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Ahead of tomorrow’s planned protests marking Palestine Land Day, and amid reports that Israeli forces have warned that they will open fire on anyone from Gaza seen breaching the border fence with Israel, Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to rein in the security forces, which have regularly used excessive force during recent demonstrations and clashes.

On 30 March 1976, Palestinian citizens of Israel protested the Israeli government’s expropriation of 2,000 hectares of land surrounding Palestinian villages in the Galilee. Six Palestinians were killed and more than 100 were injured when Israeli forces crushed the protests. On the same date every year since, Palestinian communities in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have gathered to commemorate these events, to highlight Israel’s ongoing seizure of Palestinian land, and to reaffirm their connection to the land.

“The authorities must refrain from using lethal force against protesters. Reports that the Israeli army has threatened to open fire on ‘anyone seen breaching the border’ are incredibly alarming. Under international law firearms can only be used to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“As the occupying power, Israel must uphold the rights of Palestinians to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. When policing protests, the army may only resort to force for a legitimate purpose, such as countering violence, and when other means remain ineffective. Such force must be the minimum necessary. In any event, lethal force must never be used against peaceful protesters.”

According to Israeli media reports, several groups in Gaza have organized a series of demonstrations and marches intending to confront Israeli authorities and generate media attention. Reports have indicated that as many as 100,000 protesters are expected to march on the Gaza border.

The Israeli army has announced the deployment of 100 snipers to the border and senior military officials have threatened lethal force in response to demonstrations. It is expected that the protest will last until 15 May, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba or “great catastrophe”. The day marks the expulsion of thousands in 1948 during the creation of Israel.

The Israeli military has a dark history of unlawful use of lethal force against Palestinian protesters; and impunity for unlawful killings and injuries has been the norm. On 15 December 2017, 29-year-old Ibrahim Abu Thuraya was shot in the head by a sniper. According to eyewitnesses, Abu Thuraya – who was wheelchair bound after losing both his legs in 2008 – was waving a Palestinian flag and chanting slogans. He was in possession of a slingshot, though he had not used it. According to media reports, Israeli military investigations concluded there were “no moral or professional failures” identified in this killing.

“The authorities must order Israeli forces to adhere strictly to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and to respect the rights of Palestinians to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression,” said Philip Luther.