In response to the violent incidents in Gaza last summer, I called for an independent investigation of these tragic events. Ireland subsequently supported moves at the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into the events. I therefore welcome the fact that the Commission has now published its Report.
The Commission has clearly carried out its task in a careful and professional manner, and I commend them for their work. It is regrettable that the Israeli authorities decided not to cooperate with the Commission in any way, including refusing allowing the Commission members to enter Gaza. All Governments should cooperate with relevant HRC processes.
Their Report makes for sombre and deeply disturbing reading. While there is clearly a dispute over the events in Gaza last summer, leading to some element of genuine uncertainty about some specific events, I believe the Commission Report provides a reasonably authoritative account and analysis of what happened. Over a prolonged period of some months of demonstrations near the border fence, Israeli army sharpshooters shot over 6,000 people, killing 183 of them. While the majority were shot in the legs, suggesting some attempt to use non-lethal force, many suffered life-changing injuries, including loss of limbs. Some persons were shot close to or at the border fence, but many were some hundreds of metres inside Gaza, and some were up to a kilometre from the fence. Victims included women, children, and identifiable medical workers and journalists.
The Report suggests that Israeli authorities had reason to be concerned at a possible mass incursion into Israel, and to prepare for it, but also that this did not occur. Only a small fraction of the demonstrators were engaged in any such action. Very many of those shot were demonstrably not posing any serious threat when they were shot.
The Report instances some cases of violence on the part of some demonstrators, mostly stone throwing and the floating of incendiary devices into Israel, where they started fires in crops and property.
The Report concludes that, in relation to the use of force by Israeli forces under various headings, in at least some cases there are grounds to consider that war crimes may have been committed, in that the use of lethal force was not justified under international law. This would be a question for a court to decide.
The Commission Report therefore confirms the view I expressed in the Dáil on behalf of the Government last summer. I noted that international law allows the use of potentially lethal force by security forces only as a last resort, and when faced with immediate and serious threat. I said it was clear that these limits had not been respected, and that the actions of some demonstrators in no way justified such a violent response. I summed up that "Israel is entitled to defend itself, but it is not entitled to do this." It is no satisfaction to me that the Commission Report now backs up that view.
The Report will now be considered by the UN Human Rights Council.