Considering the United Nations Human Rights Council commission had no access to Gaza or cooperation from Israel, due to the biased mandate to only investigate Israel’s response to the Hamas-led riots along the Gaza border, PM Netanyahu rejected the report, saying the UN had set “new records for hypocrisy and mendacity out of an obsessive hatred of Israel.”
In a likely war crime, IDF soldiers deliberately shot at children and people with disabilities when it quelled Hamas-led protests on the Gaza border during the last 11 months, a United Nations Human Rights Council commission of inquiry reported on Thursday morning.
IDF soldiers “have intentionally shot children, they intentionally shot people with disabilities, they intentionally shot journalists,” said legal expert Sara Hossain of Bangladesh, who was one of the three investigators on the commission. She spoke at a press conference in Geneva, along with the two other experts who published the report on the Hamas-led protests, which Palestinians call the “Great March of Return” that began on March 30.
The snipers who shot at the protesters had high-level technological equipment, were backed up by tanks and separated from the protesters by a fence, Hossain said.
These are among the reasons that “the commission has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” said Argentinian legal expert Santiago Canton, who chaired the UNHRC’s commission of inquiry into the protests. “Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”
The commission stated that the intentional shooting of civilians “not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the report, saying the UN had set “new records for hypocrisy and mendacity out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is Hamas, which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence.”
He added: “Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel’s sovereignty and its people, and will maintain the right of self-defense. IDF soldiers will continue to vigorously defend Israeli citizens against attacks by Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations financed by Iran, which declares its intention to destroy Israel.”
Canton said that the Gaza border demonstrations were not military operations. The investigation found that the demonstrators were overwhelmingly unarmed, even if they were not always peaceful, he said.
The Gaza border report held both Israeli civilian and military leaders liable for the protest deaths before the International Criminal Court and in addition it claimed that individual soldiers could also be prosecuted for war crimes along the border.
The report recommended that UN member states consider imposing individual sanctions against Israeli leaders and soldiers. This could include arrests, travel bans or a freeze of financial assets, the commission stated.
It also encouraged member states who are parties to the Rome Statute to arrest or extradite citizens involved in Gaza deaths.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the findings confirmed “what we have always said, that Israel conducts war crimes against our people in Gaza and the West Bank, including in Jerusalem.”
He called on the International Criminal Court to “act immediately and open a probe into the crimes conducted [by Israel].”
The three-person panel investigated the deaths of the 189 Palestinians who were killed during the first nine months of the protests, which have been held on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.
“Israeli security forces killed 183 of these protesters with live ammunition. Thirty-five of these fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists,” the UNHRC report stated.
During that time, the IDF wounded 6,106 Palestinians with live ammunition and another 3,098 Palestinians were wounded by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by tear gas canisters, the report stated.
The 22-page document released is an initial summary with a more full report due out prior to March 18, when the UNHRC is scheduled to debate that document and six others that speak about alleged Israeli human rights abuses.
The commission said it had “conducted 325 interviews with victims, witnesses and sources, and gathered more than 8,000 documents.” It also made use of social media, audio-visual material, drone footage and the IDF web pages.
When the UNHRC voted to form a commission of inquiry last year, Israel blasted the biased nature of its mandate and banned its investigators from entering Gaza. Egypt also refused to allow the commission into Gaza, so all the investigators work was done remotely and without direct conversations with the IDF.
At the press conference, the three-member panel acknowledged that it did not know directly know what the IDF’s rules of engagement were, but had gleaned information from an Israeli High Court of Justice case.
The commission called on both Israel and Hamas to halt violence against civilians. The panel, however, said it had focused its work primarily on five Palestinian protest sites along the Gaza border. The report made some mention of Hamas violence against Israel, including the death of an Israeli soldier and the injury of four others.
At the start of its press conference, the commission showed a number clips of protesters who were killed in situations where they did not appear to be a threat. But it provided no corresponding video of violence along the border.
The IDF has argued that the protests are violent riots designed by Hamas to attempt to infiltrate into Israel. Protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails, burning tires and stones at IDF soldiers. They also placed explosive devices along the border fence and in some cases used live ammunition.
In addition, Palestinians launched incendiary devices that have landed in southern Israel, burning thousand of acres of fields and forests and endangering civilian lives.
In contrast, Canton said, “The commission finds that these protests were a call for help from a population in despair,” Canton said. “Not only Israel, but also the de facto authorities led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities towards them,” he said adding that Israel must lift its restrictions on the passage of goods and people in and out of Gaza.
Politicians and NGOs reacted to the report.
“The UN Human Rights Council bears no relation to the protection of human rights,” said Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. “It is Hamas and its leaders who must be held accountable for their actions. We will not accept the preaching of morals from a council led by authoritarian regimes that violate human rights on a daily basis.”
He added that when the United Nations ignores Hamas’s cynical exploitation of the “civilian” terror marches as cover for terrorist attacks and denies Israel’s right to defend its citizens, it becomes a partner in Hamas’s terrorism.
“Every country committed to the struggle against terrorism must reexamine its funding to the UN in light of its encouragement of Hamas terrorism,” Erdan said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett Bennett also responded the report.
“It’s hard to imagine the UN could sink any lower,” he said. “Alternating between excusing terror and ignoring terror, it is letting down democracies and backing dictators and tyrants.”
Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz said no one can “deny Israel’s right to self defense and its obligation to defend its borders and its citizens from violent attacks.”
Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s legal advisor and UN liaison, said, “None of this is surprising given the UN relied overwhelmingly on information provided by Hamas and terror-linked NGOs, and uncritically adopted their false claims. The commission itself had no military or legal expertise, and was completely unqualified to author this report.”
Two NGOs, UN Watch and My Truth, plan to take action against the report when its presented on to the UNHRC on March.
My Truth, an organization of IDF reservists said it has collected scores of testimonies from soldiers about the war crimes of terror organizations in Gaza, including their cynical manipulation of women, children and medical personnel. It plans to be in Geneva on the 18th to share those stories.
UN Watch plans to hold a rally outside the UNHRC on March 18 at noon, while debates debates the Gaza report and six others under Agenda Item 7. It will also speak inside the council.
Left-wing NGOs lauded the UNHRC report and said that Israel could have been spared the wrath of the international community if only it had listened to their advice by changing the IDF’s rules of engagement and vigorously investigating IDF misconduct.
“B’Tselem reiterates its call to immediately change the rules of engagement. Until such a time, soldiers are duty-bound to refuse to comply with such illegal orders,” the organization said.
Adalah — the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said it had provided information to the UNHRC commission. The report was “a scathing indictment of the Israeli government on all fronts,” said Adalah general director and attorney Hassan Jabareen.
The @UN says these “demonstrations” aim to make a political point. How often does political activity involve breaking through a border with knives while shouting death threats?https://t.co/T9Uwp9Z2Bf pic.twitter.com/S9pDRNQtVY
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) February 28, 2019
Yesh Din said, “The severe result of hundreds of dead and thousands injured in the demonstrations could have been avoided had Israel acted under international law rather than against it. Israel and the army must immediately change the open-fire regulations and forbid any use of lethal force in situations where there is no immediate danger to life.”
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