Investigators from the United Nations said on Thursday that Israeli troops who shot unarmed civilians - including children - may have committed crimes against humanity during the "Great March of Return" protests last year at the border with Gaza.
According to the New York Times, the UN Human Rights Council formed a commission of inquiry, which reported that Israeli security forces had killed 189 Palestinians while injuring more than 9,000. According to a 25-page report by the commission, Israeli authorities have shown little willingness to hold those responsible to account.
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. -New York Times
"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," wrote the panel. "Less lethal alternatives remained available and substantial defenses were in place, rendering the use of lethal force neither necessary nor proportionate, and therefore impermissible."
In reaching their conclusion, the UN panel reviewed "more than 8,000 documents, including affidavits, medical reports, open source reports, social media content, written submissions, expert legal opinions, video and drone footage, and photographs" from events which took place between March 30 and December 31 of 2018.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry blamed Hamas for co-opting what began as peaceful protests, and criticized the UN report as a biased document "written by three individuals that lack any understanding in security matters."
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. -New York Times
"Hamas exploits the civilians in Gaza as human shields for terrorists," said the Israeli ministry. "Israel has responded with restrained action taken only in defense of our civilian population."
The large-scale protests began on January 7 after a 34-year-old Palestinian journalist posted on Facebook "what if 200,000 demonstrators marched peacefully and broke through the fence east of Gaza and entered a few kilometers into the lands that are ours?"
Within weeks, the march was organized in coordination with several political parties, including "the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were also members (the armed wings of these parties were not represented on the committee)."
Demonstrations were held at several sites every Friday and occasionally other weekdays between March 30 and December 2018.
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. -New York Times
Israel maintains that Hamas intended to co-opt the peaceful protests to provoke violent clashes, and repeatedly warned that it would defend their border with force.
"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," said UN panel member Sara Hossain, adding that she was quite alarmed by "the targeting of children and persons with disabilities."
The panel called on Israel to investigate "every protest-related killing and injury in accordance with international standards," in order to determine whether crimes against humanity or war crimes had been committed, and recommended that the UN high commissioner for human rights maintain "dossiers on alleged perpetrators, to be provided to national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court," with international sanctions to follow against the offenders.