Submitted as a supplement to A/HRC/40/74, this text sets out the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of inquiry mandated to investigate the demonstrations that began in Gaza on 30 March, 2018, the response of Israeli security forces thereto, as well as the impact on civilians in Gaza and Israel.
The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that during these weekly demonstrations, the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life. Among those shot were children, paramedics, journalists, and persons with disabilities. 183 people were shot dead, another 6,106 were wounded with live ammunition.
The demonstrations were organized by a ‘Higher National Committee,’ whose members came from all sectors of Palestinian society, including civil society, cultural and social organizations, students unions, women’s groups, eminent persons, members of clans and representatives of several political parties.
While the demonstrations were civilian in nature, bringing them under a law enforcement legal paradigm, they were at times violent, including throwing stones, cutting through the separation fence, and launching incendiary kites and balloons. The Commission found, however, that the use of lethal force in response was rarely necessary or proportionate. For lethal force to be permissible, the victim must pose an imminent threat to life or limb. The ISF violated international human rights law in most instances the Commission investigated.
ISF conduct also violated international humanitarian law, which permits civilians to be targeted only when they ‘directly participate in hostilities.’ This purposefully high threshold was not met by demonstrators’ conduct, in the view of the Commission, with one possible exception on 14 May.
The Commission found that twenty-nine people killed during demonstrations were members of organized armed groups, with another 18 of undetermined status. The Commission took the view, however, that is unlawful to shoot unarmed demonstrators based solely on their membership in an armed group, and not on their conduct at the time. It is equally unlawful to target them based on political affiliation. 1,576 people were wounded by bullet or bone shrapnel that resulted from ricochets, bullet fragmentation and shots going through one body into another - clearly illustrating the danger of firing high-velocity live ammunition into a crowd of demonstrators.
The Commission found that the content and the application of the Israeli forces’ rules of engagement contributed to the unlawful approach. The rules permitted status-based targeting in the legs of individuals deemed to be “key inciters/key rioters”, defined by conduct such as burning tyres, cutting or breaching the fence, exhorting/leading the crowd. Under these rules, 4,903 persons were shot in the lower limbs – many while standing hundreds of meters away from the snipers, unarmed.
Unless undertaken lawfully in self-defense, intentionally killing a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime. Serious human rights violations were committed which may amount to crimes against humanity.
The Commission found Hamas, as Gaza’s de facto authority, responsible for failing to stop indiscriminate incendiary and explosive kites and balloons, which spread fear and caused significant material destruction within Israel.
The Commission also found that the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza de facto authorities bear responsibility for failing to uphold the right to peaceful assembly in connection with demonstrations policed by their respective security forces in June 2018. Israel chose not to cooperate with the Commission.