Yesterday, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) warned that the use of live fire by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian protesters in the occupied Gaza Strip could “constitute crimes under the Rome Statute”.
The ICC’s intervention, in the context of its ongoing preliminary examination into potential crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), is unsurprising given three factors: the number of casualties, the orders given to Israeli soldiers, and the minimal likelihood of accountability.
According to AFP’s latest tally, Israeli forces have killed 31 Palestinians since 30 March – the overwhelming majority of them unarmed civilians. In addition, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been shot with live ammunition.
As The Washington Post reported, “accounts of paramedics, medical officials, surgeons, hospital logs and the sheer pace of gunshot injuries coming from the crowd at points during the protests” have all pointed to the same “high figures” as released by the Ministry of Health in Gaza.
“The influx of casualties is…straining an over-burdened and under resourced medical system”, said one Red Cross official last Thursday, with Médecins Sans Frontières clinics treating more than 100 Palestinian protesters shot by Israeli snipers over just four days.
The killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja by an Israeli sniper, with what the head of Reporters Without Borders called “an intentional shot”, understandably got international headlines. But last Friday’s death toll also included two Palestinian children aged just 13 and 15.
What makes such casualty figures all the more disturbing, however, is the rhetoric from Israeli officials, political and military, as well as the army’s open fire regulations.
On 31 March, the day after killing more than a dozen protesters, the “IDF Spokesperson” tweeted: “everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed”. Another army spokesperson tweeted an image of a lens over protesters, adding: “We see you clearly...[Stop] putting yourselves in harm's way.”
Israeli media has reported that “the orders received from the [army’s] General Staff” allow soldiers to open fire in three scenarios: “a life-threatening situation, if he detects damage to state infrastructure and if he spots key instigators” – even those unarmed and 100 metres from the fence.
But two of those justifications – spotting “instigators” and detecting damage to the fence – are in violation of international human rights law, which restricts the use of firearms to “cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury”.
In the words of Human Rights Watch official Omar Shakir, Israeli authorities are openly following “a flagrantly unlawful policy that could subject them to prosecution by the International Criminal Court”. Israeli NGO B’Tselem has even urged soldiers to disobey orders to shoot unarmed protesters.
Finally, there is zero prospect of Israeli soldiers or their superiors being held to account – a vital point with respect to the ICC, which only intervenes in the absence of credible domestic processes.
Israeli forces routinely kill Palestinian civilians in the OPT, protected by a culture of impunity. For example, the deaths of 121 Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank over a 4.5-year period produced just one conviction, for “negligent manslaughter”.
The Israeli army has announced an “operational” probe into some of the recent killings in Gaza, but don’t be fooled – the aim is “to help IDF soldiers avoid prosecution in the [ICC]”. As one IDF officer candidly put it: “The investigation will work to back the troops”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies