In one of dozens of cases pursued by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights for the killing of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza’s ‘Great March of Return’ protests, an Israeli military court has sentenced a soldier who killed 14-year-old child, Othman Hillis, to a 30-day prison sentence to be served through military-related labor. A suspended 60-day sentence and a demotion in rank were added by the court, which indicted the soldier on the charge of “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health”, per article 72 of Israeli Martial Law (1955).
Convicting—even charging—an Israeli soldier for conduct that led to death or harm of a Palestinian is rare; however, the case is very troubling in that it was centered on disciplinary charges, instead of properly based on criminal charges for unlawful killing. The absence of a criminal conviction is a testament to the perpetual manner in which the Israeli justice system, including the military courts, shields State actors from genuine accountability and denies justice and redress to the victims, even in cases amounting to potential war crimes.
Al Mezan submitted a criminal complaint to the Israeli Military Advocate General on 4 September 2018, requesting a criminal investigation into the 13 July 2018 killing of Hillis; the Military Police initiated a criminal investigation two months later. On 6 March 2019, with Al Mezan’s legal and technical support to the family, investigators interviewed Hillis’ father at Erez crossing. Al Mezan was then informed in writing on 29 October 2019 that, “the investigation is concluded […] and based on the findings, the Military Advocate General has convicted the soldier in question with exceeding his authority” (unofficial translation of the text by Al Mezan).
The evidence collected by Al Mezan shows Hillis’ shooting to be an act of willful killing, requiring a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The sentence handed down by the court for failure to follow orders and show discipline is woefully derisory and demonstrates rampant impunity in Israel and lack of effective means of redress for Palestinian victims and/or their families.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that since 30 March 2018, Israeli forces have killed 214 Palestinians at the ‘Great March of Return’ protests in the Gaza Strip, including 46 children, four paramedics, two journalists, and nine persons with disability. Over 18,000 more have been injured. The use of lethal and other excessive force against unarmed protesters and media and medical personnel at the demonstrations, resulting in the fatalities and injuries, constitutes a grave violation of the right to life enshrined in International Human Rights Law and demonstrates a complete disregard for the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
After investigations, the 2018 United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, detailed a “lack of confidence” in the Israeli justice system, whereby the Military Advocate General “has yet to accept the implications of accountability”. The Commission continued that the, “principles of promptness, independence and impartiality, and effectiveness appear to be compromised”. Al Mezan’s similar findings of persistent failure by the Israeli justice system to hold perpetrators to account in accordance with international law necessitate the intervention of international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court. The protection of civilians and the rule of law are gravely undermined through the perpetuation of a state of impunity.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to fulfil its responsibilities and legal obligations to end serious violations of the rules and norms of international law, and to ensure that civilians living under occupation are granted due protection. The Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court must investigate the alleged grave and systematic crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory to provide justice and an effective deterrent to the possible future commission of crimes.
This document was updated with clarifying information on 25 November 2019.
 UN Commission of Inquiry report into the Gaza 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (2019) Report of detailed findings (UN Doc. A/HRC/40/CRP.2) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session40/Documents/A_HRC_40_74_CRP2.pdf para. 726
 Ibid footnote 1