UN accused of 'knee-jerk' reaction to Israel over video of Palestinian deaths

The head of a Canadian Jewish advocacy group is slamming the United Nations over its "knee-jerk" reaction to a video that human rights groups claim shows two unarmed Palestinian teenagers being shot by Israeli soldiers.

WARNING: Video contains graphic images

Group says Images show two teenage Palestinians shot dead by Israeli security forces during a protest 2:52

The head of a Canadian Jewish advocacy group is slamming the United Nations over its "knee-jerk" reaction to a video that human rights groups claim shows two unarmed Palestinian teenagers being shot by Israeli soldiers.

"Frankly, Israel really doesn't need to take instructions from the UN about the proper followup to incidents involving fatalities," Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told CBC News. "There's a long established process by which every such incident is thoroughly investigated by an arm's length body within the national policing structure."

Fogel was commenting on a statement made by Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the assistant UN secretary general for political affairs. At a briefing of the UN Security Council, Fernandez-Taranco said that initial information "appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat."

"The UN calls for an independent and transparent investigation by the Israeli authorities into the two deaths, and urges Israel to ensure that its security forces strictly adhere to the basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials," Fernandez-Taranco said.

But Fogel accused the UN of  trying to "insidiously portray Israel in a particular light" by suggesting Israel doesn't have the moral compass to undertake on its own a serious and independent investigation into the incident.

With thousands of people having lost their lives in Syria, Fogel also questioned why this particular incident would capture the "absolute attention of the UN to the exclusion of any other efforts that they could be undertaking to mitigate and lessen the suffering."

"It's hard not to be a little cynical of the knee-jerk reaction of the UN," he said.  

Security footage surfaced late Monday when a local advocacy group, Defence for Children International Palestine, released excerpts that it says show two fatal shootings. (Defence for Children International Palestine)

At issue is a clash between Israeli troops and Palestinians on May 15 near the West Bank town of Beitouniya. Palestinians were marking the anniversary of Nakba Day — their uprooting in the war over Israel's 1948 creation — by holding marches and protests in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the first incident, footage shows a figure with a backpack walking from the left side of the street toward a group of Palestinians standing near a building wall on the other side. Suddenly, the figure falls to the ground. Those near the wall rush to him and he is carried away.

In the second incident, a Palestinian walks from the wall toward the middle of the street. After a few steps, he falls to the ground. 

The security camera video does not show a source of gunfire or a shooter in either incident.

Live fire not used, Israel claims

In a statement to Reuters, the Israeli Defence Forces said that violence was used against their forces and that police did not use live rounds.

“A preliminary investigation determined that live fire was not used by security forces. The video clip which was released today has been edited, and doesn’t document the full extent of the event, nor does it reflect the violent nature of the riot,” the statement read.

But the Israeli rights group B'Tselem said the images back its findings that troops killed the teens without cause by firing live rounds from more than 200 metres away. The soldiers were in "zero danger" at the time, said Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem.

The security footage first surfaced late Monday when a local advocacy group, Defense for Children International Palestine, released excerpts that it said showed the two fatal shootings. 

Fogel said there are questions about the credibility of the video. He said that while any incident where there's a loss of life is certainly a tragedy, it's not at all clear what happened, what the context was and what precipitated the set of circumstances that led to the deaths.

The bodies of the slain teens were taken to Ramallah Hospital. The head of the emergency department said both were killed by shots to the upper body. 

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman, for the IDF, said preliminary findings show forces fired only rubber-coated steel pellets, a standard means of crowd control, and did not use live fire. Lerner said military police carry out investigations and after-action reviews "in any activity we carry out." He said an investigation into the deaths of the two Palestinians is continuing.

With files from The Associated Press, Reuters