A neo-conservative pro-Israel lobby group attempted to justify Israel’s use of lethal force during the 2018 “Great March of Return” which led to the death of 189 people including 35 children, paramedics and journalists. In an event organised by the Friends of Israel Initiative (FoII) at the UK parliament last week, the right-wing group labelled Palestinian protestors “combatants” and endorsed Israel’s use of maximum force against unarmed protestors. Entitled: “The situation in Gaza: Hamas, the UNHRC, and what’s at Stake for the UK”, the event saw speakers making a number of claims to justify Israel’s actions, which have been denounced by the UN as possible war crimes. Participants said that the two speakers at the event offered a false and misleading narrative by portraying unarmed Palestinians as legitimate targets – a view that is completely at odds with UN reports – to justify the use of lethal force by Israeli occupation forces. UN investigators concluded that Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and may have committed war crimes in their lethal response to Palestinian demonstrations in Gaza. The independent Commission of Inquiry, set up last year by the UN’s Human Rights Council, found that Israeli forces killed 189 people and shot more than 6,100 others with live ammunition. The report said that 35 of those killed were children, three were clearly identifiable paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists. By the end of 2018, 1,022 of these people had to undergo amputations (including 20 children). A separate report published by the World Health Organisation on 31 March found that since the start of the demonstrations in Gaza in 2018, a total of 277 people had been killed (52 children) and 31,214 injured. Some 6,846 people suffered from gunshot wounds, of which 6,196 (91 per cent) presented wounds in their limbs. However, speakers at the pro-Israeli event dismissed these findings. One of the speakers, Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer is reported to have made the claim that the actions of the Israeli army had in fact saved the lives of innocent civilians on the Gaza fence. He said Hamas was responsible for the deaths alleging that it is the only group in history that has used a strategy intended to have their own population killed. Kemp, who is a key member of the FoII, recently congratulated Donald Trump, describing the US President’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as “brave”. With a long career in the British military, his credentials are regularly used to justify Israel’s brutal actions. In his response to the UN report which concluded that Israel committed war crimes, Kemp wrote an article for FoII accusing the UN Commission of “acting as an instrument of Hamas terrorism”. In his speech at the Parliament, Kemp explained Israel’s killing of Palestinians saying that in order to prevent the breach of the border fence and the massacre of Israelis by thousands of armed Hamas affiliates and operatives, Israeli soldiers had to use lethal force. He praised Israel, claiming that it had taken considerable steps to avoid killing Palestinians and insisted that “the only solution will be found when the wall will be built with Gaza”. Natasha Hausdorff of UK Lawyers for Israel claimed that the UN report was flawed because of what she said was the report’s failure to accurately frame the protest as a conflict between Hamas and Israel. She insisted that the Palestinians in the Great March of Return were not civilian as is claimed by the UN report but members of a group seeking to destroy Israel. In her condemnation of the UN, Hausdorff added: “The report is the most recent example of the UNHRC’s institutionalised discrimination against Israel and allows Hamas to cause Palestinian casualties in the process of trying to kill Israelis.” The event has attracted strong criticism. FoII was accused of spreading misinformation and of trying to manipulate the reality of the Great March of Return, a movement described in the UN report as a “large-scale civilian protest”. Denouncing the FoII, Zaher Birawi, chairman of EuroPal Forum – who compiled a report on the event – said: We regard the present misrepresentation of the Great March of Return protests as an instance of military combat undertaken by Palestinian combatants as an attempt to justify the IDF’s brutal and strategic use of violence.” Expressing concerns over what it called “the pervasive crisis of Israeli accountability”, the pro-Palestinian advocacy group mentioned that Israel had refused to cooperate with the UN investigations, rejected all conclusions of the independent UN enquiry, and has stated that the actions of the Israeli army were taken in self-defence.
On 23 November 2019, EuroPal Forum and Middle East Monitor co-hosted a conference at the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury in London on the relations between Europe and Palestine. A first of its kind, the conference brought together individuals at the forefront of discourse on Palestine in
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