The Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council (JVP HAC) issues this statement out of grave concern about the Israeli Military’s use of excessive force, including live ammunition and tear gas against protesters in Gaza. For the past four Fridays, demonstrators within Gaza were met by the Israeli military firing live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, and teargas across the border fence. The disproportional response of the Israeli military to a mostly unarmed civilian demonstration reflects a disregard for the basic human rights of Palestinians and for the safety and health of the people of the besieged Gaza Strip, where dire humanitarian conditions exist. This military response violates international law. Of further concern is the obstruction by the Israeli and the United States governments to the United Nations’ issuing a statement condemning these actions. 

According to the New York Times, the Israeli military response to these protests has resulted in 37 deaths (4 people under the age of 18) and over 3000 wounded. 

Over 1000 of the wounded were hit by live ammunition, 300 by rubber-coated bullets, and 1000 by large doses of tear gas. Among those targeted were journalists (wearing identifying vests)—1 was killed and at least 6 have been wounded, and medics. Those with lethal wounds were shot in the chest, the back, and abdomen. Many also had been shot in the legs, pelvis, and hands.  There have been no Israeli injuries. 

The Israeli military response violates international law, which requires that lethal force only be used when there is the threat of bodily harm. Given the well-fortified barrier fence, electronic surveillance, and inhospitable terrain, there is no justification for this response.  Israeli snipers inflicting life-threatening wounds from considerable distance from the fence constitute violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

Eric Goldstein, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch stated“Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations.”  The Israeli military tweeted that, “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

We speak out as health workers concerned about this ongoing impunity of the Israeli military to use lethal and harmful force on those demonstrating for an end to the brutal occupation and conditions they endure. The context for the weekly protests by the Palestinians is the political reality under which the population lives and suffers— an intransigent and harsh military occupation and siege. In Gaza, over half the population consists of refugees and their descendants forced from their lands when the State of Israel was founded. The Great March of Return, as this protest is called,represents the Palestinian yearning to exercise the right of all refugees to return to their homes—a right guaranteed by international law. The Gaza protests are also demanding an end to Israeli occupation and a lifting of the siege that has devastated the Gaza infrastructure and caused severe shortages and hardships on the 2 million inhabitants of that tiny area of land. 

Those wounded in the protests face a health care system that lacks adequate medications and supplies. Electricity restrictions require the use of backup generators to maintain critical services. Patients with wounds beyond the capacity of the Gaza medical system are being denied exit visas to receive care in Israel or on the West Bank.  As in past assaults on Gaza where medical facilities and personnel have been targeted, on Friday April 13 an emergency medical clinic near the encampment in Khan Yunis was hit by teargas, causing severe illness symptoms in some of the personnel. Physicians for Human Rights Israel stated “The Palestinian health care system (is) ‘one of the major victims’ of Israel’s blockade.”

The JVP HAC calls for the following:

  1. A full and impartial investigation of the Israeli military’s actions since March 30 in response to the Gaza protests. The investigation must be conducted by an international human rights body such as the United Nations. The investigation should look at not just the actions of the soldiers at the Gaza border, but the orders from commanding military and government officials. 
  2. An end to the siege on Gaza. This is creating a humanitarian crisis as restrictions are imposed on: basic human services and goods including health supplies and services, food, and the economic infrastructure, leading to massive unemployment, poverty and aid dependence, and the obstruction of the right to movement, thus restricting and delaying transfer of patients for essential medical care outside of Gaza. 
  3. Lethal force must always be a last resort and used ONLY when there is a threat to bodily harm. International law stipulates the conditions under which lethal force can be used. Such conditions are clearly not present and Israeli military preemptive planning including the positioning of “military sharpshooters” at the border fence is a clear violation of international human rights standards.
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