Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has held a workshop to discuss the report findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory (Commission) in the context of continued internal Palestinian division. 50 public figures, community activists, and representatives of different factions participated in the workshop, held on 18 April 2019 at Al Mezan’s office in Jabalia.
Mr. Hussein Hammad, of Al Mezan’s research and technical assistance unit, inaugurated the workshop by welcoming participants and briefing them on the significance of the workshop to Al Mezan’s mission in enhancing the protection and promotion of human rights. “The Commission’s findings are important and coincide with an urgent need for unified efforts to hold Israel accountable,” said Mr. Hammad. “These findings should be used in delivering justice to perpetuators and reparation to victims.”
Mr. Issam Younis, Al Mezan’s director-general, spoke about the general context that necessitated the creation of the Commission with a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council. Mr. Younis spoke about the data collection process, including access to victims, and cited Israel’s rejection to collaborate with the Commission as a hurdle to collecting data directly from the field. He discussed more difficulties encountered during the Commission’s preparation of its report. “Human rights organizations, through meetings in Amman and Geneva, contributed to the Commission’s work by providing testimonials,” Mr. Younis said. “The Commission found that Israel did target civilians and deliberately used lethal force and that Palestinian demonstrators were acting on their right to peaceful protest. The Commission concluded that the demonstrations were not violent and did not involve any serious threat to Israeli soldiers, and as such the international human rights law is applicable.”
Mr. Younis stressed that the Israeli forces must comply with international law rules and obligations in their response to Palestinian protesters. Under international law, excessive or other forms of lethal force are prohibited; however, Israeli forces, given their response, may have committed what amounts to war crimes under international humanitarian law, especially considering the killing of and infliction of harm on children, women, journalists, and paramedics.
“The violations committed by Israeli forces in context of the Great March of Return demonstrations should be brought to international justice mechanism, especially to the International Criminal Court,” Mr. Younis stated. “A formal investigation into these violations should be launched, with the aim of ensuring rule of law as well as delivery of justice for both perpetuators and victims.”
Mr. Younis concluded his remarks with stressing that civilians must be protected and measures be taken to ensure this protection is in place, including through activating accountability. “Impunity has empowered Israel to commit more violations,” Mr. Younis said. “The high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have a legal obligation to stop this impunity. Efforts to demand accountability necessitate that Palestinians come together and voice their demands in unity.”
Participants in the workshop meaningfully contributed to the discussion and stressed that perpetuators of human rights violations must be brought to justice. They also discussed proposals to continue internal reconciliation efforts and to defy the complex challenges faced by the population in Gaza. They also suggested that simultaneously, the Commission’s findings should be used in defending Palestinians’ rights.
At the end of the workshop, Mr. Hammad thanked the participants for their contributions and expressed hope that the civil society would be better engaged in the management of Gaza’s different crises.