Occupied Palestine (In Palestine Today)- Human rights groups on Thursday said that ‘Israel’ failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded some 8,000 in the Great March of Return, strengthening the case for the International Criminal Court to intervene.
In a joint report released on Thursday, B’Tselem and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said that ‘Israel’ responded to international criticism of the casualty toll in the Great March of Retrun by saying it would investigate the incidents.
On 30 March 2018 – Land Day – Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began to hold regular protests along the perimeter fence, demanding an end to the blockade Israel has imposed on the Strip since 2007 and fulfillment of the right of return.
The peaceful protests, held mostly on Fridays with tens of thousands participating, including children, women and seniors, continued until the end of 2019.
In response, the military deployed dozens of snipers along the fence, and Israeli occupation officials clarified that the open-fire regulations would permit lethal fire against anyone attempting to approach the fence or damage it.
‘Israel’ made good on its threats and its open-fire regulations permitted use of live fire against unarmed and peaceful protestors, killing 223 Palestinians, 46 of them under the age of 18, and some 8,000 injured.
“The vast majority of the persons killed or injured were unarmed and posed no threat to the well-armored soldiers standing on the other side of the fence,” the human rights groups said.
Yet today, more than forty months after the first demonstration, the groups said, “it is clear that the military’s investigations in relation to the Gaza protests were never intended to ensure justice for the victims or to deter troops from similar action.”
The groups said these investigations “–much like the investigations conducted by the military law enforcement system in other cases in which soldiers have harmed Palestinians – are part of Israel’s whitewashing mechanism, and their main purpose remains to silence external criticism, so that Israel can continue to implement its policy unchanged.”
The investigations have not looked into the regulations and policies employed during the protests, but have focused entirely on isolated cases considered “exceptional,” the groups found.
They added that officials have admitted that one of the reasons for Israel’s speedy announcement that investigations would be conducted lies in “the proceedings that were – and still are – being conducted against it in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
“One of the guiding principles for the ICC’s work is complementarity, meaning the ICC will assert jurisdiction only when the state in question is “unwilling or unable” to carry out its own investigation. Once a state has investigated the incidents, the ICC will not intervene.”
The rights groups pointed out that declaring an investigation “is underway is not enough to stave off intervention by the ICC,” saying the investigation must be effective and must look into the responsibility of the higher-ranking officials who devised the policy, and possibly lead to action against them where necessary.
And Israel’s investigations in relation to the Gaza protests do not meet these requirements, the report read.
However, the investigations consist entirely of the military investigating its own conduct.
“They focus exclusively on lower-ranking soldiers, and investigators are given a narrow mandate limited to clarifying whether the regulations have been breached, while completely ignoring the question of their lawfulness and of the open-fire policy itself,” the report added.
The investigations, the groups said, were entrusted to the Military Advocate General’s Corps (the MAG Corps), with the assistance of a special General Staff mechanism introduced after Operation Protective Edge (the FFA Mechanism).
This mechanism was charged with a limited mission: investigating isolated incidents in which soldiers were suspected of breaching their orders and focused on low-ranking soldiers on the ground.
In these circumstances, even if the system had excelled in its investigative work and performed its mission successfully – the contribution to law enforcement would have been limited, they said.
Yet a review of the system’s operations shows that it does not strive to meet even this limited goal.
B’Tselem and PCHR found that the military has only investigated cases in which Palestinians were killed by security forces, despite the large number of injuries, including ones that left victims paralyzed or forced to undergo amputations.
A total of more than 13,000 Palestinians were injured in the protests: some 8,000 by live fire, about 2,400 by rubber-coated metal bullets, and almost 3,000 by tear gas canisters that hit them directly. Of the persons wounded, 156 lost limbs. None of these cases were investigated, the groups said.
While calling them as dependent, the groups said the investigations were conducted entirely by the military, without civilian involvement.
Moreover, both the Mag and the FFA Mechanism work extremely slowly.
According to figures supplied by the IOF Spokesperson to B’Tselem, as of 25 April 2021, the FFA Mechanism had received 234 cases in which Palestinians were killed, including Palestinians killed during the period in which the protests were held, but with no connection to them.
The Mechanism completed its review in 143 of these cases and transferred them to the MAG Corps. The MAG ordered the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) to investigate 33 of the cases, as well as three other cases not handled by the FFA Mechanism. In four cases the investigation was closed with no action taken.
In one more MPIU investigation – into the killing of 14-year-old ‘Othman Hiles – that was completed, a soldier was charged with abuse of authority to the point of endangering life or health and sentenced to one month’s military community service, the groups revealed.
The MAG opted not to criminally investigate 95 cases in which the FFA Mechanism had completed its review, and closed the files with no further action. All other cases transferred to the MAG are under review.
The groups said that Israel’s conduct regarding the investigation of the Gaza protests is “neither new nor surprising.”
True policy change will come about only when Israel is forced to pay a price for its conduct, actions and policies, the groups said.
“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.”