The UN Human Rights Council recently published a report on Israel’s killings of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza. Its key findings are summarised below:
◙ Key Finding #1: The Great March of Return was not organised by Hamas, but by a wide array of civil society groups and activists of many different political persuasions.
The report states that the idea of the Great March of Return was first devised by a 34-year-old Palestinian poet and journalist named Ahmed Abu Artema; thereafter, “Abu Artema, civil society activists and other stakeholders drew up a charter of 12 principles, envisaging a national march by Palestinians of all ages, genders, political and social groups”.
Subsequently, a national committee and 12 sub-committees were established to organise the planning of the demonstrations; its members came from many different sectors of Palestinian society, “including civil society, cultural and social organizations, student unions, women’s groups, eminent persons and members of clans”. Representatives from Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were also present, although, crucially, “the armed wings of these parties were not represented on the committee”.
Despite the varying political persuasions of the members of the committee, “the unifying element was the principle that the march was to be “fully peaceful from beginning to the end” and demonstrators would be unarmed”.
◙ Key Finding #2: The demonstrations were civilian in nature.
The report states that “the demonstrations were civilian in nature, had clearly stated political aims and, despite some acts of significant violence, did not constitute combat or a military campaign”. Crucially, the report affirms that this assessment “did not change following the commission’s investigation into the demonstrators’ affiliation to or membership in organized armed groups”.
◙ Key Finding #3: The demonstrations were family-friendly events.
The first demonstrations, which began on 30 May 2018, were “reportedly attended that day by between 40,000 and 50,000 Palestinian men, women, children, elders, civil society and political activists, and public figures”. According to the report, the atmosphere was “initially festive, with activities in tents including poetry readings, seminars, lectures and cultural and sporting activities”. Israeli security forces responded almost immediately with live ammunition.
Here are some excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of unarmed demonstrators being severely injured and/or killed:
• Mohammad Obeid (24)
Mohammad was a footballer. At approximately 9 a.m., Israeli forces shot him with a single bullet in both legs while he was walking alone approximately 150 m from the separation fence. His injuries ended his football career.
• Schoolboy (16)
Israeli forces shot a schoolboy in the face as he distributed sandwiches to demonstrators, 300 m from the separation fence. His hearing is now permanently impaired.
• Yousef Kronz (19)
Israeli forces shot Yousef, a student journalist, in the legs with two bullets in immediate succession. He was wearing a blue vest marked “Press” while photographing the demonstrations approximately 800 m from the separation fence. His right leg had to be amputated.
• Mohammad Ajouri (17)
Israeli forces shot Mohammad, a student athlete, in the back of his right leg as he gave onions to demonstrators to relieve tear-gas symptoms, approximately 300 m from the fence. His leg had to be amputated.
• Abdel Fatah Nabi (18)
Israeli forces killed Abed, from Beit Lahia, when they shot him in the back of the head as he ran, carrying a tyre, away from and about 400 m from the separation fence.
◙ Key Finding #4: Hamas was not responsible for incendiary kites, wire cutting or tyre burning.
The report states that some activities, such as “the launching of incendiary kites, cutting barbed wire or tyre burning, began to be organized by self-declared “units”, some of them through their own Facebook pages. The commission found no evidence to suggest that they were directed or coordinated by armed groups”.
Here are some further excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of unarmed demonstrators being severely injured and/or killed during the demonstrations on May 14:
• Yasser Habeeb (24)
Yasser, from Gaza City, was shot in the neck by Israeli forces when he was approximately 100 m from the fence, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and burning tyres. He died on 25 May.
• Ala’a Khteeb (27)
Ala’a, from Gaza City, was among a group of young men and women who cut through the barbed wire coils and approached the separation fence shouting “God is great”. Israeli forces shot Ala’a in the head. He died the same day.
• Husein Abu Aweida (41)
Israeli forces shot Husein, a food seller from Gaza City, in the back as he stood about 200m from the separation fence. He died of his wounds two weeks later.
• Schoolboy (16)
Israeli forces shot a schoolboy from Shuja’iya, Gaza City in the leg with live ammunition when he was approximately 80 m from the separation fence. He underwent three leg amputations.
• Mohammad Najar (33)
Israeli forces shot Mohammad, a naval police officer, in the chest, killing him, as he sat on a hill with a friend, around 500 m from the separation fence.
• Mahmoud Jundya (20)
Israeli forces shot Mahmoud, a journalism student from Gaza City, in the leg as he filmed the demonstrations on his mobile phone, 50 m from the separation fence. Israeli forces then killed him with a shot to the back as he lay on the ground.
This is an excerpt from the report featuring the testimony of an international journalist covering the demonstrations on May 14:
“What was notable was the amount of injured people. And the slow, methodical shooting. Every few minutes… you would hear a shot ring out and you would see someone fall. And then another shot and another person fell. It went on for hours…
I saw a man who had been shot in the throat, I didn’t see it happen but I saw the immediate aftermath. He was covered in blood. I saw a man who had been shot in the head…
There was a constant stream of bloody bodies being carried back towards the ambulances. It was surreal and endless. It became almost normal, it was happening so often. A shot, a person falling, people carrying the body away.
The number of wounded was astonishing. I couldn’t say how many people I saw who were shot because it was so high. I have covered wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya. I have never seen anything like this. The slow methodical shooting. It was just shocking…”
Here are some further excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of children being shot dead by Israeli snipers:
• Ibrahim Abu Shaar (17)
On 30 March, Israeli forces shot Ibrahim, a candy seller from Rafah, in the back of the head as he walked away, approximately 100 m from the separation fence, after he and his companion threw stones at Israeli soldiers. He died almost instantly.
• Wisal Sheikh-Khalil (14)
On 14 May, Israeli forces shot Wisal from the Maghazi refugee camp in the head when she was approximately 100 m from the separation fence, after she had approached it several times to hang a Palestinian flag there. She died instantly.
• Yasser Abu Naja (11)
On 29 June, Israeli forces killed Yasser from Khan Younis with a shot to the head as he was hiding with two friends behind a bin, approximately 200 m from the separation fence. The children had been chanting national slogans at Israeli forces.
• Mohammad Hoom (14)
On 28 September, Israeli forces shot Mohammad, from the Bureij camp, in his chest as he ran away from the separation fence. The bullet hit his heart; he died the same day.
◙ Key Finding #5: Israeli security forces intentionally shot children who posed no threat to them.
“The commission found that Israeli security forces used lethal force against children who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to its soldiers. Four of the children were shot as they walked or ran away from the fence.
Several children were recognizable as such when they were shot. The commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children”.
Here are some excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of medical personnel being shot dead by Israeli snipers:
• Razan Najar (20)
On 1 June, an Israeli sniper bullet hit Razan, of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and who at the time was wearing a white paramedic vest and standing with other volunteer paramedics approximately 110 m from the separation fence, in the chest at the Khuzaa site, east of Khan Younis. She died in hospital.
• Abed Abdullah Qotati (22)
On 10 August, in Rafah, Israeli forces killed Abed, who was wearing a white paramedic jacket and carrying a red first-aid kit, with a shot to the chest as he was tending to a wounded demonstrator near the separation fence. He died that day.
◙ Key Finding #6: Israeli security forces intentionally shot medical personnel.
“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers intentionally shot health workers, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such”.
Here are some excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of journalists being shot dead by Israeli snipers:
• Yasser Murtaja (30)
On 6 April, Yasser, a journalist from Gaza City, was shot in the lower abdomen by Israeli forces at the Khan Younis site while he was filming the demonstrations for a documentary. He was wearing a blue helmet and a dark blue bulletproof vest clearly marked “Press”. He died the following day.
• Ahmed Abu Hussein (24)
On 13 April, Ahmed, a journalist from the Jabaliya refugee camp was shot by an Israeli sniper in the lower abdomen at the north Gaza site while he was taking photographs of the demonstrations, approximately 300 m from the separation fence. He was wearing a blue helmet and a blue vest clearly marked “Press”. He died of his injuries 12 days later.
◙ Key Finding #7: Israeli security forces intentionally shot journalists.
“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such”.
Here are some excerpts from the report detailing specific cases of disabled people being shot dead by Israeli snipers:
• Fadi Abu Salmi (29, double amputee)
Fadi, from Khan Younis, had had both legs amputated following an Israeli airstrike in 2008. On 14 May, Israeli snipers shot him in the chest at the Abasan Al-Jadida protest site, where he was sitting in his wheelchair with two friends approximately 300 m from the separation fence. He died immediately.
• Ahmad Abu Aqel (24, walked with crutches)
Ahmad, from the Jabaliya refugee camp, walked with crutches, having been injured by Israeli forces during a demonstration in 2017. On 20 April, Israeli forces shot him in the back of the head as he sat on a hill approximately 150 m from the separation fence. He died that day.
• Mohammad Abdulnaby (27, walked with crutches)
Mohammad, from the Jabaliya refugee camp, walked with crutches. On 26 October, Israeli forces killed him with a shot to the head, approximately 200 m from the separation fence.
◙ Key Finding #8: Israeli security forces intentionally shot disabled people.
“The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that the Israeli snipers shot these demonstrators intentionally, despite seeing that they had visible disabilities”.
◙ Key Finding #9: Many of the injuries inflicted on demonstrators have been life-changing.
The report states that “21 people became paralysed by injuries to the spinal cord and nine people suffered permanent loss of vision”. Shockingly, more people “lost limbs during the demonstrations than during the entire Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014”. As of 31 December 2018, “122 demonstrators had undergone amputations, including 20 children and a woman; of these, 98 were lower-limb amputations”.
◙ Key Finding #10: Israeli security forces targeted the groins of demonstrators.
The report details the following case of a 15-year-old boy suffering a particularly debilitating injury: “On 26 October, at the maritime demonstration site in North Gaza, Israeli forces shot a schoolboy, standing some 120 m from the separation fence, with a single bullet to the testicles. He is now unable to walk more than 30 m and has been forced to drop out of school”.
The report goes on to state that the commission found that “Israeli security forces shot a number of male demonstrators in the lower abdomen and groin. It also received reports of women being shot in the groin. These victims have told the commission that they were now unlikely to be able to have children”.
◙ Key Finding #11: The injuries that demonstrators suffered have been particularly devastating and complex.
“According to an international doctor working at a Gaza hospital, interviewed by the commission, “It was striking the number of extremely similar injuries; massive open wounds in the legs, with skin and muscles ‘blown out’, bones smashed to pieces, and damage to blood vessels leading to vascular injury, putting the entire limb at risk”‘.
◙ Key Finding #12: Injured demonstrators have been unable to seek treatment abroad due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
“As the health system in Gaza deteriorated owing to the blockade, doctors began to refer cases requiring equipment and expertise that were unavailable to hospitals in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and abroad. Israeli and Egyptian authorities denied, delayed or did not respond to several requests of persons to exit Gaza for medical treatment, with fatal consequences”.
◙ Key Finding #13: Israel’s targeting of unarmed demonstrators was illegal under international law.
“The commission… found reasonable grounds to believe that demonstrators were shot in violation of their right to life or of the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law”.
◙ Key Finding #14: Israel’s targeting of demonstrators who were also members of armed groups was illegal under international law.
A minority of demonstrators who were shot and killed by Israeli security forces belonged to armed groups. According to the report, Israel had no legal right to kill them; “In accordance with the law enforcement paradigm as informed by international human rights law and in the absence of arms and active hostilities, the commission concluded that, in this specific context, targeting individuals purely on the basis of their membership of an armed group and not on their conduct at the time was impermissible. The applicable tests remain whether an individual, at the time targeted, was directly participating in hostilities or posed an imminent threat to life. If not, targeting of such persons with lethal force was unlawful”.
◙ Key Finding #15: The blockade of Gaza is illegal.
“The commission found that the ongoing blockade of Gaza and its impact on the health-care system in Gaza, and the ensuing deprivation of essential goods and services necessary for a dignified life, including basic medical supplies, safe drinking water, electricity and sanitation, constitute violations of the fundamental rights to life and health, in particular of wounded demonstrators”.
You can read the full report here: https://www.ohchr.org/…/HR…/HRCouncil/CoIOPT/A_HRC_40_74.pdf