On Saturday, 30 March 2019, in excessive use of force against the peaceful protesters in the 1st anniversary of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege, Israeli forces killed 3 Palestinian civilians, including a child, and wounded 364 others, including 74 children, 12 women, 7 journalists, and 6 paramedics. The injury of seven of them was reported serious.
It should be mentioned that before the protests started today, the Israeli forces deployed military reinforcements along the border fence with the Gaza Strip, and set up more fortified sniper positions. This indicates an Israeli intention to use excessive force against the demonstrators.
Israeli media reported that the Israeli forces had deployed three military brigades and an artillery battalion, and announced the deployment of 200 snipers along the border with the Gaza Strip. This is reminiscent of similar preparations on the eve of the outbreak of Return March a year ago, preceded with systematic incitement by the Israeli political and military echelons and giving direct orders to target the peaceful demonstrators, especially those who were described as “inciters.”
The Israeli military reinforcements came despite the prior declaration of the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege that the demonstrations will be peaceful. On Thursday, the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege confirmed in a press conference the peaceful and popular nature of all activities in the Earth Day demonstrations in order to block the Israeli authorities’ plans, which intend to shed the blood of peaceful demonstrators.
According to observations by PCHR’s fieldworkers, the Israeli forces who stationed in prone positions and in military jeeps along the fence with Israel continued to use excessive force against the demonstrators by opening fire and firing teargas canisters at them. As a result, dozens of the demonstrators were hit with bullets and teargas canisters without posing any imminent threat or danger to the life of soldiers.
Moreover, PCHR’s fieldworkers said that the Israeli forces increased the sniper-positioning points and raised the sand berms on which the snipers position, enabling them to see clearly and completely the area ,where the protestors spread, and deep into the Return encampment.
PCHR’s fieldworkers monitored the deployment of hundreds of police officers to control the demonstrations and prevent the demonstrators from approaching the border fence. The demonstrations were as always fully peaceful and some protesters in very limited cases approached the border fence and attempted to threw stones at the fence.
At approximately 07:00, Israeli forces opened fire at a group of Palestinian young men who approached the border fence, adjacent to the Return camp in eastern Gaza Strip. As a result, Mohamed Jehad Jawdat Sa’d (20), from al-Shuja’iyia neighborhood, was hit with a live bullet to the chest and his death was declared after half an hour of his arrival at al-Shifa Hospital. It should be noted that Mohamed died before the actual start of the demonstrations to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the Great March of Return and Breaking and the 43rd anniversary of the Earth Day, which the Supreme National Commission has called “the millions of land and return.”
At early hours, hundreds of civilians, including women, children and entire families, started swarming to the five encampments established by the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege adjacent to the border fence with Israel in eastern Gaza Strip cities. Hundreds, including children and women, approached the border fence with Israel in front of each encampment while hundreds of civil members and police officers deployed along the border fence to prevent the protesters from approaching the fence. Dozens of protesters managed to approach the border fence and attempted to throw stones at the Israeli forces.Although the demonstrators gathered in areas open to the Israeli snipers stationed on the top of the sand berms and military watchtowers and inside and behind the military jeeps, the Israeli forces fired live and rubber bullets in addition to a barrage of teargas canisters.
The Israeli shooting, which continued at around 18:00, resulted in the killing of two civilians identified as:
1- Adham Nedal Saqer ‘Amarah (17), from Gaza City, who was hit with a tear gas canister to the face in eastern Gaza City, and his death was declared at approximately 15:15.
2- Tamer Hashem ‘Isaa Abu al-Khair (18), from Hamad City in Khan Yunis, who was hit with a live bullet to the chest while participating in demonstrations in eastern Khuza’ah in Khan Yunis. At approximately 15:55, Tamer was taken to the Indonesian Hospital and his death was declared at 19:00.
Moreover, 364 Palestinian civilians, including 74 children, 12 women, 7 journalists, and 6 paramedics, were hit with live and rubber bullets and direct tear gas canisters. Ninety-three of them were hit with live bullets and shrapnel, six were hit with rubber bullets, and 148 were directly hit with tear gas canisters. In addition, dozens of demonstrators, paramedics, journalists, and PCHR’s fieldworkers suffered tear gas inhalation and seizures due to tear gas canisters that were fired by the Israeli forces from the military jeeps and riffles in the eastern Gaza Strip.
Moreover, an ambulance was directly hit with a tear gas canister in northern Gaza Strip, indicating the Israeli systematic policy to target the medical personnel and obstruct their humanitarian work guaranteed with protection according to international humanitarian law.
The following table shows the number of civilian casualties due to the Israeli forces’ suppression of the Great March of Return since its beginning on 30 March:
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Among those wounded, 540 are in serious condition and 136 had their lower or upper limbs amputated; 122 lower-limb amputations, 14 upper-limb amputations, and 25 children had their limbs amputated according to the Ministry of Health. The number of those wounded only include those wounded with live bullets and directly hit with tear gas canisters, as there have been thousand others who suffered tear gas inhalation and sustained bruises.
PCHR recalls the report of the International Commission of Inquiry issued last February, which confirmed the findings of PCHR and other Palestinian and international human rights organizations, and considered that the violations of the Israeli forces may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
PCHR reiterates Palestinians’ right to peaceful assembly to confront Israel and its forces’ denial of the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination, right to return and right to end the occupation of the Palestinian territory.
PCHR stresses that the Israeli forces should stop using excessive force and respond to the legitimate demands of the demonstrators, particularly lifting the closure which is the real solution to end the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
PCHR emphasizes that continuously targeting civilians, who exercise their right to peaceful assembly or while carrying out their humanitarian duty, is a serious violation of the rules of international law, international humanitarian law, the ICC Rome Statute and Fourth Geneva Convention.
Thus, PCHR reiterates its call upon the ICC Prosecutor to open an official investigation in these crimes and to prosecute and hold accountable all those applying or involved in issuing orders within the Israeli Forces at the security and political echelons.
PCHR also emphasizes that the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention should fulfill their obligation under Article 1; i.e., to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances and their obligations under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
PCHR calls upon Switzerland, in its capacity as the Depository State for the Convention, to demand the High Contracting Parties to convene a meeting and ensure Israel’s respect for this Convention, noting that these grave breaches constitute war crimes under Article 147 of the same Convention and Protocol (I) Additional to the Geneva Conventions regarding the guarantee of Palestinian civilians’ right to protection in the occupied territories.