The time for symbolic condemnation is over.
The ICC must take action, and the international community must act concretely – Amnesty International director.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) must open a formal investigation into the killings and serious injuries of Palestinian protestors as possible war crimes, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Amnesty International’s research has revealed that the nature of the injuries sustained shows that Israeli soldiers are using high-velocity military weapons designed to cause maximum harm to Palestinian protesters who do not pose an imminent threat to them. These apparently deliberate attempts to kill and main are deeply disturbing, not to mention completely illegal. Some of these cases appear to amount to wilful killing — a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.
Unless Israel ensures effective and independent investigations resulting in criminal prosecutions of those responsible, the International Criminal Court must step in.
The organisers of the “Great March of Return” have repeatedly stated that the protests are intended to be peaceful, and they have largely involved sit-ins, concerts, sports games, speeches and other peaceful activities.
Despite this, the Israeli army reinforced its forces — deploying tanks, military vehicles, soldiers and snipers along the Gaza fence — and gave orders to shoot anyone within several hundred metres of the fence.
While some protesters have attempted to approach the fence, threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers or burnt tyres, social media videos and eyewitness testimonies gathered by Amnesty International and Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups show that Israeli soldiers shot unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists and medical staff approximately 150-400m from the fence, where they did not pose any threat.
According to military experts as well as a forensic pathologist who reviewed photographs of injuries obtained by Amnesty International, many of the wounds observed by doctors in Gaza are consistent with those caused by high-velocity Israeli-manufactured Tavor rifles using 5.56mm military ammunition. Other wounds bear the hallmarks of U.S.-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles shooting 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.
According to a recent statement by Médecins Sans Frontières, half of the over 500 patients admitted to its clinics were treated for injuries where the bullet had literally destroyed tissue after having pulverised the bone. This information has been confirmed by humanitarian NGOs as well as testimonies collected from doctors by Palestinian human rights groups in Gaza.
Doctors at the European and Shifa hospitals in Gaza City told Amnesty International that many of the serious injuries they have witnessed are to the lower limbs, including the knees, which are typical of war wounds seen in the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Many had suffered extreme bone and tissue damage, as well as large exit wounds measuring between 10 and 15mm, and will likely face further complications, infections and some form of physical disability, such as paralysis or amputation. Reports of the high number of injuries to the knees, which increase the probability of bullet fragmentation, are particularly disturbing. If true, they would suggest that the Israeli army is intentionally intending to inflict life-changing injuries.
Doctors also said that they had observed another type of devastating injury characterised by large internal cavities, with plastic left inside the body, but no exit wounds.
In most of the fatal cases analysed by Amnesty International, victims were shot in the upper body, including the head and the chest, some from behind. Eyewitness testimonies, video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured while posing no immediate threat to the Israeli soldiers.
Israel continues to violate international standards with the use of live ammunition and excessive force. Under international law, firearms can only be used to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
The time for symbolic statements of condemnation is now over. The ICC must take action, and the international community must act concretely and stop the delivery of arms and military equipment to Israel.
A failure to do so will continue to fuel serious human rights abuses against thousands of men, women and children suffering the consequences of life under Israel’s cruel blockade of Gaza. These people are merely protesting their unbearable conditions and demanding the right to return to their homes and towns in what is now Israel.
Over the past 11 years, civilians in the Gaza Strip have suffered the devastating consequences of Israel’s illegal blockade in addition to three wars. As a result, Gaza’s economy has sharply declined, leaving its population almost entirely dependent on international aid. Gaza now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, at 44 percent. Four years after the 2014 conflict, some 22,000 people remain displaced.
In January 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, specifically looking into allegations of crimes committed since June 13 2014. We have yet to see the outcome of that. Palestinians are dying on a daily basis, either from bullets or from the effects of the blockade. Enough is enough!
Shenilla Mohamed is executive director of Amnesty International South Africa. She is a journalist, editor and human rights activist and defender, and her career spans more than three decades. She spent seven years working in the Persian Gulf region as bureau chief for the Gulf News and was Europe Middle East editor for Inter Press Services, so she has a strong understanding of the region and the issues.