The reports about what is happening at the Palestinian “Right of Return” march in Gaza could not be more contradictory. UN rapporteur Michael Lynk (left) says Israeli soldiers are firing on peaceful demonstrators. Mike Fegelman, (right) CEO of “Honest Reporting Canada” says it is Hamas who is committing war crimes by using a riot to hide armed terrorists. Who to believe? CTIP has just returned from a week in Gaza. Here is what we saw at the 4th weekly demonstration which was held on April 27….
UN Rapporteur Michael Lynk was recently interviewed by CTV about the recent demonstrations in Gaza, called the Great March of Return, in which dozens of Palestinians have been killed and thousands more wounded. Lynk claimed that the protest was largely peaceful and that the Israeli use of deadly weapons was a potential war crime.
In this he was supported by a recent statement by Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, both of whom said Israel was unlawfully killing and maiming protesters. Several other UN officials joined to make a joint press statement which lays out in more detail why international human rights experts consider the IDF sniper firing a potential violation of international law. And the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has warned Israel that its actions could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute).
Palestinians claim that their “Great March of Return” which has been taking place every Friday for the last several weeks is a peaceful way for Palestinian civil society to bring back to international attention their right to return to the homes and villages from which they were expelled by Israel 70 years ago.
Lynk was immediately attacked by “Honest Reporting Canada”, a pro-Israel group. A statement protested: “CTV Gives Platform to UN Palestine Rapporteur Michael Lynk to Spread Disinformation“. Honest Reporting repeated Israel’s claim that what is happening in Gaza is not a peaceful protest but something much more sinister – a dangerous “riot” orchestrated by armed Hamas terrorists which threatens Israelis and the integrity of Israel itself.
So – who’s telling the truth?
This UN map shows the 5 demonstration camps and the number of deaths and hospitalizations for each. The Gaza perimeter fence (mistakenly called a “border”) keeps Palestinians trapped inside Gaza and prevents them from returning to their homes and villages now in Israel. The red line on the right shows the 300 metre wide “no go zone” inside Gaza which Israel forbids Palestinians to enter – even farmers whose land it it is. This is where the demonstrations and the deaths have taken place. As of May 1, no Israeli soldier has been killed or even injured.
Decide for yourself – Watch CTIP’s own videos
CTIP was in Gaza from April 22 to April 29. While we were there, we went to two of the five demonstration sites – Khan Younis and Gaza City itself. We also spoke to dozens of Palestinians over the one week period to get a better understanding of the objectives and functioning of the protest. We were interested to see for ourselves whether the protest could be characterized as “violent” or “peaceful”, “Hamas run”- or “civil society organized”.
Here is a playlist of 8 short videos (ranging from 30 seconds to 1 minute in length) which I shot over a 3 hour period at the Gaza demonstration on Friday, April 27th. Some of the audio is difficult to hear because there was quite a bit of wind. Apologies.
Our observations on site and our discussions with students, first aid workers, doctors and even some of the March organizers before and after the demonstration correspond overall to Lynk’s assessment. Below we review some of Honest Reporting’s comments about Lynk’s statements and compare them to our own observations.
- Honest Reporting: “Lynk claimed that most Palestinians were “unarmed”. In so doing, Lynk downplayed the danger Israel faced from the violent riots and terror attacks.”
- CTIP: We did not see any Palestinians carrying any weaponry (not even stones) but we were told that some were thrown in the direction of the Israeli soldiers. The stone throwing seemed to be nothing more than an act of defiance. None of the stones reached anywhere near the soldiers who were over a hundred metres away and protected in bunkers. The evidence seems to speak for itself: no Israelis were killed, nor have any been reported injured.
- Honest Reporting: “Lynk fundamentally ignored Hamas’ role in financing, organizing and inciting the riots. Lynk ignored Hamas’ role in dispatching and arming terrorists under the cover of protest, and sending children to the front lines, all bona fide war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions.”
- CTIP: We did not see any riot, nor any “armed terrorists”. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were just there, milling around. Families went together – men women and children. Nobody was “sent” to the front lines. It was mostly young men showing their bravado. All the while, the Israeli soldiers were in plain sight. If Hamas had wanted to shoot one or more soldiers, it would not have been difficult to do so. It did not appear to be a Hamas show. There were no green Hamas flags nor yellow Fateh flags. We were told that the demonstration was coordinated by the “Higher National Committee for lifting the siege” which was composed of more than 10 civil society organizations. Political parties, including Hamas and Fateh, had been asked by the organizing committee to bring only Palestinian flags. But all Palestinian parties supported the demonstrations, and members from all parties were among the participants.
- Honest Reporting: “Lynk implied that Israel committed war crimes by intentionally firing at civilians in “violation of international law””
- CTIP – We heard Israeli sniper and automatic rifle fire. We saw one person fall directly in front of us and over a dozen people being carried by medical personnel to ambulances. Most of the injured did not appear to be very close to the perimeter fence. It certainly appeared to us that Israel was firing at civilians who posed no immediate threat to them. Our understanding is that that is a war crime.
- Honest Reporting: “Lynk defended the so-called Palestinian “right of return” which is a Palestinian term that would see the Jewish State destroyed demographically and turned into another Arab-majority state.”
- CTIP – The Right of Return not a “Palestinian term” but is based in international law – specifically UN resolution 194. Honest Reporting is correct, however, that the return of Palestinian refugees would mean that the land of Israel/Palestine would return to being an Arab-majority country as it was before the expulsion of 3/4 million non Jews in 1948.
- Honest Reporting: “As Lynk spoke throughout the interview, CTV included background footage of Palestinians protesting and rioting”.
- CTIP: That CTV footage was not from any of the demonstrations near the perimeter. It is a clip of the funeral in Khan Younis of 15-year-old Azzam Aweida who was killed by Israeli fire the day before at the demonstration. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH2xRzPxjOk). The crowd is angry, and the guns are real, but this is nowhere near the site of the March of Return demonstration and poses no direct threat to any Israeli.
CTIP’s on the spot investigation corresponds to UN Rapporteur Lynk’s comments. So far, the Canadian government has not made any criticism of Israeli actions. Perhaps they should read more of Professor Lynk’s reports and pay less attention to those of Mr. Fegelman’s organization.
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