Jerusalem - Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes by deliberately targeting unarmed children, journalists and disabled people during recent protests in Gaza. This is the finding of a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Independent Commission of Inquiry that was released on Thursday in Geneva.
The three-person panel comprising of Kenyan legal and human rights expert, Betty Muringi, Bangladeshi lawyer, Sara Hossain and chaired by Argentinian lawyer, Santiago Canton, concluded that Israel had intentionally shot unarmed Palestinian protestors since March 30, during the Great March of Return weekly protests along the eastern fence of the Gaza Strip, the Afro-Palestine Newswire reported.
Protesters were calling for the 12-year-old Israeli siege imposed on the coastal enclave to be lifted.
According to the report, the vast majority of Gaza protesters who were killed by Israeli forces -- 154 out of 183 people -- had been unarmed, and “did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities”.
The commission -- known as the UN Human Rights Council Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza protests -- found that 35 children had been killed, some from direct weapons fire. The commission also noted one case involving a disabled person in a wheelchair and direct fire at journalists who claimed that they were clearly identified as press.
“There is no justification for shooting children and disabled people that pose no risk, said commission member, Sara Hussein, at Thursday’s press conference.
Betty Murungi added that the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip was not capable of dealing with the scope and complexity of the injuries among residents of the Strip.
She also called on Israel to lift its blockade of the besieged coastal territory to allow medical supplies in, and to grant exit permits to Palestinians seeking medical assistance abroad.
The commission concluded there were “reasonable grounds” that Israeli security forces violated international law, and recommended that UN members consider imposing individual sanctions, such as a travel ban or an assets freeze, on those identified as responsible by the commission.
In addition, the commission said that evidence it collected should be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the commission’s investigations and rejected the report it came out swinging in response.
"Israel rejects outright the UN Human Rights Council report. The council is setting 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,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel's sovereignty and its people and will maintain the right of self-defence. IDF soldiers will continue to vigorously defend Israeli citizens against attack by Hamas and the other terrorist organisations financed by Iran, which declares its intention to destroy Israel.”
Palestinian political and civil society groups, however, welcomed the report’s findings.
“The report indicates, beyond any doubt, that the Israeli occupation has committed clear war crimes against the Palestinians who came out to protest peacefully to demand the right of return and lift the siege,” Hamas spokesperson, Bassem Naim, said in an interview with the Afro-Palestine Newswire Service.
The Palestinian Authority hailed the UN report, but says it doesn’t go far enough in establishing accountability.
“We urge the international community and all United Nations related institutions to oblige Israel to commit to the fourth Geneva Convention and uphold its legal obligations as a belligerent occupant to protect the Palestinian citizens under its military control,” said PA spokesperson, Ahmad Shami.
Amnesty International said that the report’s findings confirmed the groups own conclusion that “that many cases appeared to amount to willful killings constituting war crimes.”
Israeli rights group, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), called on the Israeli government to establish a commission of inquiry to examine the events that took place during the protests.
“It is impossible to ignore the death and injury of dozens of civilians, among them, women and children, by claiming self-defence,” said an ACRI spokesperson.