Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters as “unlawful” and “calculated,” saying those officials who authorized the Israeli military to use lethal force ahead of the mass rallies in Gaza are to blame for the bloodshed.
The New York-based rights organization said in a report on Tuesday that both before and after Friday’s deadly clashes in Gaza, the Israeli officials had publicly said that soldiers had orders to target the Palestinians who approached the fence with the blockaded enclave.
“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, coupled with the longstanding culture of impunity within the Israeli army for serious abuses,” HRW said.
It also noted that the Gaza killings underlined the importance of a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into serious crimes against the Palestinians.
“Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at the HRW.
On Friday, Gazans marched to the fence with the occupied lands at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” demanding the right to return for Palestinians driven out of their homeland.
Ahead of an urgent Arab League meeting on Gaza, Hamas urges the pan-Arab body to sue Israel at the ICC over its recent killings in the Palestinian enclave.
The rallies coincided with the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976.
Friday’s demonstrations turned violent after Israeli forces used tear gas and live fire against the Palestinians, killing 18 and injuring almost 1,500 Gazans.
The Return rallies culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948, the year Israel was created.
The HRW added that footage of the Gaza demonstrations includes no evidence of protesters using firearms, questioning the Israeli claim that the number of Palestinians injured by live ammunition was likely in the dozens.
The rights group further reviewed a video showing a demonstrator shot in the leg while praying and another while throwing a rock. Other videos show demonstrators were shot while slowly walking toward the Gaza fence empty-handed.
The UN Security Council holds an emergency meeting over Israel’s massacre of over a dozen Palestinians during a mass rally in Gaza, with the UN chief calling for a probe into the bloodshed.
It emphasized that entering a zone declared off limits should not be a crime considered punishable by death.
The rights group further said that the Israeli military appears to be trying to justify its unlawful killings in Gaza, citing remarks by army spokesmen General Major General Yoav Mordechai and General Ronen Manelis.
Mordechai had tweeted that the army was firing on “main instigators,” while Ronen Manelis had claimed that “Whenever there has been an attempt to damage the fence, we fired with precision, intensity and determination, exercising judgment.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Israeli troops for killing the Palestinians while minister for military affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, rejected calls for a probe into the carnage.
“Praising the army’s handling of the March 30 events and saying there shall be no inquiry into how Israeli soldiers gunned down … protesters across a fence says much about how cheaply Israeli authorities view the lives of Palestinians in Gaza,” Goldstein said.