UN Commission Probing Gaza Border Fatalities Nearly Finished Collecting Testimonies

Council was established last May to investigate the rise in the number of fatalities during Palestinians' weekly protests along the border with Israel ■ Yesh Din, B’Tselem among organizations who testified

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An Israeli soldiers' outpost in front of Gazan protesters gathered near the border fence, October 2018
An Israeli soldiers' outpost in front of Gazan protesters gathered near the border fence, October 2018Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

A commission set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council to investigate the latest round of confrontations on the Gaza border has nearly finished collecting testimonies.

Among the organizations which testified or submitted material were groups such as Yesh Din, B’Tselem and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

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The organization NGO Monitor has also filed materials to the commission, but organization chief Gerald Steinberg refused to respond to Haaretz's query on whether or not he personally testified. 

Palestinian protesters carry a youth injured during clashes with Israeli forces east of Gaza city, October 12, 2018Credit: AFP

The international commission of inquiry was established last May, against the backdrop of the rising number of fatalities during the protests taking place along the border. Twenty-nine Council members supported the decision to establish the commission, including Spain and Belgium. The U.S. and Australia opposed, while Hungary, Britain, Germany, Slovakia and Croatia abstained.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time that Israel “vehemently rejects the resolution, taken by an automatic anti-Israel majority, with the results pre-ordained.” The foreign ministry said at the time that “in contrast to claims heard at the Council, the vast majority of those killed were Hamas activists.”

Then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, said that there was little evidence for attempts to minimize the number of fatalities.

Palestinians during clashes with Israeli security forces east of Jabalia on May 14, 2018Credit: AFP

In the wake of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Human Rights Council decided to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate charges of war crimes which Israel had allegedly committed during the operation.

A similar commission had been set up after Operation Cast Lead in 2009, headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone. That commission accused Israel of perpetrating war crimes, sending its recommendations to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser of Yesh Din, who testified before the commission, told Haaretz that “my testimony was part of Yesh Din’s attempt to stop the illegal and immoral use of live fire against thousands of Gazan demonstrators.”

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Sfard added that in his testimony he "criticized the IDF’s position, which was presented at the High Court of Justice in response to a petition filed by Yesh Din and other groups, calling for an end to the use of lethal force against people posing no immediate risk to the life of anyone. I told commission members that Israel takes a position in which there is a special legal area that regulates law enforcement during armed conflict, and which allows live fire at an ‘inciter or a key disrupter of order’ even when there is no risk to anyone’s life by such a person, or no danger of serious injury to civilians or soldiers. This is an invention that is not anchored in any legal authority, and which has led to the terrible extent of dead and wounded casualties."

B'Tselem CEO Hagai El-Ad speaking before the UN, October 2018Credit: Rick Bajornas / UN Photo

The Yesh Din adviser said that they first turned to the army and then petitioned the High Court, and this week testified before the UN commission.

"It is our duty to sound this cry everywhere, until the army restores some sanity to its orders. We also submitted a report to the commission, describing the total and shameful failure in investigating the complaints of Palestinians who were subjected to illegal actions by soldiers. The combination of illegal orders and an absence of any investigations is a lethal one”, said Sfard.

According to B’Tselem director-general Hagai El-Ad, who did not testify, the organization gave the commission all the investigative material it has published regarding the illegal and immoral live fire at demonstrators in Gaza.

“For more than 50 years of occupation and countless instances of killings and violence, the systematic whitewashing proves that Israel is incapable – and has no wish – of being held to account for its actions," Elad said.

"First there are sloppy investigations by military police, followed by a serial closure of files by the military advocate general, ending with the High Court of Justice, which gives the appearance of decency and ostensible legality to a policy of live fire and the whitewashing of investigations," he concluded.

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