Days after the bloodshed along the border with Gaza, Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, has vowed a lethal response to those who approach the border fence again.
“Anyone who comes close to the fence will endanger their lives,” Liberman said in a video message for the Jerusalem Post from Kibbutz Holit, close to the southern Gaza Strip. Liberman emphasized that all protestors would face Israeli snipers.
The warning came just hours after a Palestinian man, Ahmad Arafeh, fell victim to Israeli gunfire along the Gaza border, bringing the death toll to 18 since Friday when around 30,000 Palestinians started rallying. A six-week campaign called ‘The Great Return March’ is a protest against Israeli settlements on the former Palestinian territory which is now Israel. A number of protesters approached the border, some throwing stones, and Israelis responded with tear gas, gunfire and tanks.
The bloodshed elicited international concern and condemnation. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and human rights group Amnesty International called for an “independent and transparent investigation.”
However, all calls for an independent probe into the incidents along Gaza’s border were dismissed by Liberman. The minister said troops acted appropriately and fired only at Palestinian protestors who posed a threat. The IDF claimed all of the Palestinians who were shot dead at the border were Hamas fighters.
Human Rights Watch defined such claims as attempts “to justify otherwise unlawful killings.” Palestinians said the protestors were unarmed and defenseless refugees, as some of them were demanding the right to return home to the territory presently occupied by Israel, which was lost during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The territory was occupied by the State of Israel since the moment of its formation.
Ahead of looming protests this Friday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a video in which it warned Hamas was “preparing for violent riots and armed combat on the Israeli border this coming Friday.”
How do we know? Watch: pic.twitter.com/nImQ59NHa1
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) April 3, 2018
The video is in addition to a Foreign Ministry message that Palestinians “are violent rioters, not peaceful demonstrators.”
During his visit to the border of the Gaza Strip, the defense minister said that protestors were “not innocent civilians who came to protest.” Liberman told the Jerusalem Post: “Most of those who were killed are well-known terrorists who are active in Hamas’ military wing or in Islamic Jihad.”
Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East, Eric Goldstein, said: “Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations.” The organization called on the Israeli government to recognize that “even in the absence of serious domestic oversight, officials who order unlawful lethal force may become subject to prosecution abroad as a matter of universal jurisdiction or in international judicial forums.”