This week, the Palestinians won a moral victory. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released a report that sheds light on the killing of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip since March last year. "Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – A/HRC/40/74" points out that Palestinian protests in Gaza against Israel "were civilian in nature, with clearly stated political aims." UN investigators accuse Israeli soldiers of "intentionally firing on civilians, who were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat." They warn that, "These serious human rights and humanitarian law violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity."
According to the UNHRC, the investigation covered the period from the start of the protests on 30 March last year until 31 December, during which 189 Palestinians were killed. "The Commission found that Israeli Security Forces killed 183 of these protesters with live ammunition and wounded 6,106 others. Another 3,098 Palestinians were injured by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by hits from tear gas canisters. Thirty-five of these fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists."
Moreover, it was found that there are "reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such." Of course Israel, as usual, has rejected the report and described it as biased and "anti-Semitic".
So what happens now? There have been many such reports, but Israel is never discouraged by them enough to stop committing more crimes. In 2002, for example, its soldiers attacked Jenin Refugee Camp in the occupied West Bank. The subsequent independent report said that, "Fifty-two Palestinians were killed during the operation, of whom twenty-two were civilians." Many of the civilians, it added, were killed "wilfully or unlawfully." Investigators also found that the Israel Defence Forces used Palestinian civilians as "human shields", and used indiscriminate and excessive force. "The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes," said Peter Bouckaert, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and a member of the investigation team.
Israel rejected that report as well and accused it of being biased. The country's representative at the UN Security Council at that time alleged that, "Considerable disinformation and confusion had been generated about the mandate of the fact-finding team."
After saying that it welcomed the UN Secretary-General's proposal for a fact-finding team and that it was "regrettable" that Israel had denied access to the team, the US tried all ways to prevent a resolution against Israel being passed by the Security Council. "Cuba's representative, however, described the United States position on resolution 1405 (2002) as ridiculous, noting that that country had itself introduced the text, only to then obstruct its implementation," notes the UN's own records. "The United States," added the Cuban ambassador, "had introduced the draft in order to obstruct a previous text tabled by the Arab Group and to divert attention from the proposal that a multinational force be sent to the occupied Palestinian territories. The Council must condemn such actions by the United States, as well as its supply of aircraft and other weaponry that enabled Israel to carry out its military actions."
In 2009, the UNHRC conducted another investigation and released yet another report on "Human rights in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories", known as the Goldstone Report. It was a fact-finding mission in the Gaza Strip following the 2008/9 Israeli military offensive headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. The report was hugely critical of Israel and, under pressure, Goldstone duly disowned it.
Another UN report, this time by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) looked at "Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid" and was released in 2017. Under Israeli pressure, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres distanced himself from the report, saying that it reflected its authors' views and was no longer available on the ESCWA website.
The Secretary General of ESCWA, former Jordanian minister Rima Khalaf, resigned after saying that the UN had pressured her to withdraw the report. "We expected, of course, that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the Secretary-General of the UN so that he would disavow the report," she explained, "and that they would ask him to withdraw it."
According to Israel's Ambassador at the UN, Danny Danon, the ESCWA report was an "attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable, and constitutes a blatant lie." These words were echoed this week by Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed that the UNHRC "is setting new records in hypocrisy and lies, out of obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East." Democracies, of course, don't shoot unarmed protesters in cold blood simply for making legitimate demands, but Israel does, and it has been found it.
So let us hope that this time the Palestinians are not only able to have a moral victory, but also that Israel will be called to account for its war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given that the international community is dominated by Israel's staunchest ally, the United States, though, I doubt that this will happen.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.