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Report: Israel 'whitewashed' crimes during 2018 March of Return protests

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A file photo by Palestinian media shows excessive use of force by Israeli troops to disperse Gazan protesters during the Great March of Return protests in 2018.

Rights groups say Israel has desperately attempted to whitewash crimes and excessive use of force resulting in the death of more than 200 Palestinians during the “Great March of Return" protests in 2018. 

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and B'Tselem, in a joint report on Thursday, said the investigation must be directed at higher-ranking officials and lead to action against them.

"The report shows how Israel worked to whitewash the truth and protect the political and military officials responsible, instead of taking action against the individuals who devised and implemented the unlawful open-fire policy, which resulted in the killing of more than 200 Palestinians and the injury of some 8,000 others," the groups said.

Israeli troops fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters, using butterfly bullets — which explode upon impact, pulverizing tissue, arteries and bone and causing severe internal injuries – to kill or maim anyone in their sights, the report said.

Tensions had been running high near the fence separating Gaza from the occupied territories since March 30 of that year, which marked the start of the protests.

The clashes in Gaza reached their peak on May 14,2018, the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, which coincided that year with Washington's relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied al-Quds.

More than 220 Palestinians were killed and over 20,000 others wounded in those clashes, according to figures released by the Gaza Health Ministry. The fatalities included 47 people under the age of 18 and two women.

The fatalities were the largest ever recorded in the occupied Palestinian territories since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005.

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

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 also said Israel misled the justice about its collective punishment of the Palestinians who took part in the protests.

"Israel was quick to announce it is investigating the protests, primarily due to the proceedings underway at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague," said the report.

However, the rights groups said, declaring that an investigation is underway is not enough to stave off intervention by the ICC.

"The investigations conducted by Israel are no more than a smokescreen designed to protect the officials responsible from the ICC. Israel is unwilling and unable to investigate the human rights abuses carried out by its forces during the Great March of Return protests in the Gaza Strip. Considering this, the responsibility to ensure accountability for these violations now lies with the ICC,” said the rights organizations.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has on several occasions called on the ICC “to break its silence and immediately begin investigations into the crimes of the occupying regime and settlers.”

In recent years, Israeli troops have on numerous occasions been caught on camera brutally killing Palestinians along Gaza and across the occupied West Bank, with the videos going viral online and sparking international condemnation.

The Tel Aviv regime has been criticized for its extensive use of lethal force against the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians who do not pose an immediate threat to Israeli forces or settlers.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007, causing a decline in living standards as well as unprecedented unemployment and poverty. Israel has also launched at least three major wars on Gaza since 2008

Back in May, frequent acts of violence against Palestinian worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque led to an 11-day war between Palestinian resistance groups in the besieged Gaza Strip and Israel, during which the Israeli regime killed at least 260 Palestinians, including 66 children.

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