Posts Tagged ‘death and destruction in Gaza’

One Year After Israeli Invasion of Gaza, World Leaders Fail to Act but Global Citizens Step Forward

December 28, 2009

by Medea Benjamin,, Dec 27, 2009

One year ago, the brutal Israeli 22-day invasion of the Gaza Strip shocked the world, leaving some 1,400 people dead, thousands more wounded, as well as hospitals, schools, prisons, UN facilities, factories, agricultural processing plants and some 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed.  As we mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion, the plight of the people of Gaza continues unabated:

  • Despite pledges of money for reconstruction, Israel refuses to allow in the machinery necessary to clear the rubble or the materials needed to rebuild–banning cement, gravel, wood, pipes, glass, steel bars, aluminum and tar. Many who were made homeless during the bombing are still living in tents amidst the onset of another cold winter. Desperate, some are reverting to the ancient techniques of building homes made of mud.
  • Trade depends on an elaborate system of illicit and dangerous tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The goods brought in are expensive, but they are the lifeline for the 1.5 million people who live under siege. The Israelis periodically bomb the tunnels, the Egyptians inject them with gas, and now, with U.S. technology and funds, Egypt is building a wall descending 70 feet into the ground to seal up the only trade route the inhabitants of Gaza have with the outside world.
  • Recent restrictions on the transfer of gas resources into Gaza have left many without adequate means to cook or provide heating as winter deepens.The Ministry of Health says that several hospitals lack the gas supplies to provide adequate hygiene for their patients. Similar restrictions on the movement of industrial fuel into the Strip have forced Gaza’s sole power plant to drastically limit the amount of electricity.
  • Water and sewage infrastructure has reached a crisis point, with tons of raw sewage pumped daily into the Mediterranean.Amnesty International recently deemed that 90 to 95 person of the water available to Gaza’s inhabitants was unfit for human consumption, and 60 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s residents have only irregular access to water. Repairs to Gaza’s overburdened sewage and water networks are largely prevented by the blockade.
  • The once-steady flow abroad of many hundreds of students a year, often to pursue postgraduate studies in Western universities, has slowed to a trickle. Israel is not even allowing students from Gaza to study in the West Bank.
  • Attempts at hold Israel accountable for crimes committed during the invasion have been thwarted. The September 2009 Goldstone Report recommended that if Israel and Hamas did not investigate and prosecute those who committed war crimes, the case should be referred to the International Criminal Court. But US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and the U.S. Congress, condemned the report, assuring that it will not be brought before the U.N. Security Council.

In a report released on December 22 called Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses, a group of 16 humanitarian organizations detailed the ongoing suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people from Israel’s invasion and ongoing siege.  “It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director. “World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza’s ordinary citizens.”

While international governments and UN institutions have failed their obligations, global citizens and civil society organizations have stepped forward. The past year has seen the mushrooming of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at Israel. South African dockworkers refused to offload an Israeli ZIM Lines ship in February; the British bank BlackRock divested from Lev Leviev settlement projects on the occupied Palestinian territory; the Norwegian government pension fund withdrew its investments in the Israeli military contractor Elbit Systems; following the lead of South African, Irish and Scottish trade union federations, Britain’s 6.5-million member labor federation, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), called for a consumer-led boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel, specifically targeting settlement products; and Hampshire College decided to divest from several companies profiting from the Occupation.

Another group making waves is Free Gaza, which has broken the siege by bringing shipments of aid by boat. Sometimes their boats have miraculously managed to sail from Cyprus to Gaza without Israeli interference. On their last effort, however, their boat was illegally intercepted on the high seas by the Israeli Navy.

Viva Palestina, a group led by British MP George Galloway, organized a massive convoy of material aid to Gaza in a month after the attack, using public pressure to force the Egyptian government to let the convoy pass through the Rafah crossing. They sent another caravan of aid in July, and to mark the one year anniversary, Viva Palestina is bringing 210 trucks and 450 activists laden with massive quantities of humanitarian aid. It is unclear whether or not the Egyptian government will let them in.

Another creative initiative is the Gaza Freedom March. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, the Gaza Freedom March was designed to mark the one-year anniversary with a massive march to the Israeli border. Some 1,350 international participants from 43 countries are setting out for Gaza via Egypt to join with thousands of local people for the march. On the Israeli side of the border, Israelis and Palestinians will gather to join the call for an end to the siege. While the Egyptian government is refusing give permission for the international delegation to enter Gaza, the group is challenging that decision with thousands of phone calls to Egyptian embassies worldwide. They are also organizing solidarity actions in cities all over the world.

The Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, noting the world community’s failure to help the people of Gaza, cited the Gaza Freedom March and the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as “the only meaningful current challenge to Israel’s violations of its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter.”

As the year-end brings horrifying memories to the Palestinians in Gaza, we hope they recognize that grassroots groups the world over are not only thinking of them, but actively organizing to lift the siege that makes their lives so difficult.

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

Goldstone Commission Gaza Conflict Findings and Reactions

September 22, 2009

by Stephen Lendman, Dissident Voice, September 21, 2009

On April 3, 2009, a UN press release stated:

The Human Rights Council (HRC) today announced the appointment of Richard J. Goldstone….to lead an independent (four-person) fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip…. The team will be supported by staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights…. Today’s appointment comes following the adoption of a resolution by the Human Rights Council… to address ‘the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip.

Established by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006, the HRC’s 47 member states are “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.”

As a former South African Constitutional Court justice, Goldstone is a respected jurist. He also served as chief prosecutor for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals and is a Hebrew University board member. As a Jew, he promised to be fair and even-handed, and “hope(s) that the findings… will make a meaningful contribution to the peace process… and will provide justice for the victims.”

Continues >>

Gaza Killings Trigger Call for War Crimes Probe

January 14, 2009

By Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13 (IPS) – With hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, killed during nearly three weeks of fighting in Gaza, there is a growing demand either for an international tribunal or an international commission to investigate charges of war crimes committed by Israel.

But there are fears that any such move may be shot down by the United States, and possibly by other Western nations, which continue to politically temper their criticism of Israel despite violations of all the known international conventions protecting women, children, the wounded and the dying in war zones.

“On an inter-governmental level, the war crimes process is essentially subject to geopolitical control, which means in practice that the criminal wrongdoing of the most powerful [the U.S. government] and its closest friends [Israel] get a free pass,” Richard Falk, a professor of international law and a U.N. human rights expert, told IPS.

Despite widespread condemnation, this practice of “geopolitical impunity” is likely to shield Israel from formal scrutiny with respect to the alleged crimes of war and crimes against humanity associated with its military operations in Gaza since Dec. 27, he added.

Falk, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was detained and expelled from an airport in Tel Aviv last month when he was on a U.N.-mandated assignment to probe human rights in the occupied territories.

As of Tuesday, the Palestinian death toll had risen to more than 900, mostly civilians, compared with over 10 Israelis, including those killed by Hamas’s rocket fire.

The London-based Amnesty International has asked the Security Council “to take firm action to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva that accountability must be ensured for violations of international law.

“I remind this Council that violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked,” she said.

At the special session Monday, the HRC adopted a resolution calling for an “urgent independent international fact-finding mission” to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel.

Asked specifically about charges of “war crimes” in Gaza, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon refused to express his view on the unbridled killings of civilians.

“That’s something which the International Criminal Court (ICC) or other international organisations will have to determine,” he told reporters Monday, on the eve of his weeklong peace mission to the Middle East.

But the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which is calling for an international commission of investigation, points out that Israel has not ratified the statute of the ICC.

“Activating the ICC jurisdiction for these crimes implies for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC,” in order for the ICC prosecutor to initiate an investigation, FIDH said in a letter to the 15-member U.N. body.

But any such Security Council action will most likely be vetoed by the United States, a longstanding ally of Israel.

Besides the ICC, which was established in 2003, there have been special criminal tribunals or special courts created to prosecute war crimes or genocide in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Cambodia and East Timor.

“There certainly should be a tribunal,” Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS.

While it would look at war crimes committed by all parties, Hamas’s actions pale in comparison to the murders committed by Israel, he said.

“The continued impunity of Israel for crimes it has committed encourages it in perpetrating gross violations of humanitarian law,” said Ratner, who is also adjunct professor law at Columbia University.

“A tribunal is essential, [but] the United States will likely veto such a Security Counsel resolution. By doing so, it is enabling and condoning war crimes,” he warned.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, said: “A strong case can be made for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israeli armed forces.”

Since the Gaza Strip is legally a non-self-governing territory, the United Nations has a particular responsibility to ensure that those guilty of war crimes are prosecuted, he added.

“Such prosecution, however, would be more appropriate if pursued through the International Criminal Court, which did not exist at the time special tribunals were set up for Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda,” Zunes told IPS.

By pursuing cases through the ICC rather than a special tribunal, it would lessen the likelihood of charges that the United Nations was once again unfairly singling out Israel for violations of international humanitarian law, he added.

Falk said “the most that we can expect are fact-finding and investigative missions” established by the Human Rights Council in Geneva (as proposed in its Special Session) and by the General Assembly (as an outcome of an upcoming Ninth Special Session).

“I think these symbolic steps are important, and they will undoubtedly be opposed by the United States and Israel, and Israel will in all likelihood not allow such initiatives to enter Gaza,” he said.

This will confirm concealment, a virtual admission of guilt, and will still enable authoritative reports and recommendations for a criminal accountability mechanism to be established, which the General Assembly has the authority to do under Article 22 of the U.N. Charter, Falk said.

There are some other possibilities for establishing legal responsibility and criminal accountability, especially well-organised civil society initiatives.

He pointed out that one model would be the tribunal process associated with the Iraq War, with sessions in some 20 countries, and a culminating Iraq War Tribunal held in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2005.

“There exists the political climate to organise such a tribunal process for Gaza, and it will have worldwide resonance.”

In the course of such a democratically conceived grassroots tribunal process, there would also be an opportunity to consider the implications of the U.S. role in providing vast military assistance and unconditional diplomatic support to Israel, as well as to consider the relative passivity of Europe, Arab neighbours, and others, he added.

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