UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has renewed his calls for Britain to cease arms sales to Israel following a UN report last week that the Israeli army’s actions against Palestinian protesters in Gaza’s Great March of Return could amount to war crimes.
“The UK government must unequivocally condemn the killings and freeze arms sales to Israel,” Corbyn tweeted on Friday, linking the report.
The Labour Party approved a motion during a conference last September that called for the same embargo on arms sales to Israel.
During the conference, Corbyn, who has sustained years of attacks and accusations of anti-Semitism for his support of Palestinian rights, slammed US policies in the region and said that Palestinians can’t be “left alone in the darkness.”
Last week’s report by the UN Commission of Inquiry highlighted the killings of at least 189 Palestinians — though local estimates report much higher numbers — and the thousands of demonstrators who were maimed by Israeli snipers along the border since the Great March of Return started almost one year ago.
The commission criticized Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement in Gaza, saying that the majority of protesters killed “did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot.”
“Less lethal alternatives remained available and substantial defenses were in place, rendering the use of lethal force neither necessary nor proportionate, and therefore impermissible,” the commission said.
Despite Israeli claims that Hamas has used the protests as cover to “infiltrate” Israeli territory and carry out attacks, there have been little to no reports of Palestinians breaking through the border fence during protests or carrying out physical attacks against Israelis.
Additionally, the UN commission that conducted the study, which included over 300 interviews with victims, witnesses, and officials from the Israeli and Palestinians sides, found that as of the end of 2018, only 29 of the dead “could be clearly identified as members of Palestinian armed factions.”
The report estimated that as many as 23,000 Palestinians were injured by Israeli army fire, including hundreds who lost limbs as a result.
In accordance with dozens of similar reports from local and international rights groups, the commission said that Israeli snipers along the border intentionally shot at journalists and health workers despite their being clearly marked.
The report went on to say that due to the possibility of war crimes committed, Israeli security forces should be held “individually and collectively accountable” for the deaths and injuries of the protesters.
Israeli and US officials widely condemned the report, citing “anti-Israel bias” in the UN.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to be indicted on charges of bribery and corruption in coming weeks, slammed the report saying it “set a new record for U.N. hypocrisy” and was “based purely on an obsessive hatred of Israel.”
The Trump administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, called the report “another manifestation of the UNHRC’s clear bias against Israel,” and went on to claim that Hamas was behind the protests.
Hamas behaved with reckless irresponsibility & disregard for human life when it incited VIOLENT (not “civilian”) protests, breaches & attacks at the Gaza fence-line. Hamas is directly responsible for the miserable situation of the people of Gaza. https://t.co/66H8vdfkXH
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) March 1, 2019
“Hamas behaved with reckless irresponsibility & disregard for human life when it incited VIOLENT (not “civilian”) protests, breaches & attacks at the Gaza fence-line,” Greenblatt tweeted.
“Hamas is directly responsible for the miserable situation of the people of Gaza,” he said.
But in its report, the commission determined that the protests “arose out of a desire by Gaza residents to draw attention, in a nonviolent manner, to the dire humanitarian situation in the strip amid a strict land, sea and air blockade by Israel and Egypt that has been in place for more than a decade.”
The Gaza Strip is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, over 70 percent of whom are refugees whose families were forcibly expelled from their homes during the Nakba in 1948.
Since the Great March of Return was launched on March 30, 2018, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have taken to the borders with Israel to demand the right of return of refugees to their ancestral homelands in present day Israel, and an end to the nearly 12-year siege on Gaza, which has crippled the coastal enclave’s economy.
Gazans suffer from lack of access to clean water, high unemployment rates, and electricity for only a few hours a day, contributing to the growing frustrations in the coastal enclave.