The European Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution that denounces Hamas as a terrorist group that uses human shields, calls for Israel’s destruction and “seems to aim at escalating tensions” at the Gaza-Israel border.
The motion also calls for the release of Israeli citizens and the bodies of fallen soldiers held by the Palestinian terror group in the coastal enclave.
The carefully calibrated text, which was the result of intense negotiations between the parliament’s various factions but was eventually jointly submitted by all major political groups, also backs calls for probes into Israel’s use of live ammunition to fend off protesters at the border and calls on Israel to exercise restraint.
It passed with 524 “yes” votes, 30 “no” votes, and 92 abstentions.
Pro-Israel advocacy groups welcomed the resolution, stressing the unusual fact that a European Union body found strong words of condemnation not only for Israel but also for Hamas.
Islamist Hamas terror movement leader Yahya Sinwar (C) shouts slogans as he takes part in a protest near the border with Israel east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Mohammed ABED)
Idit Rosenzweig-Abu, spokesperson of Israel’s mission to the EU, said “the resolution adopted today is far from being pro-Israeli, however we are satisfied that unprecedented anti-Israeli clauses were cut out of the resolution and, most importantly, we are happy to hear a strong, clear call for the immediate release of the Israeli citizens and the return of the bodies of our soldiers held in Gaza.”
Idit Rosenzweig-Abu (twitter)
The resolution began as starkly anti-Israel, even urging an arms embargo against the Jewish state in its earliest drafts.
The final three-page motion starts off by noting that the now-weekly “March of Return” at the Gaza border was organized by civil society groups, that Hamas asked people to join the marches, and that Israelis reported that stones and firebombs were thrown against troops and that some protesters tried to damage the border fence and infiltrate into Israel.
The text goes on to note that the IDF used live ammunition, killing “close to 30 Palestinians” and wounding thousands.
It then recalls the fact that Hamas is listed by the EU as a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction and continues to launch rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory.
It also states that “Hamas continues to keep the population under control and pressure in the Gaza Strip, which remains a hub of internationally recognized terrorist organizations,” and heavily curtails “basic freedoms, including of association and expression.”
“The European Parliament… Calls for utmost restraint and underlines that the priority must be to avoid any further escalation of violence and loss of life; expresses its regret of the loss of lives; condemns the killings and injuries of innocent Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip over the past three weeks and urges IDF to refrain from using lethal force against unarmed protesters,” the resolution reads.
It goes on to acknowledge “Israel’s security challenges and the need to protect its territory and borders while using proportionate means” and “condemns the terror attacks of Hamas and other militant groups against Israel from the Gaza Strip, including the firing of rockets, infiltrations into Israeli territory, and the building of tunnels.”
The lawmakers then express concern that “Hamas seems to aim at escalating tensions” and “strongly condemns the continuous tactic of Hamas to use civilians for the purpose of shielding terrorist activities.”
Stressing the Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest and calling on Israel to respect this right, the motion calls on protest leaders to “avoid any incitement to violence, as well as to ensure that any protests, demonstrations, and assemblies remain strictly non-violent and cannot be exploited for other means.”
While the resolution takes note of the Israeli army’s fact-finding missions into past protests, it supports the calls for “independent and transparent investigations into these violent events,” which had been made by the EU, the United Nations, and many individual states.
“Intentional use of lethal force against protesters who do not pose an imminent threat to life or serious injury violates international human rights law and in the context of occupation is a serious breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” it states.
It also calls for an “immediate and unconditional end to the blockade and closure of the Gaza Strip,” which, it argues, results in “a deteriorating unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the area.”
Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)
The resolution demands the “freeing and the return to Israel” of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two Israeli citizens held by Hamas in Gaza against their will, and calls for the return of the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two IDF soldiers who fell in the last war between Israel and Hamas. The EU lawmakers also offer “condolences to their families.”
“The above points are extremely important in any discussion regarding the Gaza Strip and I am pleased they were successfully pushed for by the ECR [European Conservatives and Reformists] Group to be included in the EP resolution,” said MEP Anders Vistisen, the vice chair of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who played a significant role in the negotiations that led to the resolution’s passing.
“Though the resolution is far from perfect and the left continuously seeks to blur reality, the ECR will continue to be the voice of reason,” he added. “I take the opportunity to stand with Israel over its recent mourning of all its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and I extend my warmest congratulations to Israel for its 70th birthday which is celebrated today.”
The American Jewish Committee’s Europe branch had partial praise for resolution.
“The AJC Transatlantic Institute today praised the European Parliament for condemning Hamas for the war crimes it committed during the recent violent protests, but criticized the EU legislature for urging in its resolution on the situation in the Gaza Strip an ‘unconditional’ end to Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory,” the organization said in a statement.
“We all want to see Gaza become the next Singapore. But calling for the ‘unconditional’ end to Israel’s targeted blockade is at this time – unfortunately – neither realistic nor an even remotely reasonable proposal,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, director of AJC’s EU office.
“The European Parliament deserves praise for its clear-eyed assessment of Hamas’s responsibility for escalating the violent protests. By also spelling out and condemning Hamas’s war crimes – such as using its own people as human shields and firing rockets on Israeli cities – Parliament has taken a principled stand,” said Schwammenthal.
At the same time, “Publicly urging a sister democracy and close friend to investigate in a ‘transparent’ manner seems – at the very least – somewhat out-of-place,” he said.