War crimes by Israeli forces
A report published by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict, stated that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes during protests in Gaza last year, including by deliberately firing on Palestinian civilians.
“The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come,” the chair of the commission, Justice Mary McGowan Davis told.
These serious human rights and humanitarian law violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The 2014 hostilities saw a huge increase in firepower used in Gaza, with more than 6,000 airstrikes by Israel and approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells fired. In the 51 day operation, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed, a third of them children. Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel in July and August 2014, killing 6 civilians and injuring at least 1,600. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in their own homes, especially women and children.
The fact that Israel did not revise its practice of air-strikes, even after their dire effects on civilians became apparent, raises the question of whether this was part of a broader policy which was at least tacitly approved at the highest level of government. The commission is concerned about Israel’s extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius; though not illegal, their use in densely populated areas is highly likely to kill combatants and civilians indiscriminately.
The commission is concerned about what appears to be the increasing use of live ammunition for crowd control by the Israeli Security Forces, which raises the likelihood of death or serious injury. The Israeli authorities did not respond to repeated requests by the commission for information and direct access to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
It should be said that Israel dismissed the report as “hostile, mendacious and slanted”. Israel’s army has said its forces opened fire to protect against attacks and incursions. “No one can deny Israel the right of self-defence and the obligation to defend its citizens and borders from violent attacks,” Yisrael Katz, Israel’s acting foreign minister, said.
Responding to the findings, Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International said : “The findings of this report echo Amnesty International’s own conclusions that many killings of Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces during the Great March of Return protests last year appeared to be wilful killings, constituting war crimes.”
“The report paints a damning picture of Israeli forces who deliberately shot at children, health workers, journalists and people with disabilities, demonstrating a cruel and ruthless disregard for international humanitarian law. More than 6,000 people suffered wounds from live ammunition placing an added burden on Gaza’s already severely strained health system and many were denied the opportunity to travel outside Gaza to receive the care they required.”
“The UN must now follow through on its recommendations to gather information on alleged perpetrators that can be passed to national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court. Those responsible for these deplorable crimes must not go unpunished.
“The findings of this report must pave the way for justice for victims of war crimes, and break the long-standing cycle of impunity for serious violations of international law by Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”