with alarm reports that the Israeli Defence Forces posted the following message on its twitter feed on Saturday with respect to the events on Friday: “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
The experts remind the Government of Israel that peaceful protest is a legitimate exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and that Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to protect and to respect the human rights of the Palestinians living in occupied Gaza.
The UN human rights experts pointed out that, while Israel is entitled to take measures to ensure its security, it must be guided by international human rights law in the force that it employs, exercising restraint and resorting to the use of lethal force only against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.