Calling the Israeli military’s response to the Great March of Return protests in Gaza as possible war crimes, a United Nations’ (UN) independent international commission of inquiry has called for investigations into the crimes. In the course of its inquiry into Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) actions during the civil resistance movement by Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank, the commission found that IDF snipers intentionally targeted and killed unarmed civilians.
“The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel,” said the chair of the commission, Santiago Canton of Argentina.
In the report, titled “Great March of Return and the Breaking of the Siege”, the commission noted that despite the civilian nature of the protests, the Israeli snipers deployed across the separation fence shot more than 6,000 protesters. The report, which looks into the crimes committed by the Israeli forces since the beginning of the protests on March 30, 2018 till December 31, 2018, said that out of the 189 Palestinians killed during this period, 183 were deliberately shot dead by the snipers.
The Great March of Return protests oppose the Israeli annexation and occupation of Palestine in 1948. More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in Palestine during the 1948 Nakba or the day of catastrophe. Currently, more than 75% of the population in Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees as result of the Nakba. The protests are an act of assertion of the right to return, which has been recognized under the UN General Assembly resolutions 194 of 1948 and 3236 of 1974.
The march is a resistance against the decade-long illegal military blockade of Gaza by Israel. The protesters demand an end to the brutal land, air and sea siege of Gaza, which caused dire humanitarian crisis in the city, with hospitals and vital infrastructures such as hygiene and sanitation crumbling.
One of the largest massacres took place on May 14, when around 60 people were killed and more than 1,100 injured by Israeli forces.
The report found that, in a clear case of war crimes, IDF soldiers deliberately targeted groups which are protected under international law, such as children, people with disabilities, journalists, and medical personnel. Two journalists and three health workers were shot dead by Israeli snipers despite being clearly marked as press and medical personnels. The total number of children killed by the IDF during the period of investigation is 35, with more than 600 injured.
The report also pointed to the use of metal-coated hollow bullets that caused horrific injuries to many, leading to leg amputations. The large number of casualties and the complex nature of wounds overwhelmed the hospital infrastructure in Gaza, which is already reeling under the crisis due to the Israeli blockade.
The report is based on 325 interviews conducted by the commission with victims, witnesses, and sources, as well as more than 8,000 documents and footage from social media and drones.
The report further noted that the shifting of United States’ embassy to Jerusalem has reduced the hopes for a two-state solution to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The Great March of Return still continues, despite massive repression from Israeli forces. In February, four children and an adult were shot dead by snipers during the demonstrations. On February 22, 14-year old Yusif Said Hussein al-Dayeh was shot dead at the separation fence in Gaza.