High Court holds hearing on petitions challenging Israel’s open-fire regulations in Gaza

Protestors in Gaza. Photo by: Gisha

Protestors in Gaza. Photo by: Gisha

May 1, 2018. Yesterday morning, the High Court held a hearing on a petition filed by Israeli human rights organizations Gisha, Yesh Din, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual. The court chose to hear the petition together with another petition filed by the organizations Adalah and Al Mezan regarding the same issue. The petitioners argued for the revocation of Israel’s open-fire regulations allowing soldiers at the Gaza border to use live ammunition against protestors who pose no threat to human life.

Adv. Michael Sfard, representing Yesh Din, argued: “The state has admitted that it does not consider the protestors to be engaged in hostilities, but believes lethal force may be employed against an individual who is part of a crowd and who does not yet pose a threat, purely on the basis that he may pose a threat in the future. This is a complete and utter legal fabrication concocted by the IDF’s International Law Department.” Adv. Suhad Bishara from Adalah argued: “There is a systematic policy of using lethal force, without justification, aimed at the upper body of unarmed people standing a considerable distance from the fence. More than 1,900 unarmed civilians have been injured by live fire. The court must issue an order nisi.”

The organizations took to the court in an effort to compel the state to comply with international law, which prohibits the use of lethal force, unless it is absolutely necessary to stave off a threat to human life – and, in this particular case, only as a last resort and only to the extent necessary to eliminate the threat. Gisha and the other petitioners maintain that participation in a protest, even if it includes public disturbances or rioting, does not, in and of itself, constitute direct participation in hostilities or an immediate and substantial threat to life that warrants the use of lethal force.

In this context, it is important to note that the Israeli army’s use of live ammunition in proximity to Gaza’s perimeter fence occurs routinely, not only during protests, and frequently results in death or injury. For years, Israel has enforced a “no-go zone” (commonly referred to as the “buffer zone”) along the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. Residents of the Strip are generally prohibited from approaching this area, where much of Gaza’s farmland is located. In addition to the loss of life, routine shootings in the “buffer zone” also impact Gaza’s agriculture sector and limit economic development in the Strip.

Israel appears to be framing the civilian protest near the fence as hostilities between two sides to an armed conflict, subject to the laws of war, though it maintains extensive control over Gaza, routinely violates the fundamental human rights of its residents, and dictates the terms of the closure it tightened over a decade ago.

The hearing concluded with a decision that the petitioners would submit supplementary information, and the state would be given a chance to respond by Sunday, May 6.

To read the petition (Hebrew), see here.