JERUSALEM: Rights groups said on Thursday that Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands at protests along the Gaza frontier in recent years, strengthening the case for the International Criminal Court to intervene.

The Israeli military rejected the findings, claiming the “mass riots” organised by Gaza’s Hamas rulers were aimed at providing cover for cross-border attacks. The military said alleged abuses were thoroughly investigated, with soldiers held accountable.

Beginning in March 2018, Gaza activists organised weekly protests that were initially aimed at highlighting the plight of Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel, who make up three-fourths of Gaza’s population of more than two million people.

But Hamas soon co-opted the protests and used them to push for the easing of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on the territory when the group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, according to critics.

Every week for around 18 months, thousands of Palestinians gathered at different points along the frontier. Groups of protesters burned tyres, and hurled stones and firebombs.

Israeli snipers fired live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets and tear gas from sand berms on the other side in what Israel claimed was self-defence, to prevent thousands of Palestinians from rushing into Israel.

Israeli fire killed at least 215 Palestinians, most of them unarmed, including 47 people under the age of 18 and two women, according to Gaza’s Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights. Hundreds of others were seriously wounded in the demonstrations, which wound down in late 2019.

Many were far from the border fence when they were shot. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2018 and several others were wounded.

A report released on Thursday by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem and the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said the military failed to investigate orders issued by senior commanders and took virtually no action against any soldiers.

As of April, out of 143 cases transferred to military prosecutors by an Israeli fact-finding mechanism, 95 were closed with no further action. Only one case, the killing of a 14-year-old Palestinian, led to an indictment, with the remainder still pending, the report said.

It cited figures obtained from the Israeli military through a freedom of information request.

The indicted soldier was convicted of abuse of authority to the point of endangering life or health in a plea bargain and sentenced to one month of community service, the report said.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021

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