Time: 9am (+3 GMT)
For one year today, Palestinians have been protesting Israel's policy of closure and blockade and stressing the right of refugees to return. Every Friday since 30 March 2018, unarmed protesters have attended the Great March of Return (GMR) demonstrations in the eastern areas of the Gaza Strip. The anniversary of the GMR demonstrations comes days after the publication of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (CoI) report, which concluded that Israeli forces have committed serious violations of international law in their response to the Palestinian protests, including by applying lethal and other excessive and unnecessary force.
The CoI's report emphasizes key findings that were previously pointed to by Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations. The report’s findings are also in line with reports by UN investigative commissions, treaty bodies and special procedures, who have, over the years, issued comments and recommendations stressing the need to respect human rights.
The Israeli forces’ violations in the context of the protests fall within the broader context of systematic grave breaches of international humanitarian law occurring in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) since 1967.
Between 30 March 2018 and 30 March 2019, the root causes of the protests—being prolonged suffering in inhumane living conditions—were largely overlooked by the international community. At the same time, protesters’ fundamental rights to life, physical integrity, and freedom of expression and of assembly, were systematically violated. The sense of being abandoned by the international community in the past year follows 12 years of failure by the international community to take effective action to stem the continuous deterioration of Palestinians' economic, social and cultural rights owed to Israel's closure and blockade. Although states have taken various courses of action, a firm and unified position by the international community to condemn and demand an end to the closure and blockade policy is still lacking.
The documentation by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that 274 Palestinians, of them 197 protesters, were killed and 15,292 injured during the period of the GMR demonstrations. Of these are many children, women, persons with disability, and paramedics. Further, hundreds of the injured suffer from the traumatic experiences of losing one or more limbs to amputation. Despite these appalling numbers, the international community remains divided and hesitant to take a firm stance on the serious and increasing departures from international law standards and principles—a failure of will that was clearly reflected in voting patterns on the UN resolution carrying forward the CoI report recommendations at the Human Rights Council on Friday, 22 March 2019. The double standard was clear: states refrained from taking the same meaningful action on Palestine that they promoted in other contexts. The result was a striking dissonance between states’ self-promotion as defenders of human rights and their failure to live up to their moral and legal obligations on Palestine. Inevitably, the culture of impunity in the region is further entrenched.
On the first anniversary of the GMR demonstrations, Al Mezan reiterates its support of the UN CoI report and its recommendations, and expresses gratitude to those states that supported the call for the protection from further violations of human rights and for accountability.
Al Mezan stresses its demand that the international community end its silence on the aggravating human rights situation in the oPt, in particular Gaza. The lack of effective action encourages human rights abuses. Al Mezan calls on all countries to pursue coherent and consistent foreign policy that ensures human rights are protected and promoted for all peoples, including the Palestinian people.
Al Mezan reiterates its strong condemnation of the continued use of lethal and other excessive force by Israeli forces policing the unarmed protests. Al Mezan maintains that a major impediment to human rights protection in Gaza is the continued policy of closure and blockade and that it must be ended immediately.
Al Mezan also calls on the international community to assert pressure on Israeli authorities to ensure that peaceful protesters are able to demand their legitimate rights in safety and dignity. The demonstrations today, Saturday 30 March 2019, mark the first anniversary of the GMR and could garner wider participation; the international community should proactively ensure that protesters are afforded the freedom to express themselves and demand their rights without grave threat to their lives and bodily integrity.