Ahead of Great March of Return protests slated to continue at the fenced border of the Gaza Strip on Friday, Amnesty International condemned Israel's reported "zero tolerance" policy toward such demonstrations, warning it likely will lead to more bloodshed after more than six months of confrontations during which Israeli forces have killed more than 150 Palestinians and injured thousands more.
"There are serious fears that this policy will further sanction the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters during today's demonstrations, and that Israeli forces will be given carte blanche authorization to carry out large-scale, unlawful killings escalating the bloodshed."
—Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International
"Given Israeli forces' horrific track record of using deadly force against Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, as well as journalists, medics, and others, the announcement of a 'zero tolerance' policy is deeply alarming," declared Saleh Higazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Noting that "Israel has repeatedly used lethal force unnecessarily and excessively against unarmed protesters in shameless violation of international law," Higazi emphasized that "there are serious fears that this policy will further sanction the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters during today's demonstrations, and that Israeli forces will be given carte blanche authorization to carry out large-scale, unlawful killings escalating the bloodshed."
While the details of the policy have not yet been publicly disclosed, Higazi called on world leaders to pressure the Israeli government to scale back its response to the ongoing protests of the decades-long Israeli occupation and 11-year blockade of Gaza. He concluded, "It is now time the international community shows 'zero tolerance' towards Israel's flagrant contempt for Palestinian lives and disregard for its obligations under international law."
Since the series of weekly demonstrations began on March 30, foreign leaders and human rights advocates have fiercely denounced the Israeli government for authorizing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to use live ammunition on unarmed protesters and demanded an immediate end to the blockade that Israel and Egypt have imposed since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
Hagai El-Ad of the Israeli human rights group B'Tsalem addressed the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to call for international action against Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and appeared on Democracy Now! Friday morning to discuss the uprising and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that's resulted from the blockade:
.@HagaiElAd describes the struggle for electricity and clean water in Gaza: "When people talk about humanitarian catastrophes, usually it's a natural disaster. In Gaza, everything we're seeing is a result of consistent policies that… have been applied for more than ten years" pic.twitter.com/tczdeBPIgt
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) October 19, 2018
As Amnesty International's six-month report on the protests noted, "While some protesters have engaged in some forms of violence including by burning tires, flying incendiary kites, or throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in the direction of Israeli soldiers, social media videos, as well as eyewitness testimonies gathered by Amnesty International, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights groups show that Israeli soldiers shot unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists, and medical staff approximately 150-400 m. (492-1,312 ft.) from the fence, where they did not pose any threat."
Human rights groups, including Amnesty, have urged Palestinian protesters to respect the intention of the march organizers and remain peaceful during the Friday demonstrations. Israel, meanwhile, has claimed the protesters' actions justify allowing the IDF to fire at them—just last week, soldiers fatally shot at least seven Gazans and wounded hundreds more—as well as the development of its new zero tolerance policy.
Citing Hebrew-language media, the Times of Israel reported:
On Thursday, Israel's top-level security cabinet instructed the army to take a wait-and-see approach to allow mediation efforts to succeed, but also ordered the military to step up reprisal attacks should there be border violence.
Ministers said the IDF should ultimately adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward rocket attacks, arson balloons, and rioting along the Israeli border.
According to a statement from Amnesty, Israel's Housing Minister and former Commander of the Israeli army's Southern Command, Yoav Gallant, told Israeli media that "the rules of the game are about to change."
The implication of an intensified response from Israeli soldiers, and even a full-blown military conflict, concerned Higazi, who pointed out that "the three armed conflicts between Israel and Hamas have had catastrophic consequences for the population of Gaza, which continues to suffer from 11 years of living under a brutal blockade."
As expected, "Israel ramped up its military presence along the fence" on Friday, the Middle East Eye reported. "A Reuters photographer counted some 60 tanks and armored personnel carriers at a deployment area near the strip, calling it the largest number he has seen there since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas."