Israelis May Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza Protests, U.N. Says
GENEVA — United Nations investigators said on Thursday that Israeli troops may have committed crimes against humanity in shooting unarmed civilians — including children — who posed no threat during the mass protests last year at the border with Gaza.
A commission of inquiry, formed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to look into the violence, reported that Israeli security forces had had killed 189 Palestinians and injured more than 9,000 others. Its 25-page report, released in Geneva on Thursday, accused the Israeli authorities of showing little willingness to prosecute anyone responsible.
“The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who 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 panel wrote. “Less lethal alternatives remained available and substantial defenses were in place, rendering the use of lethal force neither necessary nor proportionate, and therefore impermissible.”
There was no immediate response from the Israeli security forces or from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz dismissed the findings as “another hostile report, false and biased against Israel,” Haaretz reported.
The Gaza demonstrations drew tens of thousands of people on Fridays, beginning on March 30 last year, to spots along the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the militant group Hamas.
Palestinians sought an end to the economic blockade that has been choking off Gaza for more than a decade. They also wanted refugees and their descendants to be allowed to reclaim property in Israel, 70 years after thousands of Palestinians were displaced.
Some demonstrators attempted to storm the fence and to open crossings the Israelis had sealed. Others rolled burning tires toward the fence, pulled away razor wire, released flaming kites or threw rocks at Israeli security forces. But most protesters — including many of the people hit by Israeli gunfire — were hundreds of yards from the fence.
The Israeli government insisted that Hamas intended for the demonstrations to provoke violent clashes, and warned repeatedly that it would defend the border with force.
From the outset, Israel objected to the United Nations inquiry, calling it an example of the Human Rights Council’s bias, and refused to allow the three-person panel to visit Israel or Gaza. Egypt initially agreed to let the investigators into Gaza, but later declined on grounds of security.
Without access to the area, the commission drew on 325 interviews and more than 8,000 documents, including affidavits and medical reports, as well as photographs and video and drone footage.
It concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers had deliberately shot at journalists, health workers, children and people with disabilities.
Of the 189 Palestinians killed, investigators said, 183 were shot with live ammunition, including 35 children, three health workers and two journalists.
It reported 6,106 people wounded by live ammunition, including 940 children, 39 health workers and 39 journalists. In addition, 3,098 people were injured by bullet fragments or other shrapnel, or were struck directly by tear gas canisters or rubber bullets.
The panel found that four Israelis were wounded in the clashes, and none were killed.
“There can be no justification for killing and injuring journalists, medics and persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them,” Sara Hossain, a member of the panel, said in a statement, adding that she was particularly alarmed by “the targeting of children and persons with disabilities.”
Such violations could be prosecuted in Israeli or international courts, but Ms. Hossein said that the panel was aware of criminal investigations by the Israeli government into only five deaths.
The panel’s report called on Israel to investigate “every protest-related killing and injury in accordance with international standards” in order to determine whether war crimes or crimes against humanity had been committed.
The group recommended that the United Nations high commissioner for human rights maintain “dossiers on alleged perpetrators, to be provided to national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court,” and it called for international sanctions against those people.