Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands more during the Great March of Return protests in 2018, human rights groups have revealed in a joint report. The report has been published by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and B'Tselem with the title "Unwilling and Unable: Israel's Whitewashed Investigations of the Great March of Return Protests".
The protests along the Gaza-Israel nominal border called for the implementation of the Palestinians' legitimate right to return to their homes inside what is now Israel, as well as an end to Israel's siege of the territory.
"The report shows how Israel worked to whitewash the truth and protect the political and military officials responsible, instead of taking action against the individuals who devised and implemented the unlawful open-fire policy, which resulted in the killing of more than 200 Palestinians and the injury of some 8,000 others," said the groups.
Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at protesters, using butterfly bullets — which explode upon impact, pulverising tissue, arteries and bone and causing severe internal injuries – to kill or maim anyone in their sights. According to Gaza's Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, this resulted in the killing of at least 215 Palestinians, most of them unarmed, including 47 people under the age of 18 and two women. The centre said that 20,000 more were wounded, the largest number recorded in the occupied Palestinian territories since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005.
As of April, out of 143 cases transferred to military prosecutors by an Israeli fact-finding mechanism, 95 were closed with no further action. Only one — the killing of a 14-year-old Palestinian — led to an indictment, with the remainder still pending, the report said. It cited figures obtained from the Israeli military through a freedom of information request. The indicted soldier was convicted of "abuse of authority to the point of endangering life or health" in a plea bargain and sentenced to one month of community service.
"Israel was quick to announce it is investigating the protests, primarily due to the proceedings underway at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague," said the PCHR and B'Tselem. That announcement was made because the ICC will assert jurisdiction only when the state in question is "unwilling or unable" to carry out its own investigation. Once a state has investigated the incidents, the court will not intervene.
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However, the two organisations added that declaring that an investigation is underway is not enough to stave off intervention by the ICC. The investigation must be effective, be directed at the higher-ranking officials responsible for devising and implementing the policy, and lead to action against them.
B'Tselem and the PCHR said that the state of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces misled the justices about the collective punishments inflicted on the Palestinians who took part in the Great March of Return protests. They added that the High Court somewhat knowingly looked the other way, not wanting to get into a debate about security issues relating to the Palestinians.
Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority joined it in 2015.