The Foreign Secretary has been asked for clarification of the statement made by UK Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, that “Hamas bears principal responsibility'” for the killing of 187 Palestinians and the injuring of more than 23,000 during the protests at the Gaza fence last year.
In a letter the director of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights Tareq Shourou says: “Bearing in mind the fact that Israeli forces carried out these killings and injuries, this seems like a mistaken gross misstatement.”
He points to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report‘s finding that “all 189 fatalities at the protests in Gaza from 30 March 2018 to 31 December 2018 were caused by unlawful use of force – with the possible exception of two incidents – and that medical workers, journalists, some children and some people with visible disabilities were shot intentionally”.
The same was true of more than 6,000 who were shot directly with live bullets, including more than 4,000 shot in the legs. As Commission member Sara Hussein said: “Our investigations found that Israeli snipers used high-velocity bullets and long-range sniper rifles equipped with sophisticated optical aiming devices. They saw the target magnified in their sights and they knew the consequences of shooting, but still pulled the trigger, not once or twice but more than 6000 times.
“The snipers killed 32 children, three clearly marked paramedics, and two clearly marked journalists. They shot at unarmed protesters, children and disabled persons and at health workers and journalists performing their duties, knowing who they were.”
A joint statement by 11 UK charities – including Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians and War on Want – said the UK’s abstention on a motion endorsing the UN report was “a regrettable dereliction of the UK’s responsibility to uphold respect for the rule of international law and human rights”.
It says the Government’s justification for this abstention – that the inquiry did not “call explicitly for an investigation into the actions of non-state actors such as Hamas” – is lacking genuine substance, because the inquiry was set up to investigate ‘all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law’.
It did not explicitly say Hamas, but it did not explicitly say Israel either. It said “all alleged violations” and indeed Hamas was investigated and they did make critical findings. Hamas , they said, “encouraged or defended the use of incendiary kites and balloons; failed in due diligence obligations to prevent and stop the use of these incendiary devices; and is obliged to investigate these failures of international human rights law.”
The letter also criticised the Foreign Secretary’s threat to vote against any motion on Israel if the United Nations Human Rights Council continued its practice of listing complaints against Israel as a permanent item 7 on every agenda, but did not do the same for other countries such as Syria.
“A preferred approach,” the letter said, would be for the UK to “use its influence as a prominent member of the Human Rights Council to urge the inclusion of other prolonged and serious human rights crises, such as the situation in Syria, as permanent agenda items”.
Julian Braithwaite is also UK Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and there was an attempt by the leading Brexiteers in the European Research Group to draft him into the Brexit negotiating team, but it was ultimately blocked by Number Ten.