The Israeli army’s killing of more than a dozen Palestinians who were demonstrating along the Gaza Strip’s eastern border on Friday was unlawful and calculated, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
“The Israeli government presented no evidence that rock-throwing and other violence by some demonstrators seriously threatened Israeli soldiers across the border fence,” the report, released on Tuesday, said.
Pointing out that senior Israeli officials had “unlawfully” called for the use of live ammunition before and after the protests, HRW said: “the high number of deaths and injuries was the foreseeable consequence of granting soldiers leeway to use lethal force outside of life-threatening situations in violation of international norms.”
On Friday, the Israeli army killed 17 Palestinians in mass demonstrations calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the homes and villages by from which they were driven out by Zionist armed groups in 1948. At least 1,500 others were wounded, while one Palestinian succumbed to his wounds on Monday.
The death toll is expected to rise owing to the high number of injuries and the lack of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli land, sea and air blockade for more than a decade.
Prior to the demonstrations, the Israeli army announced it had deployed more than 100 snipers with permission to fire.
Palestinian rights group Adalah said the Israeli army on Saturday “accidentally” took responsibility for the attacks on Palestinian protesters, before deleting a post from their official Twitter page.
“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed,” a screenshot of the post, shared by Adalah, read.
Protesters in Gaza gathered in five different spots along the border, originally positioned about 700 metres away from a highly fortified fence marking the Gaza-Israel border.
Israeli forces responded with live fire, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets, according to the Palestinian ministry of health.
Multiple videos appear to show Palestinians being shot while not posing an immediate threat.
“Human Rights Watch could find no evidence of any protester using firearms or any IDF claim of threatened firearm use at the demonstrations,” the report said.
The Israeli use of deadly force has drawn international condemnation; the United Nations and rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the killings.
But the Israeli minister for security has said “there is no reason” for Israel to cooperate with a UN inquiry into army actions.
On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the army, saying his troops were successful “guarding the country’s borders” and allowing “Israeli citizens to celebrate the [Passover] holiday peacefully”.
The protests were planned on the 42nd commemoration of Land Day, which took place on March 30, 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian-owned land.
Eric Goldstein, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, said: “Praising the army’s handling of the March 30 events and saying there shall be no inquiry into how Israeli soldiers gunned down 14 protesters across a fence says much about how cheaply Israeli authorities view the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.”