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As Gaza Protests Resume, Urgent Call for Israeli Soldiers to Disobey 'Patently Illegal' Orders to Shoot Unarmed Demonstrators

Despite demand by human rights group and warning from international community, Israeli soldiers reportedly began opening fire on peaceful demonstrators once more during protests Friday along the Israel-Gaza border

B'Tselem's call came as thousands of Palestinians gathered on Friday to protest Israel's brutal, decades-long occupation. (Photo: Sky News)

As anti-occupation protests kicked off once more in Gaza on Friday just a week after Israeli soldiers massacred 17 Palestinians and injured over a thousand more, the prominent human rights group B'Tselem launched its first-ever ad campaign calling on Israeli soldiers to disobey "patently illegal" orders to shoot unarmed demonstrators.

"As long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply." 
—B'Tselem

"The use of live ammunition against unarmed persons who pose no danger to anyone is unlawful," B'Tselem noted in a statement on Thursday. "It is even more blatantly unlawful in the case of soldiers firing from a great distance at demonstrators located on the other side of the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip."

Titled "Sorry Commander, I Cannot Shoot," the campaign was launched as Israeli officials indicated that they are once again planning to use deadly force against nonviolent demonstrators who come within 100 meters of the border fence separating Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip.

"We have defined the rules of the game clearly and we do not intend to change them," Avigdor Liberman, Israel's defense minister, said earlier this week. "Anyone trying to approach the fence is putting their lives at risk."

B'Tselem argued that such a policy constitutes a clear violation of international law, which restricts the use of deadly force "to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative."

"The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and—above all—with Israel's prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff," B'Tselem concluded. "That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply."

B'Tselem's ad campaign came as Palestinians began to gather for demonstrations on Friday, which are expected to consist of tactics deployed throughout the week, such as sit-ins, tire-burning, and the non-violent provocation known as "reading books."

According to Haaretz, several Palestinians are in critical condition after Israeli soldiers once more opened fire on peaceful protesters.

"The Palestinian Health Ministry reported of 40 wounded from gunfire, five of which were severely wounded from shots fired to the head and upper body," Haaretz reported. "All were evacuted to hospitals in the Strip, with dozens more being treated onsite mainly for smoke inhalation."

Ahead of Friday's demonstration, top officials—including UN secretary general António Guterres and Elizabeth Throssell, a spokesperson for the human rights council—warned Israel against using lethal forceon unarmed protesters.

Speaking from Geneva, Throssel said that if Israeli troops open fire and it is determined to be unjustified, it would constitute a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for the wilful killing of civilians.

"I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties," Guterres said in a statement. "Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully.I call upon all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and exercise maximum restraint."

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