Red Cross Slams Israel for Misuse of Report to Justify Its Actions in Gaza Border Protests

State prosecutors cited ICRC report on law enforcement in armed conflicts, in response to High Court petition about Israeli army’s rules of engagement in recent deadly demonstrations

A wounded demonstrator is evacuated during clashes with Israeli forces on the Israel-Gaza border, May 4, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says Israel’s use of a Red Cross report to justify the Israeli army’s rules of engagement during recent border protests by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is wrong.

Israel cited a 2012 ICRC report (“Experts Meeting: The Use of Force in Armed Conflicts: Interplay between the Conduct of Hostilities and Law Enforcement Paradigms”) in response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice last month.

“The state opposes the applying of human rights law during an armed conflict,” the state wrote, adding that the Red Cross had acknowledged that such law did not have to be applied during such a state of affairs.

In their so-called March of Return, Gazans have been protesting each Friday at the Gaza border fence since the end of March. The Israeli army has now killed over 100 protesters and wounded thousands, saying it is trying to stop the fence from being breached.   

The petition, filed by several human rights organizations, demanded that the state reveal the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement during the border protests.

In their response, state prosecutors defended the use of live fire during the clashes with demonstrators, saying these rules of engagement are within both Israeli and international law.

They also noted that the events on the border are not simple civilian demonstrations.

At one point in the state’s response, it was written that the military actions “constitute part of the armed conflict between the Hamas terror organization and Israel, with all that this implies.”

The state also claimed that the Red Cross acknowledged that international law “did not have to be applied during such a state of affairs.”

The Red Cross strongly disagreed with this comment and forwarded its reservations to the Israeli authorities.

When contacted by Haaretz, the ICRC said it does not agree with the government’s interpretation of its legal position.

Alyona Synenko, the ICRC’s Israel and Palestine spokesperson, said: “We have publicly expressed our concern about the elevated human toll of the events in Gaza and reminded Israel that ‘it is imperative that lethal force only be used as a last resort and when strictly unavoidable, in order to protect life.’”

The Red Cross’ legal position on the applicability of human rights law was further defined in its 2015 report “International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts,” which stated: “If a civilian demonstration against the authorities in a situation of armed conflict were to turn violent, a resort to force in response to this would be governed by law enforcement rules.”

Synenko explained: “The law enforcement paradigm may be described as rules mainly derived from international human rights law, and more specifically from the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of life which regulates the use of force by state authorities to maintain or restore public security, law and order.”

The Justice Ministry said in response, “The State of Israel’s position on the issue that arises from your inquiry is detailed in the state’s documents responding to the petitions regarding the rules of engagement along the security border in the Gaza Strip. This process is ongoing in court.

"As for your question regarding the Red Cross' request to the State of Israel, according to the policy of the State of Israel it does not relate publicly to the nature or content of the dialogue with the Red Cross – to the extent that this is indeed the case," it continued. "At the same time, we note that the information indicated in your request is incorrect."