On May 18, 2018, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held a “special session of the Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” Many of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that participated in the session condemned Israel for allegedly committing “war crimes” and denied the legitimacy of Israel’s right to self-defense. These NGOs accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity,” “apartheid,” “collective punishment,” acting with “impunity,” and pursuing “colonial” policies, while also calling for sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel. The NGOs similarly urged the international community to push for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as part of the wider NGO campaign to exploit international legal frameworks as a weapon against Israel.

The NGO statements show a consistent pattern of erasing the violent context of the events along the Gaza border, including Molotov cocktails, explosive devises, and arson, as well as attempts to breach the border fence with Israel. These statements similarly ignore the Palestinian use of human shields and the central role of terror organizations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in orchestrating the violent protests. Furthermore, the NGOs ignore that the majority of deaths were of members of terror organizations.

These developments closely resemble previous UN inquiries into Israeli military responses to Gaza violence. NGO claims, submissions, and reports are central in the current UNHRC initiative, just as they were in Palestinian appeals to the ICC, the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza war, as well as the UN’s Schabas-Davis commission that reported on the 2014 Gaza war. In these previous cases, Palestinian, Israeli and international organizations- often funded by European governments- shaped the results of the commission of inquiry.

Excerpts from NGO statements

Amnesty International

  • “Eyewitness testimonies, and video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured, while posing no imminent threat.”
  • “But we are not aware of any protesters that have posed an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers and snipers located behind the fence, and protected by gear, sand hills, drones and military vehicles. The high number of apparently unlawful killings, including possible willful killings, and injuries in the context of these recent protests is unprecedented and requires accountability that we believe Israel is unwilling to deliver.”

Human Rights Watch

  • “These staggering casualty levels are neither the result of justifiable force nor of isolated abuses; but foreseeable results of senior Israeli officials’ orders on the use of force. Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza have challenged Israel’s half-century occupation.”
  • “Some claim this Special Session is about targeting Israel. It is not. It is about targeting human rights violations. When security forces open fire on protestors who pose no imminent threat, they should expect scrutiny by this Council.”
  • “Human Rights Watch urges all Council Members to put principle before politics and support an international inquiry into this latest bloodshed.”

Adalah (Donors include: Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (joint funding from SwedenSwitzerlandDenmark and the Netherlands), SwitzerlandEuropean UnionBroederlijk Delen (Belgium), Bread for the World-EED (Germany), Oxfam-Novib (Netherlands), and Christian Aid (UK))

  • “These facts evidence the Israeli military’s shoot-to-kill policy and the use of force for the purpose of punishing and deterring demonstrators.”

Al Mezan (Donors include Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, NorwayEuropean CommissionDiakoniaNorwegian Refugee CouncilMedico International (Germany), Sigrid Rausing Trust (UK), Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO- Netherlands), and Open Society Foundations)

  • “We argued that the open-fire policy is patently illegal and excessive, as evidenced by the high number of deaths and injuries. Israel knows full well that there is no legal basis to support its open-fire policy.”
  • “The State plays legal gymnastics instead of fulfilling its obligations to abide by the law in dealing with unarmed protesters.”

Defence for Children International (Donors include Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law SecretariatICCO and Kerk in Actie (Netherlands), Bread for the World (Germany), Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), French Consulate, Swiss Interchurch Aid- HEKS, Mundubat (Spain), Save the Children InternationalWorld Vision, UNICEF, and Open Society Institute)

  • “Israeli military actions contravene international law and constitute disproportionate and excessive use of force. While intentional lethal force may only be used when a direct threat to life or of serious injury exists and only when lesser means would be insufficient, Israeli forces have resorted to intentional lethal force in circumstances that do not justify the use of live ammunition.”
  • “Defence for Children International urges all members of the Human Rights Council to: Condemn Israeli forces’ use of excessive force in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, against Palestinians. Ensure accountability for unlawful killings in Gaza, including by calling for an independent and transparent investigation into all incidents of excessive use of force, including lethal force, against Palestinians in the OPT, notably those resulting in the killing of children.”

 Al-Haq (with Al Mezan, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Adalah, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies) (Al-Haq donors include Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law SecretariatNorway and Ireland; PCHR donors include Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law SecretariatSwedenDenmarkSwitzerlandIrelandNorwayEuropean Union, Austria, Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Trocaire (Ireland), Christian Aid (UK), DanChurchAid (Denmark), and Open Society Institute)

  • “At least 86 Palestinians, were killed during peaceful Great Return March demonstrations, that called for the realization of Palestinian refugees’ right of return and an end to Israel’s 11-year closure of the Gaza Strip, amounting to unlawful collective punishment. Since March 30th, the Israeli occupying forces have injured over 3,600 Palestinians through the use of live fire, wilfully causing serious injury to unarmed demonstrators, while they repeatedly committed wilful killings of protected persons, which may amount to grave breaches and war crimes.”
  • “Shoot-to-kill orders were issued at the highest levels of the Israeli military, reflecting Israel’s longstanding disregard for Palestinian life, no less in the seventieth year since the Nakba.”
  • “As we mark seventy years of forcible displacement and exile of millions of Palestinians, Israel’s brutal suppression of the Great Return March sends a clear message to the world, that Israel is accountable to no one. It is time to act against this longstanding impunity.”

 BADIL (Donors include Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, DanChurchAid (Denmark), and Trócaire (Ireland))

  • “Despite the willful killings and excessive use of force targeting civilians in the Gaza Strip, despite Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies aimed at displacing and transferring Palestinians out of their homes, despite the creeping annexation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the international community has woefully failed to act to end the impunity for perpetrators of international law.”
  • “The situation in Palestine is characterized by a significant power imbalance between the occupied population and the occupying power, one in which the occupied population have a right to resist and the right to self-determination.”
  • “The Human Rights Council must not be a passive witness while civilian Palestinians continue to be killed as part of an ongoing nakba and the plight of the Palestinian people to exercise their right of return.”
  • “The international community has an obligation not only to condemn Israeli violations and unlawful practices, not only to condemn the US transfer of its embassy to Jerusalem, but also to impose sanctions on Israel to ensure its compliance to international law.”

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) (WLPF donors include Netherlands, the Ireland and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; WCLAC’s donors include Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, NorwayEuropean UnionGermanyCanada, Iceland, Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), Bread for the World (Germany), Open Society InstituteBroederlijk Delen (Belgium), Caritas Switzerland, and UNDP)

  • “We deplore the mass killings and excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Israeli forces against peaceful Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.
  • “Demonstrators were not only calling for the right of return, but also for an end to the crippling, eleven-year blockade under appalling conditions imposed by Israel.”

Norwegian Refugee Council (Donors include Norway, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom)

  • “Women, children, medical personnel, and journalists are among those killed and injured in this egregious violation of both international humanitarian and human rights law.”
  • “Meaningful action must be taken by this council to hold to account those responsible for the persistent violation of international law and collective punishment of the population before the crisis escalates further.”

World Council of Churches (Donors include NorwayBread for the World (Germany), Christian Aid (UK), DanChurch Aid (Denmark), Finn Church Aid (Finland), Norwegian Church Aid (Norway), ICCO (Netherlands), Kerk in Actie (Netherlands), and UNICEF)

  • “The “nakba”, the “catastrophe” that Palestinians experienced 70 years ago, continues to cause unresolved dispossession and suffering – particularly in Gaza. The use of live ammunition on unarmed civilians, including children, cannot be defended legally or morally as an expression of “the right to self-defence of a state”. This must be seen as an excessive use of violence against a people that Israel has a duty to respect and protect.”

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights Leagues) (Donors include  European UnionDenmarkFinlandFranceIrelandGermanythe NetherlandsNorway, Sweden, Ford FoundationOpen Society FoundationsSigrid Rausing Trust, and Bread for the World)     

  • “Palestinian protesters demanding an end to the unlawful closure of the Gaza strip and stressing the right of return for refugees who were forced to escape from their land 70 years ago, were once again met with unnecessary, excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force and lethal force by the Israeli occupying forces. The military use of live ammunition from snipers and tank fire, intentionally with the aim of attacking civilians, constitutes a deliberate and grave violation of international humanitarian law, which may amount to widespread willful killings amounting to war crimes prosecutable by the ICC.”
  • “The Human Rights Council should urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry to ensure legal accountability for perpetrators of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including for individual command responsibility. The Council should also encourage the ICC to open, as a matter of urgency, a full investigation into alleged international crimes committed by the occupying power.”

Independent Commission for Human Rights (Donors include Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark)

  • “The Commission calls upon the council to investigate into the excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian citizens. The Commission also requests the council to look in to the grave violations of human rights and IHL committed by the Israeli occupying forces in Gaza. Potentially amounting to war crimes, these violations were perpetrated against the peaceful Great March of Return and protests against the blockade on Gaza. Rallies marked the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, displacement of Palestinians from their land, and denial of the right to self-determination.”

International Commission of Jurists (Donors include FinlandGermanyIrelandNetherlandsNorwaySweden, SwitzerlandUnited States, Bread for the WorldDanChurchAidEuropean CommissionOpen Society FoundationsMedico InternationalMISEREOR, and the UNDP)

  • “The ICJ is concerned at the many killings and serious injuries associated with the excessive, unjustified or otherwise unlawful use of force, including the killing of a number of children.”
  • “The ICJ insists that human rights law – and specifically, standards on the use of force in law enforcement contexts – was indeed applicable, and that the use of lethal force was in the circumstances wholly unjustified.”
  • “Excessive force, including lethal force, has apparently been used against unarmed persons who do not pose a threat to life. Irrespective of legal regime, such use of force is manifestly inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality.”

Palestinian Return Centre (Does not publish donors or financial information, reflecting a lack of transparency and accountability)

  • “As corroborated by official human rights reports and live footages taken from the scene, Israeli snipers deliberately and cold-bloodedly gunned down peaceful protesters on the Gaza border while they posed no threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers.”
  • “We strongly condemn the decision by the United States to unilaterally declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the recent opening of the US embassy which we believe will boost Israel’s land grab policy.”
  • “We call on the international community to opt for through sanctions and for an immediate arms embargo as a means to pressurize Israel to cease its systematic killings against the Palestinian people.

Habitat International Coalition (Donors include MiserorInterchurch Organization for Development and Cooperation (ICCO), Ford FoundationRosa Luxemburg Foundation, and the United States Institute for Peace)

  • “Israel’s latest atrocity against the Palestinian people epitomizes an unbroken chain of human rights abuses.”

International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) (IADL claims that it “supports itself through subscriptions from member association and individual memberships.)

  • “During the last decade, Israel has systematically violated international law with total impunity. Despite the hundreds of United Nations resolutions, Israel’s illegal actions continue unabated and its war crimes remain unpunished.”
  • “The mass killing and wounding of unarmed and defenseless protesters in the Gaza Strip should not come as a surprise, as it is the predictable consequence of the impunity granted to Israel.”

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

  • “It is clear from the last six weeks, that Israeli forces enjoy a culture of impunity for policy-driven military assaults that are in blatant violation of international law. Once and again, the Israeli justice system has proven it is unable and unwillingness to hold accountable decision-makers and perpetrators of serious crimes.”

International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights

  • “As Palestinians were marching to bring attention to the their Right of Return and an end to the blockade on Gaza as enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194, Israeli military snipers were prepositioned with shoot-to-kill orders. Palestinians peaceful demands have been met with a brutal show of force.”
  • “Israel continues to act with complete impunity with the support of its allies. What we are witnessing today is a massacre. While Israel holds the ultimate responsibility, blame also lies with all governments that do not take action to stop the killings.”
  • “ICSFT would like to remark that mere lip service and “voice of concern” is not only insufficient but may act to normalize and perpetuate the ongoing massacre and violation of international laws which Israel is committing daily.”

Union of Arab Jurists

  • “The Union of Arab Jurists condemns with abhorrence the ugly crimes perpetrated by the Israeli occupation against the unarmed helpless Palestinians demonstrators in Gaza and other parts of the usurped Palestinian territory, including the eternal Palestinian capital Jerusalem.”
  • “Our organization calls for putting on trial the Israelis responsible for these war crimes and crimes against humanity and to put a stop to these practices that violate all international norms.”

Recontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme

  • “Recontre condemns most forcefully the willful killing perpetrated by the Israeli Security Forces against the demonstrators in Gaza. Gaza, which has become a Gaza.”


  • “CIVICUS…condemn the atrocities committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces.”
  • “The use of unnecessary, indiscriminate and disproportionate force against protesters is a grave violation of international law.”
  • “Mr. President, the lack of concrete action from the international community and the defence of these atrocious acts by some states emboldens Israel’s occupation forces to maintain a shoot to kill policy, preserve its prolonged occupation and disregard for the rule of law.”