Israel’s High Court of Justice held Monday the first hearing on a challenge to the Israeli Defense Force’s rules of engagement presented by Israeli human rights organizations after occupation forces have shot and killed 44 Palestinian protesters participating in the Great March of Return in Gaza.
The challenge targets the use of live fire against demonstrators who pose no immediate threat to human life, the only condition under which the use of lethal force is permitted under international law.
The petitions were predominantly submitted by Israeli human rights organizations including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din (which roughly translates into There is Law), the Gisha legal center for freedom of movement, and the HaMoked Center for the Defence of the Individual along with two Palestinian organizations, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel Adalah, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.
The petitions aim to make the court order the Israeli military to stop using snipers and live ammunition in order to disperse Palestinian protests in the Gaza Strip.
There are no public regulations that prove the Israeli army adheres to an open-fire policy, however, recent statements by high-ranking officials and recents actions in the Israel-Gaza border was used by these groups as legal basis to challenge the army’s rules of engagement.
In the opening arguments, Michael Sfard of Yesh Din explained “the use of deadly force against a civilian is only permitted if that civilian poses an immediate danger, these are the rules of international law… We are dealing with the most dramatic power the state has — to injure, to wound, to kill. This isn’t the place for legal games.”
Avi Milikovsky, the attorney representing the state, rebuked Sfard saying international rulings do not apply to protests in Gaza, arguing that even if they are not armed, they are acting on orders by Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas, and therefore the rules of war apply.
Human rights organizations and demonstrators have insisted the Great March of Return is led by civilians and refugees, and not by any political party. Suhad Bishara of Adalah said the state’s argument that unarmed protesters are a legitimate target for their participation in protests amount to “war crime.”
According to Gisha the hearing concluded with a decision that the petitioners would submit supplementary information, and the state would be given a chance to respond by Sunday, May 6.
Since protests began on Palestinian Land Day, commemorated on March 30, 44 protesters have been shot and killed, including two journalists and four children, over 3,000 have been injured, almost 2,000 by live ammunition.
Earlier in April Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, warned that “violence against civilians – in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza” could constitute war crimes. She also announced her office would conduct a preliminary examination to monitor the situation in Gaza.