Human Rights Groups: Israel Failed to Probe Hundreds of Fatal Shootings at Gaza Protests

Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands at violent protests along the Gaza border in recent years, two major human rights groups said this week, adding that Israel’s failure to investigate strengthens the case for the International Criminal Court to intervene.

The report released Thursday by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the military failed to investigate orders issued by senior commanders and took virtually no action against any soldiers.

Each week for more than 18 months, thousands of Palestinians gathered at different points along the Israel-Gaza border, often after being bused there by Hamas. Groups of protesters burned tires, hurled stones and firebombs, and tried to breach the separation barrier.

Israeli fire killed at least 215 Palestinians, most of them unarmed, including 47 minors and two women, according to Gaza’s Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. Hundreds of others were seriously wounded in the demonstrations, which wound down in late 2019. Many were far from the border fence when they were shot.

A Palestinian wounded by an Israeli sniper at the Gaza border, October 19, 2019 (Photo: Activestills)

An additional 13,000 Palestinians were wounded during this period, including more than 8,000 hit by live fire. At least 155 required amputations, according to the report. The groups said the military’s fact-finding mechanism only reviewed 234 cases in which Palestinians were killed, including some fatalities unrelated to the demonstrations. Israeli snipers fired live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets and tear gas from sand berms on the other side in what Israel said was self-defense, to prevent thousands of Palestinians – including potentially armed Hamas operatives – from rushing into Israel.

As of April, out of 143 cases transferred to military prosecutors by an Israeli fact-finding mechanism, 95 were closed with no further action. Only one – the killing of a 14-year-old Palestinian teenager – led to an indictment, with the remainder still pending, the report said. The report cited figures obtained from the Israeli military through a freedom of information request.

According to B’Tselem, Israel’s conduct regarding the investigation of the Gaza protests is neither new nor surprising. “It is endemic to Israel’s law enforcement system, as seen, for instance, after the fighting in Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 and in Operation Protective Edge in August 2014. Then, too, Israel flouted international law, refused to reform its policy despite the lethal outcomes, and deflected criticism by promising to investigate its conduct. Then, too – nothing came of this promise. Barring a handful of non-representative cases, no one was held accountable for the horrifying results of an unlawful and immoral open-fire policy.

“True policy change will come about only when Israel is forced to pay a price for its conduct, actions and policies. When the smokescreen of domestic investigations is lifted and Israel is forced to reckon with its human rights abuses and breaches of international law, it will have to decide: openly admit that it does not recognize Palestinians as having political rights and as deserving of protection, and therefore has no interest in accountability for violating Palestinians’ human rights – or change its policy,” B’Tselem said.

The International Criminal Court launched an investigation earlier this year into potential war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2014, when the two sides fought their third of four wars since Hamas seized power.

Read the full report (English, 32 pages):