A United Nations probe alleged on Thursday that there is evidence Israel committed crimes against humanity in responding to protests in Gaza in 2018, as snipers targeted people clearly identifiable as children, health workers, journalists and people with disabilities.
“Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity,” Santiago Canton, the chair of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said in a statement.
Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz denounced the report as a “theater of the absurd” based on false, poorly researched information.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejecting the report, accused the council of “setting new records for hypocrisy and mendacity, out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is Hamas which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence. Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel’s sovereignty and its people, and will maintain the right of self-defense,” he said. “IDF soldiers will continue to vigorously defend Israeli citizens against attack by Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations financed by Iran, which declares its intention to destroy Israel.”
The inquiry, set up by the UN Human Rights Council, investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.
“More than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by military snipers, week after week at the protest sites,” it said.
“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such,” it said.
The investigators specified that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli troops killed and injured Palestinians “who were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat.”
The UN team also dismissed claims by Israel that the protests were aimed to conceal acts of terrorism that have included shootings, grenade and bomb attacks, Molotov cocktails and breaches of the border fence.
“The demonstrations were civilian in nature, with clearly stated political aims,” the statement said. “Despite some acts of significant violence, the Commission found that the demonstrations did not constitute combat or military campaigns.”
Responding in a statement, Katz said Israel rejected the report outright and that the Jewish state cannot be denied the right to defend itself.
“The theater of the absurd of the Human Rights Council produced another hostile, untrue and misleading report against the State of Israel,” he said.
The report is based on false information and wasn’t properly researched, charged Katz, who is also intelligence and transportation minister.
“Israel rejects the report outright,” he said. “No party can deny Israel the right to self-defense and the duty to protect its residents and borders from violent attacks. The one pushing Gaza residents into fences, including women and children, is Hamas [the terror group that rules the Strip], whose declared goal is the destruction of the State of Israel and thus is to be held responsible.”
The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the report, directing questions to the Foreign Ministry.
The commission said it conducted 325 interviews with victims, witnesses and other sources, while reviewing more than 8,000 documents. Investigators looked at drone footage and other audiovisual material, the commission said.
“The Israeli authorities did not respond to repeated requests by the Commission for information and access to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the report said.
The UNHRC report came a day after Israeli jets struck multiple targets in the southern Gaza Strip linked to Hamas, in response to an incendiary device sent from Gaza that damaged a home in the Eshkol region. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the Israeli strikes.
Since March 2018 when the border violence began, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched thousands of balloons carrying incendiary and explosive devices into Israel, causing wildfires in nearby agricultural fields, forests and nature reserves.
These arson and bombing attacks largely stopped at the end of last year, following a de facto ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, but they returned earlier this month as this understanding began to fray.
Last week a brush fire in southern Israel was sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip.
According to the pro-Israel watchdog group UN Watch, other UNHRC reports in the coming weeks are set to accuse Israel of alleged human rights violations in the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, and in territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, Channel 12 news reported earlier this month.