Gaza: the international community must take immediate action to protect unarmed protesters and end impunity

Press release
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On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Palestinians’ forced displacement following the creation of Israel, FIDH and its member organizations in Palestine and the occupied Syrian Golan Al Haq, Al Mezan, Al Marsad, PCHR and RCHRS, strongly denounce the killings by the Israeli forces of dozens of Palestinians and injuries of thousands exercising their right to peaceful demonstration. Our organizations renew their call to stop immediately the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters. The international community shall take strong measures against Israel to put an end to the ongoing international human rights and humanitarian law violations amounting to war crimes and establish an independent and transparent investigation into the Israeli forces’ use of live fire and snipers. We urge all states to stop their military cooperation with Israel. We also reiterate our condemnation of the unlawful relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ahead of the commemoration of the Nakba.

For the seventh week in Gaza, Palestinian unarmed protesters demanding an end to the unlawful closure of the Gaza strip and stressing the right of return for refugees who were forced to escape from their land 70 years ago were once again met with disproportionate violence by Israeli security forces. The “Great March of Return”, which started on 30 March and is due to continue until 15 May, marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, also demands an end to the 50 year occupation by Israel and stands against the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem. Since 30 March, Israeli forces killed 100 Palestinians in protests, including 11 children, two journalists and three persons with disability. 6,938 were injured, including 1,244 children, 253 women, 42 paramedics, and 59 journalists. On Monday 14 May alone, 59 Palestinian protesters were killed and at least 2,000 were injured, including 304 children, 77 women, ten journalists, and three paramedics [1].

Unarmed protesters, including numerous women and children, have been met with excessive force by the Israeli armed forces using live ammunition from snipers and tank fire, rubber bullets and gas grenades [2]. The Israeli snipers deliberately and selectively opened fire at the participants in the peaceful protests, who posed no threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers [3]. Israeli armed forces’ use of excessive force against unarmed civilians who practice their legitimate rights to expression and peaceful assembly, and preventing civilians from seeking medical care, constitute serious and deliberate violations of international humanitarian law and a direct infringement of UN Security Council Resolutions.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Israel’s actions in the context of Gaza amount to willful killings, which may be prosecuted as war crimes by the ICC [4]. The Prosecutor of the ICC is currently carrying out a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine to prosecute and hold political and military officers accountable, in order to avoid further violations and to ensure justice. The Prosecutor of the ICC must accelerate her ongoing preliminary examination and open an investigation without further delay.

As Palestinians continue to protest in the “Great March of Return”; on May 14, ahead of the Nakba, the US government has unlawfully relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of international law [5]. The international community has never recognized any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and deemed the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem illegal. The relocation of the embassy will entrench Israel’s impunity for its widespread violations against Palestinians’ right to life, to freedom of movement, freedom from ill-treatment and to dignity [6]. Our organizations stress that the prohibition of annexation of land acquired by force is a main pillar of international law and international peace and security that must be safeguarded by international community.

Our organizations assert that the continued targeting of unarmed protesters is gravely concerning and call upon the international community, the UN, the EU and state representatives, to exert pressure on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law; demand Israel fully lifts its unlawful 11 year closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip; condemn Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian unarmed protesters; demand that Israel guarantees access to international investigators to look at the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian protesters in Gaza since 30 March; and urgently intervene to ensure Palestinians’ rights and dignity. Our organizations calls upon UN officials and state representatives not to a engage with US officials in Jerusalem upon the embassy’s opening.

The inaction and absence of a political will by the international community and Israel to ensure respect for international humanitarian law will only exacerbate the conflict and allow for the chronic denial of human rights and justice to continue. It is essential that the international community takes immediate action to protect the civilian population in Gaza, who are practicing their undeniable rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Accordingly, measures must be adopted to bring to an end Israel’s fifty year occupation of the Palestinian territory and ensure Palestinians’ right to self determination, and the recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return, as mandated by international law.

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