Israel’s Gaza response ‘wholly disproportionate’, says UN rights chief

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against US embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. — Reuters pic
Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against US embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. — Reuters pic

GENEVA, May 18 — The UN human rights chief today slammed Israel’s deadly reaction to protests along the Gaza border as “wholly disproportionate”, backing calls for an international investigation.

Addressing a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the violence which has claimed more than 100 Gazan lives in six weeks, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute wilful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

Violations of the Geneva Conventions adopted in 1949 following World War II are commonly called “war crimes”, although Zeid did not explicitly use that word. 

He pointed out though that while 60 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in a single day of protests on Monday, “on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone.”

“The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is... suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response,” he told the council.

Many of the Palestinians injured and killed “were completely unarmed, (and) were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition,” he said, saying there was “little evidence of any (Israeli) attempt to minimise casualties.”

“Although some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel, these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force.” 

The special UN session comes after six weeks of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border with Palestinian refugees demanding the right to return to their homes inside what is now Israel.

Israel has justified its actions, arguing it was necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the blockaded Palestinian enclave which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

The council is due to consider a draft resolution calling for the urgent dispatch of “an independent, international commission of inquiry” — the UN’s highest-level of investigation.

Zeid said he supported the call for “an investigation that is international, independent and impartial, in the hope the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.” — AFP

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