Multiple human rights groups for Israel’s Supreme Court to declare regulations that allow soldiers to open fire on unarmed protestors illegal, and on Monday, they began doing just that. Protestors have gathered along the Gaza border each of the last five Fridays with the goal of bringing attention to the Palestinian situation. The weekly demonstrations are scheduled to continue until May 15, the Palestinian Nakba Day on which they remember their displacement following the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948. Part of that commemoration this year is expected to be possibly tens of thousands of Palestinians rushing the Israel barrier.
Among the human rights groups calling for the review of Israeli regulations is Amnesty International. In a statement on their website, the group states that in response to protests along the Gaza Strip, “Israel is carrying out a murderous assault against protesting Palestinians, with its armed forces killing and maiming demonstrators who pose no imminent threat to them.” They claim that the Israeli military has killed 35 Palestinians and injured over 5,500 others. Their call for review by Israel’s Supreme Court is based on what they cite as attacks by the Israeli military on unarmed Palestinian protestors. They report that many of the injuries appear deliberately intended as life-changing and that they have video proof of peaceful protestors being shot at while their backs are turned to the fence along the Gaza Strip or while running away from the fence.
Israeli cabinet minister Michael Oren described the Gaza protests as intended to “break down the border” and stated that it’s the responsibility of the Israeli army, like any army, to defend its border. The Washington Post reports that he did not deny that some peaceful protestors may have been unintentionally shot. The military states that the protests are part of an ongoing armed conflict, so open-fire regulations fall under the rules of armed conflict which allow more room for situations in which lethal force is considered acceptable.
Human rights lawyer Michael Sfard argues that laws of armed conflict aren’t applicable in the situation and that “lethal force against unarmed civilians who do not pose danger is illegal.” Human rights groups believe that Israel must adhere to rules of engagement for law enforcement when acting in response to the Gaza protests. Under those rules, lethal force is allowed only in the face of imminent danger to “life and limb.”
Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, originally promoted the protests as peaceful, but the New York Times reports that Palestinians have used Molotov cocktails and firebombs, and Israel has responded with deadly force. In the latest weekly protest last Friday, hundreds of Palestinians tried to burn and rip through the Gaza border fence. This was met with Israeli fire that killed three and wounded dozens more. Human rights groups said that even in the face of riots, deadly force should be a last resort.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday expressed support for Israel and it’s response to Palestinian Gaza protestors and hesitated to support a two-state solution.
“With respect to the two-state solution, the parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is. We’re certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome. We certainly believe the Israelis and Palestinians need to have political engagement. We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue.”
The Israeli Supreme Court isn’t making a ruling until sometime next week.