Israeli officials have rallied behind the IDF after calls at home and abroad for an independent probe into its use of force against Palestinian protesters at the border of the Gaza Strip on Friday.
Violence erupted during demonstrations on ‘Land Day,’ an annual Palestinian protest against Israeli settlements. This year, tens of thousands of people gathered on the Israel-Gaza border for the occasion.
Hundreds of them ignored calls by organizers and warnings by the Israelis not to approach the border wall, which is considered a restricted military zone by the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF responded with sniper fire, rubber bullets and tear-gas cannisters dropped from drones. According to Gaza health officials, 15 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured, making the event the deadliest in Gaza since Israel’s military operation there in 2014.
Commenting on the violence, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the bloodshed. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, rights group Amnesty International, and Israel’s left-wing opposition Meretz party made similar calls. But the Israeli government is standing by the IDF’s response to the Palestinian protest.
“Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio. “As for a commission of inquiry – there won’t be one.”
The minister reiterated his position in a Twitter post, rejecting the calls for a probe. “I don't understand the painted choir that wants a commission of inquiry. They got confused and thought that Hamas had arranged the Woodstock festival yesterday and we had to give them flowers,” he wrote in Hebrew, referring to the militant Palestinian group controlling the Gaza Strip.
In a separate interview to Israel Radio on Sunday, Lieberman accused Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg of failing to represent Israeli citizens in the national parliament. “Meretz has long stopped representing Israeli interests and does not belong to the State of Israel. They represent the Palestinian interest in the Knesset,” he said.
There were similar remarks from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised the IDF for maintaining Israel’s borders and allowing its citizens to enjoy a peaceful celebration of Passover.
The IDF insists that eight of the 15 people killed were actually Hamas fighters and that their use of force was justified by the protesters’ own behavior. The IDF said the Palestinians had burned tires, hurled stones and threw firebombs; as well as trying to breach the border.
The organizers of the protest, which was dubbed the ‘Great Return March,’ was initially planned as a week-long sit-in in tents along the border, with regular protest marches eventually culminating on May 15, when Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of Nakba, or “Catastrophe.” It refers to the mass expulsion of Palestinians around the time that Israel declared its independence.
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