On 30th March - “Every Palestinian was a target” as security forces used excessive force
The 30th March has traditionally been known as 'Land Day' or 'Great March of Return' to commemorate the first Palestinian uprising in 1976 against the Israeli government's expropriation of land around villages in Galilee. This year, protests on 30th March left at least sixteen Palestinians dead and several hundred injured when protesters clashed with Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in six locations in Palestine. Reports claim that Israeli forces used tear gas and live ammunition during the protest, which had gathered approximately 17,000 people.
This year's protest became the most deadly day for Palestinians since Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. While thousands of people gathered to voice their frustration over a number of issues, such as the right to return, Israeli occupation, the blockade of Gaza, and the dire economic and social conditions faced by Palestinians, their protestations were met with brutality. Violence escalated when Israeli Occupation Forces used excessive and lethal force against the protesters, claiming that the demonstrators were "rioting". The video below contains footage of the confrontation.
“21 Palestinians were premeditated murdered by the Israeli Occupation Forces whom bear full responsibility for the shooting of Palestinians and the wounding of over 1500 Palestinian citizens including women and children..the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) had extensively prepared for and deployed additional forces and equipment in the area, including snipers, drones, bulldozers, attack dogs, and issued explicit orders to use live fire against Palestinian peaceful protestors”.
The actions of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have been widely condemned by civil society groups. Another local human rights group Adalah called for an immediate and impartial investigation into the use of lethal force against civilians. The group also denounced the Israeli Occupation Forces' brazen violation of international legal obligations to distinguish between combatants and civilians. International groups, such as Human Rights Watch have also drawn attention to the disproportionate use of excessive and lethal force against demonstrators on the other side of the border who did not pose a serious or imminent threat.
The growing outcry from civil society has been echoed by leaders of intergovernmental institutions. On 31st March 2018, UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an independent investigation into the incident and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein later commented on accounts of the 30th March that suggested the disproportionate use of excessive force by the IOF.
UN Secretary General has called for an “an independent and transparent investigation” into Israel’s brutal force in the besieged Gaza Strip, which killed 16 and injured at least 1,000 Palestinians during a peaceful protest on Friday. #GreatReturnMarch https://t.co/z2tyCV7TBy— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) March 31, 2018
While solidarity protests have taken place around the world, thousands of Palestinians are still expected to rally at Gaza's border in the future, despite warnings from Israel that its open-fire rules will not change.
Systematic human rights violations by the IOF and restrictions on civic space were recently documented in a joint submission prepared by Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), CIVICUS and PNGO for Palestine's Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. A further analysis on civic space by PNGO and the Palestinian Human Rights Organization's Council (PHROC) concluded that Israeli authorities have taken a number of steps to target independent civil society groups and human rights defenders in Palestine. The two organisations noted that:
“Civil society organisations and human rights defenders have faced attacks in the form of false accusations, defamation, and smear campaigns intended to delegitimise their independent voices and undermine their message, de-funding strategies targeting the donor community, and a wide range of policies and practices imposed by Israel, the Occupying Power, to restrict civil society space in the [Occupied Palestinian Territory]".
Both PNGO and PHROC called upon Israel to desist from its campaign against Palestinian civil society groups and urged the international community to put pressure on the authorities to protect and respect Palestinians' civic freedoms.