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PCHR releases findings of investigation into clashes of September 1996 in the Gaza Strip.

 

PRESS RELEASE

Released @ 10:00 hours GMT 28th January 1997

PCHR releases findings of investigation into clashes of

September 1996 in the Gaza Strip

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has released findings of its investigation into the clashes which took place in the Gaza Strip on 26th and 27th September 1996. It is concluded that: the force employed by Israeli forces was excessive and violated international law; Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Israel is responsible for the escalation of violence and the high number of casualties and fatalities. Thirty-one Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured by Israeli gunfire in the Gaza Strip, and throughout the Occupied Territories a total of 64 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed and an estimated 1,600 wounded.

The main findings of the investigation are:

1. Israeli military employed live ammunition, snipers, 50 calibre weapons and helicopter gun-ships against unarmed Palestinian civilians, in grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

2. Israeli forces were mostly positioned within well-fortified military installations. Palestinian demonstrators threw stones from distances of 100m and more and did not therefore constitute a lethal threat. The use of massive and lethal firepower by Israeli military exceeded accepted standards of international law.

3. The Israeli Government has sought to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the deaths of Israeli soldiers which resulted from the use of force. However, the PCHR has found that at each clash-point, Israeli soldiers initiated fire. Return of fire by Palestinian police was thus legitimate self-defence.

4. It is apparent from the number and nature of injuries and deaths that Israeli soldiers aimed to kill and seriously injure. Tear gas, baton rounds and riot equipment were not adequately employed by Israeli military before resorting to live ammunition and lethal force.

5. Israeli forces fired on medical personnel aiding wounded Palestinians in grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ambulances, nurses and doctors were fired upon; several were injured and one killed as a result.

6. The Palestinian police were initially attempting to control demonstrators at the clash-points, and at times did so while being fired upon from Israeli military positions. They acted lawfully in employing proportionate force in self-defence of themselves, and also of Palestinian civilian demonstrators, for whom they are obliged to ensure public safety. Israeli forces did not liaise with Palestinian police to restore order despite the provisions in the Interim Agreements for such cooperation.

7. The number of child casualties was very high. One third of the 31 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip during the clashes were 18 years or younger; 53.9 percent of the total number of documented wounded persons were 18 years or younger.

8. Israeli settlers, armed with automatic rifles, shot at Palestinian demonstrators at Erez Checkpoint and Kfar Darom Settlement. Unarmed Palestinian demonstrators did not present a threat to the settlers that was significant enough to warrant the use of lethal force. Settler involvement was criminal and those participating in the shooting should be held accountable.

It is apparent that the Israeli Government orchestrated the force employed against Palestinian demonstrators and determined the extent of the force. The Israeli Defence Minister had placed the IDF on high alert; senior Israeli Government figures had called for an increase in the use of force; and there were large-scale troop and armament deployments in the Occupied Territories. Yet the Israeli Government has not accepted responsibility either for the violence that erupted in September 1996, or for the unlawful killing and injury of Palestinian civilians.

The immediate spark for the chain of violent clashes in the Occupied Territories at the end of September 1996 was the opening of the tunnel near the Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem by Israel, (which was widely believed to threaten these sites). However there were several other causal factors, including: the ongoing occupation; the short-comings of the peace process; the economic hardship suffered by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as a result of Israel’s closure policy; Israel’s failure to honour the Interim Agreements; the on-going imprisonment of 3,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; the accelerated expansion of Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories and the confiscation of Palestinian land for their development; Israel’s policy aimed to isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to change facts on the ground which prejudice the final agreement.

The investigation concludes with requests addressed to the international community in respect of the following issues:

1. The Israeli Government must respect the letter and spirit of the agreements it has signed with the PLO, must not be allowed to create facts on the ground which prejudice the final status negotiations, and must begin in earnest to negotiate final status issues.

2. Israel must prevent further deterioration of the economic situation in the Occupied Territories, and to lift the closure immediately, guaranteeing freedom of movement of persons, vehicles and goods.

3. Those who used illegal force against Palestinian civilians during the clashes should be held accountable for their actions.

4. The Israeli Government is responsible for violating international law and committing grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, should be held accountable by the international community and should fulfil its obligations in this respect as provided for in the Convention, including the payment of compensation to surviving victims

and to the families of those who died.

5. Ensure that the United Nations takes all possible measures to monitor human rights violations by the Israeli armed forces and to protect Palestinian civilians.

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