Pro-Israel activists stage 'Rally for Equal Rights'

UN panel lists Israelis suspected of war crimes on Gaza border

Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into last year’s riots to hand ‘confidential file’ to International Criminal Court; Israel has rejected the report

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission into last year’s protests at the Gaza border presented its full report on Monday, saying it had compiled a list of Israelis suspected of serious crimes that it will make available to the International Criminal Court and other bodies.

The database, which was not made public, contains information about “military and civilian structures in Israel” that are allegedly responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, as well as the institutions that fail to investigate them, according to the report.

Israel has dismissed the report, rejecting and denouncing it when a summary was first published two weeks ago.

At the beginning of the Human Rights Council’s 40th session on Monday, the so-called Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory presented a 250-page report that Israel may have committed “crimes against humanity” by using live ammunition against Palestinians protesters who participated in the so-called Great March of Return.

Intentionally killing civilians who are not “directly participating in hostilities” is a war crime, the report stressed. “The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that individual members of the Israeli security forces, in the course of their response to the demonstrations, killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither directly participating in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat.”

Israel had at its disposal “less lethal alternatives,” the document went on, positing that the use of the live ammunition against protesters was disproportionate and unlawful.

According to the probe, Israeli security forces shot more than 6,000 Palestinians who participated in protests along the Gaza border between March and December 2018, killing 183 people, including 32 children.

Israel says the protests were organized by the Hamas terrorist organization and were aimed at breaching the border fence with the specific aim of killing Israelis.

According to the commission of inquiry, fewer than 30 of those killed were “members of Palestinian organized armed groups,” adding that Israeli troops’ use of live fire was only justified in very few cases in which they faced an immediate threat to life.

Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

Palestinians hurl burning tires at the Gaza security fence during the sixth ‘March of Return’ demonstration on May 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The report accused Israel of having “consistently failed to meaningfully investigate and prosecute commanders and soldiers for crimes and violations committed against Palestinians.” While it acknowledged that the army has opened several internal army inquiries into the shootings of apparently uninvolved civilians, it doubted the government’s willingness to honestly scrutinize its policies and actions.

“Israel’s record for investigating deaths of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is dismal,” the report asserted.

At the same time, the commission of inquiry also said it believes that Hamas “encouraged or defended demonstrators’ use of incendiary kites and balloons, causing fear and significant material damage in southern Israel,” and that the group failed to stop the use of these “indiscriminate devices.”

There are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israeli troops tasked with fending off Gazan protesters “killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither directly participating in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat,” the report alleged.

Illustrative. A Gazan takes bolt cutters to a border fence in footage released by the IDF from May 14 violence at the border (Israel Defense Forces)

“In the course of the investigation, the Commission found serious human rights violations that may constitute crimes against humanity,” it said.

The panel said it was mandated to “identify those it deemed responsible for the violations” allegedly committed by Israel.

“It does so by placing the relevant information in a confidential file to be handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” the report stated.

The high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, was authorized to make the database of alleged offenders accessible to the ICC and other “national authorities that are conducting credible investigations for the purposes of ensuring accountability for crimes and other serious violations committed in this context.”

“Inside this dossier are references to relevant military and civilian structures in Israel which bear primary responsibility for the conduct of the security forces and their use of lethal force on Palestinians attending the [protests],” the report stated.

“Responsibility also lies with those who fail to conduct investigations that meet international standards into the deaths and injuries in violation of [international law] as alleged in this report. As noted, individuals who committed the violations directly, or who aided or ordered them to be committed, are also responsible,” it said.

IDF soldiers on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate near the border fence, April 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The ICC is currently conducting a preliminary examination into the “situation in Palestine.” Last year, the Hague-based court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, warned Israelis and Palestinians that she is carefully watching the events surrounding the Gaza border protests, and that she should would not hesitate to hold accountable anyone committing grave crimes.

Israel rejected the report outright, denouncing it two weeks ago, when the commission published a brief summary of it.

“The council is setting new records for hypocrisy and mendacity, out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time.

“It is Hamas which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence.”

Also on Monday, the Human Rights Council debated six additional other reports critical of Israel within the framework of the permanent agenda item, the only permanent agenda item dedicated to denouncing one country — Israel.

UN Watch’s ‘Rally for Equal Rights’ in Geneva, outside the building of the UN Human Rights Council, March 18, 2019 (screen shot)

Protesting the council’s alleged obsession with the Jewish state, two dozen organizations from across Europe joined UN Watch’s “Rally for Equal Rights” outside the council’s building.

“Through its relentless bias and demonization of the Jewish nation, the UN is abandoning its own founding principles of universality and equality,” said UN Watch head Hillel Neuer. “It’s time for the UN to uphold the UN Charter promise of equal rights for all nations, large and small.”

Dore Gold, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, in his speech went through a long list of the UN-sponsored reports critical of Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

“Israel does not seek international forces to protect it. But it does expect one thing from the international community: the truth,” Gold said. “That is today what Israel asks for. But when it comes to the UN, the truth has been extremely difficult to obtain.”

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