Posts Tagged ‘Israeli military’

UN: Israel had ‘impunity’ in Gaza

August 15, 2009
Al Jazeera, Aug 15, 2009

The report said that Israel’s military justice system did not meet international standards [AFP]

The senior human rights official at the United Nations has said that the Israeli military acted with “near impunity” during its late-December to mid-January offensive on the Gaza Strip, violating international law.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a report on Friday that evidence collected on the Gaza war had pointed to human rights abuses by Israel.

She said that a grave humanitarian situation in Gaza before the Israeli invasion was exacerbated by Operation Cast Lead, a military campaign that had the stated aim of preventing Palestinian rocket squads from firing missiles into Israel.

Continues >>

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Gaza: When Drones Become Indiscriminate

July 1, 2009

By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler | Inter Press Service

JERUSALEM, Jun 30 (IPS) – The concerted effort of international human rights activists to rein in violations of laws of war was given a major impetus when Human Rights Watch researchers presented a report Tuesday on the unbridled use by the Israeli military of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCLAV), commonly known as drones, during Israel’s 22-day assault on Hamas in Gaza at the beginning of the year.

Entitled ‘Precisely Wrong’, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report focuses on six cases of Israeli drone-launched missile attacks in which 29 Palestinian civilians, eight of them children, were killed. Based on cross-referenced eyewitness accounts corroborated by doctors, as well as ballistics and forensic evidence collected on the attack sites, the report asserts that “in none of the cases did HRW find evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time.

Continued >>

Israel created ‘terror without mercy’ in Gaza

April 7, 2009

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem | The Guardian, Tuesday 7 April 2009

The Israeli military attacked civilians and medics and delayed – sometimes for hours – the evacuation of the injured during the January war in Gaza, according to an independent fact-finding mission commissioned by Israeli and Palestinian medical human rights groups.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society yesterday said their findings showed Israel’s military committed serious violations of international humanitarian law. In their 92-page report, compiled by five senior health experts from across the world, they documented several specific attacks, with interviews from 44 separate witnesses.

Human rights groups have accused Israel’s military, as well as Palestinian militants in Gaza, of war crimes. “The underlying meaning of the attack on the Gaza Strip, or at least its final consequence, appears to be one of creating terror without mercy to anyone,” the report said.

In one incident, the researchers found a Palestinian, Muhammad Shurrab, 64, and his sons Qassab, 28, and Ibrahim, 18, were shot by Israeli troops at close range without warning on 16 January during a ceasefire. Qassab was hit in the face and died soon after. Ibrahim was hit in the leg. The soldiers refused to give medical aid, and only after 23 hours was an ambulance allowed to approach, by which time Ibrahim was also dead.

Yohanna Lerman, a lawyer with the medical rights groups, said although their report was a preliminary investigation this one case alone was enough to indict Israel’s political and military leaders.

The Israeli military has said it does not target civilians and is conducting its own investigations into some cases arising from the war.

Israel: End Ban on Human Rights Monitors

February 23, 2009

IDF Denies Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem Access to Gaza

Human Rights Watch, February 22, 2009

Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there. If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(Jerusalem) – Israel continues to obstruct independent investigations into allegations of laws of war violations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas military forces in Gaza by preventing independent human rights monitors from entering Gaza, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem said today. After submitting applications for permission to enter via the Erez crossing in January 2009, the groups faced continued delays from the IDF unit reviewing the applications. In February, the IDF told Human Rights Watch that it had rejected its application. The Israeli military denied B’Tselem’s first request to enter Gaza and has failed to respond to a second.

“Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?”

Human Rights Watch requested permission to enter Gaza on January 5. After weeks of delay, the IDF rejected the application on February 9, on the grounds that Human Rights Watch “was not registered with the [Israeli] Ministry of Social Affairs.” On all previous occasions, including several times in 2008, Israeli authorities permitted Human Rights Watch staff to enter and leave Gaza via the Erez crossing. The IDF never previously suggested such a requirement for access to Gaza, and Human Rights Watch is not aware of any such Israeli law or regulation. The IDF has not responded to Human Rights Watch’s requests for clarification.

Israel does not allow Jewish citizens of Israel, other than security forces, to enter Gaza on the grounds that their security would be at risk. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on January 20 requested permission from the IDF to allow the organization’s fieldwork director (a Palestinian citizen of Israel) to enter Gaza. The IDF refused the request nine days later. B’Tselem submitted an additional request on January 29 for entry for three staff members and an international consultant. The Israeli military has not responded to this request.

Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups were able to enter Gaza via Egypt in late January to carry out initial investigations. The international researchers left Gaza just before February 5, when Egypt had announced it would close the Rafah crossing. The IDF had told Human Rights Watch that because its researchers had entered Gaza through Rafah, they would not permit the researchers to exit through Erez.

B’Tselem has not managed to gain access for its Israeli or West Bank staff, or for international consultants. Only the organization’s two field researchers, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, have been able to conduct research on the ground.

“Israel puts itself in the same league as Burma, North Korea, and Syria in keeping out independent human rights monitors,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem. “The people of Israel deserve to know the truth about the conduct of our forces in Gaza. It is also in Israel’s best interest that the full picture comes out.”

The IDF prevented journalists from entering Gaza during the 22-day military operation, called “Operation Cast Lead,” even after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling on January 2 ordered the state to allow entry to members of the Foreign Press Association.

Since the escalation of fighting in Gaza on December 27, 2008, both Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have documented serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israel and Hamas. On January 10, Human Rights Watch exposed Israel’s unlawful use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, an allegation the IDF initially denied but now claims to be investigating. B’Tselem has expressed grave concern over violations of the principles of proportionality and distinction, including the deliberate targeting of civilian installations, such as government ministries and the Palestinian Legislative Council. Both organizations have, for over two decades, documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Article 6 of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration ensures that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, “To know, seek, obtain, receive, and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In addition, the apparent blanket denial of access to Gaza by human rights groups violates the right to freedom of movement. Although human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat.

The Israeli destruction of Gaza and international silence

February 14, 2009

by Ann Wright

I travelled to Gaza last week with Medea Benjamin and Tighe Berry of Codepink: Women for Peace. We were allowed by the Egyptian government to enter Gaza for only 48 hours.I knew that 1026 of the 1330 who were killed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza were civilians. Of the 1026 civilians, 282 were children, 111 women, 168 civilian policemen and 501 civilian men died in Israeli bombings. 274 have been classified as combatant deaths.

I knew that the estimates for the cost of reconstruction to the destruction done by Israeli bombing is over $2 billion. After seeing the destruction in Gaza City, I thought I would be prepared for North Gaza. I had heard the damage done by F-16s and tanks was substantial, but I was stunned by the large number of apartment buildings and industries that had been blown up and destroyed by the Israeli military in the northern Gaza border region with Israel.

The Israeli military destroyed virtually everything in a corridor along the border in Jabalia and forced the evacuation of Gazans back into the center part of Gaza, a tiny area 45 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide. Homes and factories were leveled and tens of thousands of citizens were left homeless. We saw five tent camps that had been set up by relief organizations. Living conditions are spartan.

Nahed, a project manager for Palestine Medical Relief Society, guided us through the wreckage of North Gaza. We visited one of the four primary health care facilities PMRS operates, with an overworked staff trying to cope with the medical and emotional challenges of those who have returned to their bombed out homes with family members dead or injured.

37 Members of One Family Killed as Israeli Military Orders 150 into a Building then Bombs it

In the Al Zaiton area in northern Gaza, we met with the remaining members of the al Samouni family. The large extended family lived in many houses and some family members operated a poultry farm in the area. After the Israeli army invaded, Army personnel ordered 150 members of the family into one large home and then bombed the home as well as all the numerous homes and buildings of the family. 37 members of the family were killed and many were injured. The Israeli government said the military had made a mistake.
The al Samouni family set up several large tents for the numerous visitors who come by the area to pay respects. One tent had eight women inside. All had family members killed and wounded in the attacks. We spoke with Ibtessana al Samouni who had two children killed and her husband and daughter seriously injured and are being treated in Saudi Arabia. One of her sons was also injured and is in a military hospital in Cairo. She and her remaining 5 children are living with other relatives in Gaza City. Ibtessana had a glazed stare and kept repeating that no one in her family had done anything to the Israelis. We saw in her eyes the disbelief that some of her children were dead and that she would not see her husband and other children for months. The emotional health of the al Samouni extended family considering the large number of deaths and injuries in the family seemed precarious.

The family area, a section of land about ½ mile by ½ mile was completely bombed. It looked like a huge tornado or hurricane had wiped out the area. The poultry farm was totally destroyed and bulldozers were pushing the rotting chicken carcasses into a pit while we were there.

Life Without Your Home

Dressed in her black abaya, Izbet Abed Rabu told us she and her family of five children and her husband now live in a tent provided by the United Nations after her home was destroyed in Jabalia, northern Gaza. She showed us her two story concrete block home that was flattened into rubble. Her eyes teared over as she said she was lucky. No one in her family had been killed in the Israeli naval shelling and rocket attacks, but her neighbors had been hit hard. Two neighboring families each had three family members killed.

Izbet pointed to the white tent provided by the United Nations and said that after two weeks they still have only blankets, but no cots or any “furniture” inside the tents. With the night desert temperatures falling into the low 40 degrees, she said her four children are cold. The children are not yet in school.

Industries Systematically Destroyed

There are few industries left in northern Gaza and the Israeli military destroyed 10-15 of those remaining industries including two cement companies, a dairy, gas station, an aluminum recycling company and a health products company. The production capacity of Gaza has been severely impacted by the Israeli warplanes.

Agricultural Lands Purposefully Destroyed

We walked in the agricultural lands mangled by Israeli tanks that had been positioned in the fields near the medical clinic. The fruit trees in one field had been completed knocked down and bulldozed over. Olive orchards throughout Gaza were systematically destroyed by Israeli tanks.

Schools Destroyed

Close by was Khalil al Noubany High School that had been used by Israeli soldiers. To secure the building they blew holes in it setting part of it on fire. The remaining part was occupied and used to fire on any one remaining in the area. The Israeli soldiers trashed the school. They left h military trash everywhere. School books and supplies had been thrown on the floor and walked on in virtually all the classrooms. It was quite obvious that they soldier had intentionally damaged the insides of the classrooms and purposefully destroyed books and educational materials. The headmaster of the school, who arrived as we were looking at the school, said that the school had served 550 girl students in the morning and 530 male students in the afternoon. She told us that the school is so severely damaged that it cannot reopen this year and students are having to travel to the few remaining schools that are open in Gaza.

Later in the day while he was serving double duty as a Gaza government official at the Rafah, Gaza border crossing, Mr. Ahmed Ayes Alnajjar of the Ministry of Education told us that 7 schools in Gaza were totally destroyed and 135 schools were substantially damaged.

The Prison Called Gaza

We left northern Gaza and headed for the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. We had to be across the border into Egypt by 5pm as the Egyptian government was closing the border. If we did not exit Gaza by 5pm we too would be imprisoned in Gaza until the border crossing reopened-which might be months. So after only 48 hours in Gaza, we were forced to depart.

On the way to the Gaza border, we stopped to see a few of the 1500 tunnels that Palestinians have dug since the borders of Gaza were closed and the siege began. Palestinians have been locked into the prison called Gaza for the past sixteen months.

Bombing Tunnels With a Blind Eye

The tunnel area is in plain sight next to the Egyptian border. It is a surreal scene. Buildings behind the tunnel area have been bombed and are destroyed. Trucks and cars are parked under the remaining roofs of a large bombed out fresh air market– ready to move goods from the tunnel area.

Mounds of fresh sand are everywhere indicating that tunnels are still being dug. Generators hum providing air into the tunnels and powering the cables that pull loads of every imaginable type of goods from vegetables, canned goods, bags of rice and sugar, merchandise for hardware stores, etc. through the tunnels to the surface on the Gaza side.

Every tunnel is surrounded by barriers made of light fencing covered with large plastic bags. Young men are busy hauling up goods that have been brought through the tunnel from Egypt.

The tunnel “managers” we spoke with were surprisingly open in allowing us to come into the areas and talk with them. They said that about 900 tunnels have been destroyed or partially damaged by Israeli bombs. Most are being rebuilt, despite the almost daily bombing by Israeli war planes. The tunnels we saw had openings about 4 feet across. The entry holes were from 50 to 65 feet deep and the tunnels were 500 to 1,000 feet long. One tunnel opening was built with concrete blocks and another opening was built with wood.

The tunnel manager said that to rebuild a tunnel that has been blown up takes about half the time to reopen and digging a new tunnel. The tunnel areas are little cities with electricity, water, food and coffee at each tunnel entrance.

Tunnel digging is about the only employment for young men in Gaza. They earn 100 shekels ($25) per day for digging in the tunnels. One manager said many tunnel diggers had died when the reinforced sand tunnels collapsed during construction. But young men continue to risk the dangers as tunnel construction is one of the few jobs available to them.

While we did not see the other end of the tunnel operation on the Rafah, Egypt side of the border, it is inconceivable that Egyptian authorities do not know where the tunnel openings are. All they have to do is to follow the parade of trucks loaded with merchandise that come into Rafah, Egypt.

After coming through the border we stopped in Rafah, Egypt to see what the smuggling town was like. The police presence was tremendous. We had barely gotten our bags out of the taxi when a policeman was at our side asking why we were in Rafah. We replied that we were hungry and wanted to get something to eat. We stopped at a small falafel stand and for the next hour were watched by police. As one of us would go to explore the main street, police would follow in the distance. They definitely did not want us straying off the main road and back into the houses and businesses where the tunnel entrances are.

It is remarkable that all the tunnels haven’t been bombed. With the sophisticated satellite views, cameras from drones, tethered radar and surveillance balloon and the $32 million tunnel detection equipment provided by the U.S. government, the Israeli, Egyptian and United States’ governments know exactly where the tunnels are.

But, closing the border provides Egyptian and Israeli businessmen a tremendous opportunity to sell goods to people in Gaza at very high prices. No doubt, Egyptian and Israeli government officials are paid to turn a blind eye to the tunneling and “smuggling.” Determining who profits economically from the occupations and sieges is fascinating. A new Israeli website http://www.whoprofits.org tracks who profits financially from the occupation and no doubt profits from the blockade and will profit from the rebuilding of destroyed Gaza.

Israeli bombing of tunnels is, of course, only on the Gaza side. No one is bombing the entrances to the tunnels on the Egyptian side of the border.

The tunnel economy means that for the ordinary citizens of Gaza, where there is a 70% unemployment rate and where over 900,000 of the 1.5 million in Gaza are on United Nations rations, closing the border and forcing commerce through the tunnels they pay exorbitant fees for every item brought through the tunnels.

SILENCE from the International Community

The sights we saw in Gaza were tragic-a goliath Israel pounding a small Gaza David with international silence and complicity in the 22 day military attack on Gaza and on the 16 month siege of Gaza. 1330 Palestinians have died, 5400 have been wounded and hundreds of thousands with memories of the bombings and invasion and occupation. Over $2 billion will be spent on rebuilding destroyed homes, businesses and factories. And there is SILENCE!!

Smashing of Gaza is a War Crime

I deplore the use of rockets against Israeli towns by Hamas and other groups in Gaza which have killed approximately 20 Israelis.

But, as a military officer who taught the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare in US military schools, I fully believe the disproportionate response by the Israeli government and military in the smashing of Gaza is a violation of international law and a war crime.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”  (www.voicesofconscience.com)

How Do People Keep Going in Gaza?

February 10, 2009

What Americans Can’t See About Gaza

Kathy Kelly | Counterpunch, Feb 10, 2009

People have asked me, since I returned from Gaza, how people manage? How do they keep going after being traumatized by bombing and punished by a comprehensive state of siege? I wonder myself. I know that whether the loss of life is on the Gazan or the Israeli side of the border, bereaved survivors feel the same pain and misery. On both sides of the border, I think children pull people through horrendous and horrifying nightmares. Adults squelch their panic, cry in private, and strive to regain semblances of normal life, wanting to carry their children through a precarious ordeal.

And the children want to help their parents. In Rafah, the morning of January 18th, when it appeared there would be at least a lull in the bombing, I watched children heap pieces of wood on plastic tarps and then haul their piles toward their homes. The little ones seemed proud to be helping their parents recover from the bombing. I’d seen just this happy resilience among Iraqi children, after the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing, as they found bricks for their parents to use for a makeshift shelter in a bombed military base.

Children who survive bombing are eager to rebuild. They don’t know how jeopardized their lives are, how ready adults are to bomb them again.

In Rafah, that morning, an older man stood next to me, watching the children at work. “You see,” he said, looking upward as an Israeli military surveillance drone flew past, “if I pick up a piece of wood, if they see me carrying just a piece of wood, they might mistake it for a weapon, and I will be a target. So these children collect the wood.”

While the high-tech drone collected information,– “intelligence” that helps determine targets for more bombing, –toddlers collected wood. Their parents, whose homes were partially destroyed, needed the wood for warmth at night and for cooking. Because of the Israeli blockade against Gaza, there wasn’t any gas.

With the border crossing at Rafah now sealed again, people who want to obtain food, fuel, water, construction supplies and goods needed for everyday life will have to rely, increasingly, on the damaged tunnel industry to import these items from the Egyptian side of the border. Israel’s government says that Hamas could use the tunnels to import weapons, and weapons could kill innocent civilians, so the Israeli military has no choice but to bomb the neighborhood built up along the border, as they have been doing.

Suppose that the U.S. weapon makers had to use a tunnel to deliver weapons to Israel. The U.S. would have to build a mighty big tunnel to accommodate the weapons that Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar have supplied to Israel. The size of such a tunnel would be an eighth wonder of the world, a Grand Canyon of a tunnel, an engineering feat of the ages.

Think of what would have to come through.

Imagine Boeing’s shipments to Israel traveling through an enormous underground tunnel, large enough to accommodate the wingspans of planes, sturdy enough to allow passage of trucks laden with missiles. According to UK’s Indymedia Corporate Watch, 2009, Boeing has sent Israel 18 AH-64D Apache Longbow fighter helicopters, 63 Boeing F15 Eagle fighter planes, 102 Boeing F16 Eagle fighter planes, 42 Boeing AH-64 Apache fighter helicopters, F-16 Peace Marble II & III Aircraft, 4 Boeing 777s, and Arrow II interceptors, plus IAI-developed arrow missiles, and Boeing AGM-114 D Longbow Hellfire missiles,

In September of last year, the U.S. government approved the sale of 1,000 Boeing GBU-9 small diameter bombs to Israel, in a deal valued at up to 77 million.

Now that Israel has dropped so many of those bombs on Gaza, Boeing shareholders can count on more sales, more profits, if Israel buys new bombs from them from them. Perhaps there are more massacres in store. It would be important to maintain the tunnel carefully.

Raytheon, one of the largest U.S. arms manufacturers, with annual revenues of around $20 billion, is one of Israel’s main suppliers of weapons. In September last year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of Raytheon kits to upgrade Israel’s Patriot missile system at a cost of $164 million. Raytheon would also use the tunnel to bring in Bunker Buster bombs as well as Tomahawk and Patriot missiles.

Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest defense contractor by revenue, with reported sales, in 2008, of $42.7 billion. Lockheed Martin’s products include the Hellfire precision-guided missile system, which has reportedly been used in the recent Gaza attacks. Israel also possesses 350 F-16 jets, some purchased from Lockheed Martin.

Think of them coming through the largest tunnel in the world.

Maybe Caterpillar Inc. could help build such a tunnel. Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of construction (and destruction) equipment, with more than $30 billion in assets, holds Israel’s sole contract for the production of the D9 military bulldozer, specifically designed for use in invasions of built-up areas. The U.S. government buys Caterpillar bulldozers and sends them to the Israeli army as part of its annual foreign military assistance package. Such sales are governed by the US Arms Export Control Act, which limits the use of U.S. military aid to “internal security” and “legitimate self defense” and prohibits its use against civilians.

Israel topples family houses with these bulldozers to make room for settlements. All too often, they topple them on the families inside. American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death standing between one of these bulldozers and a Palestinian doctor’s house.

In truth, there’s no actual tunnel bringing U.S. made weapons to Israel. But the transfers of weapons and the U.S. complicity in Israel’s war crimes are completely invisible to many U.S. people.

The United States is the primary source of Israel’s arsenal. For more than 30 years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance and since 1985 Israel has received about 3 billion dollars, each year, in military and economic aid from the U.S. (“U.S. and Israel Up in Arms,” Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 17, 2009)

So many Americans can’t even see this flood of weapons, and what it means, for us, for Gaza’s and Israel’s children, for the world’s children.

And so, people in Gaza have a right to ask us, how do you manage? How do you keep going? How can you sit back and watch while your taxes pay to massacre us? If it would be wrong to send rifles and bullets and primitive rockets into Gaza, weapons that could kill innocent Israelis, then isn’t it also wrong to send Israelis the massive arsenal that has been used against us, killing over 400 of our children, in the past six weeks, maiming and wounding thousands more?

But, standing over the tunnels in Rafah, that morning, under a sunny Gazan sky, hearing the constant droning buzz of mechanical spies waiting to call in an aerial bombardment, no one asked me, an American, those hard questions. The man standing next to me pointed to a small shed where he and others had built a fire in an ash can. They wanted me to come inside, warm up, and receive a cup of tea.

Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is writing from Arish, a town near the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola New Orleans and Audrey Stewart are also in Egypt and contributed to this article. Kathy Kelly is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams (published by CounterPunch/AK Press). Her email is kathy@vcnv.org

What We Found in Gaza

February 9, 2009

Strong Indications of Violations of the Laws of War, U.S. Law, and War Crimes Found in the Gaza Strip

NLG Delegation

GAZA CITY – We are a delegation of 8 American lawyers, members of the National Lawyers Guild in the United States, who have come here to the Gaza Strip to assess the effects of the recent attacks on the people, and to determine what, if any, violations of international law occurred and whether U.S. domestic law has been violated as a consequence. We have spent the last five days interviewing communities particularly impacted by the recent Israeli offensive, including medical personnel, humanitarian aid workers and United Nations representatives. In particular, the delegation examined three issues: 1) targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure; 2) illegal use of weapons and 3) blocking of medical and humanitarian assistance to civilians.

Targeting of Civilians and Civilian Infrastructure

Much of the debate surrounding Israel’s aerial and ground offensive against Gaza has centered on whether or not Israel observed principles of proportionality and distinction. The debate suggests that Israel targeted Hamas i.e., its military installations, its leaders, and its militants, and in the process of its discrete military exercise it inadvertently killed Palestinian civilians. While we have found evidence that Palestinian civilians were victims of excessive force and collateral damage, we have also found troubling instances of Palestinian civilians being targets themselves.

The delegation recorded numerous accounts of Israeli soldiers shooting civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, in the head, chest, and stomach. Another common narrative described Israeli forces rounding civilians into a single location i.e., homes, schools which Israeli tanks or warplanes then shelled. Israeli forces continued to shoot at civilians fleeing the targeted structures.

We spoke to Khaled Abed Rabbo, who witnessed an Israeli soldier execute his 2-year-old and 7-year-old daughters, and critically injure a third daughter, Samar, 4-years old, on a sunny afternoon outside his home. Two other Israeli soldiers were standing nearby eating chips and chocolates at the time on January 7, 2009. Abed Rabbo recounts standing in front of the Israeli soldiers with his mother, wife and daughters for 5 – 7 minutes before one of the soldiers opened fire on his family.

We spoke to Ibtisam al-Sammouni, 31, and a resident of Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City. On January 4th, the Israeli army forced approximately 110 of Zaytoun’s residents into Ibtisam’s home. At approximately 7 am on January 5th, the Israeli military launched two tank shells at the house without warning killing two of Ibtisam’s children: Rizka, 14 and Faris, 12. When the survivors attempted to flee Israeli forces shot at them. Her son Abdullah, 7, was injured in the shelling and remained in the home among his deceased siblings for four days before Israeli forces permitted medical personnel into Zaytoun to rescue them. After medical personnel removed the injured persons, an Israeli war plane destroyed the house and it crumbled over the lifeless bodies. The dead remained beneath the rubble for 17 days before the Israeli Army permitted medical personnel to remove their bodies for burial.

We spoke to the family of Rouhiya al-Najjar, 47, who lived in Khoza’a, Khan Younis. Israeli forces ordered her neighborhoods residents to march to the city center. Rouhiya led 20 women out of her home and into the alley. They all carried white scarves. Upon entering the alley, an Israeli sniper shot Rouhiya in her left temple killing her instantly. Israeli forces prevented medical personnel from reaching her body for twelve hours. These are only some of the accounts that we’ve collected.

Israeli forces also destroyed numerous buildings throughout the Gaza Strip during the recent incursion. Guild delegates viewed the remains of hundreds of demolished homes and businesses – in addition to the remains of the American School in Gaza, damaged medical centers, and the charred innards of UNRWA warehouses. While in situations of armed conflict, collateral damage and mistakes can occur, the circumstances surrounding the cases that the delegation investigated indicate deliberate targeting rather than collateral damage or mistake. Specifically:

The American School at Gaza, which was hit with two F-16 missiles on January 3, 2009, killing the watch guard on duty. According to Ribhi Salem, the school’s director, the Israelis gave no warnings. Mr. Salem stated that the school had come to an agreement with resistance groups not to use school grounds and there had never been resistance activity on the property.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

John Ging, the Director of Gaza Operations for UNRWA reported that Israeli forces fired missiles at UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Jabalyia and Bet Lahiya. The United Nation compound in Gaza city was also hit with white phosphorous shells and missiles. Ging noted that al United Nations buildings and vehicles all fly UN flags, are marked in blue paint from the top, and that during hostilities the UN personnel remained in constant contact with Israeli authorities.

Misuse of Weapons

Our delegation has heard allegations of the use of DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) weaponry, white phosphorus and other possible weapons whose use in civilian areas is prohibited. We have also heard of the use of prohibited weapons, such as flachettes. We have found our own evidence of the use of flachette shells, which we will combine with evidence collected by Amnesty International to push for further investigation. We have not found any conclusive evidence of the use of DIME, though we believe that this warrants further investigation and disclosure by the Israeli military.

Our findings overwhelmingly point to the use of conventional weapons in a prohibited manner, specifically, the use of battlefield weaponry in densely populated civilian areas. Customary international law forbids the use of weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. We found evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in extensively throughout its three-week offensive in a manner that led to numerous deaths and injuries. For example, Sabah Abu Halima, 45, lived in Beit Lahiya with her husband, seven boys, and one girl. It was midday and she and her entire family was home. Within minutes she felt her home shaking and missiles fell through the rooftop. She fell to the ground upon impact. When she looked up she saw her children burning.

Preventing Access to Medical and Humanitarian Aid

Under customary international humanitarian law, the wounded are protected persons and must receive the medical care and attention required by their conditions, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay. Parties to a conflict are required to ensure the unhindered movement of medical personnel and ambulances to carry out their duties and of wounded persons to access medical care. Speaking to medical workers and the family of victims, NLG delegates documented serious violations of this provision. Among the stories documented include:

Zaytoun neighborhood, which came under attack and invasion by ground foces on January 3, 2009. The Palestinian Red Crescent received 145 calls from Zaytoun for help, but were denied entry by Israel. Bashar Ahmed Murad, Director of Emergency Medical Services for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society told us that “a lot of people could have been saved, but hey weren’t given medical care by the Israelis, nor did the Israeli army allow Palestinian medical services in.” When paramedics were finally allowed to enter on January 7, Israeli forces only gave them a 3-hour “lull” to work and prohibited ambulances into the area. Instead they forced paramedics park the ambulances 2 kilometers away and enter the area on foot. Murad told delegation members how they had to pile the wounded on donkey carts and have the medical workers pull the carts in order to help the most people possible in the short time they were given. After the 3 hours were over, the
Israeli army started shooting toward the ambulances. The Red Crescent was not able to reach that area again to evacuate the dead until January 17, 2009 when the Israeli army pulled out.

Al-Shurrab Family

On January 16th, Israeli forces shot at the jeep of Mohammed Shurrab, 64 years of age, and two of his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, aged 28 and 18 as they were returning from their fields. Mohammad was shot in the left arm and Ibrahim was shot in the leg. The elder son, Kassab, sustained a fatal bullet wound to the chest, being shot multiple times after being ordered out of the car. Mohammad, bleeding from his wound, contacted the media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a number of NGOs via mobile phone in order to acquire medical assistance. Israeli forces denied medical relief agencies clearance to reach them until almost 24 hours after Mohammad, Ibrahim and Kassab had been shot. Earlier that morning, Ibrahim had succumbed to his wound and died. Mohammad Shurrab and his sons were shot during a so-called “lull” in Israeli ground operations, which Israeli forces had agreed to in order to allow humanitarian relief to enter and be
distributed in the Gaza Strip. As such NLG delegates fail to see how this denial of medical access to the wounded Shurrab family could have been absolutely necessary and not simply arbitrary.

International humanitarian law also prohibits attacks on medical personnel, medical units and medical transports exclusively assigned to carry out medical functions. Delegate members saw ambulances seriously damaged and destroyed, some apparenly deliberately crushed by Israeli tanks. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian Ministry of Health informed delegates that 15 Palestinian medics were killed and 21 injured in the course of Israel’s assualt.

Conclusions

This delegation is seriously concerned by our initial findings. We have found strong indications of violations of the laws of war and possible war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip. We are particularly concerned that most of the weapons that were found used in the December 27 assualt on Gaza are US-made and supplied. We believe that Israel’s use of these weapons may constitute a violation of US law, and particularly the Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act.

A report of our initial findings will be compiled and submitted to, among others, members of the United States Congress. We intend to push for an investigation by the United States government into possible violations by Israel of US law. We also hope to contribute our finding and efforts to other efforts by local and international lawyers to push for accountability against those found responsible for the egregious crimes that we have documented.
Members of the Legal Delegation

Huwaida Arraf (New York, Washington DC)
huwaida.arraf@gmail.com
Palestine: 0599-130-426
USA: 1-202-294-8813

Noura Erekat (Washington DC)
noo194@yahoo.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-510-847-4239

James Marc Leas (Vermont)
jolly39@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-802 864-1575 and 1-802 734-8811(cell)

Linda Mansour (Ohio)
Lindamansour@aol.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-419-535-7100 and 1-419-283-8281 (cell)

Rose Mishaan (California)
roseindigo7@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-917-803-2201

Thomas Nelson (Oregon)
nelson@thnelson.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-503-709-6397

Radhika Sainath (California)
radhika.sainath@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-917-669-6903

Reem Salahi (California)
reemos@gmail.com
Palestine:
USA: 1-510-225-8880

US Sold Phosphorus Shells to Israel

February 4, 2009

Among Israel’s Most Condemned Tactics in Gaza Was Enabled by Arkansas-Made Rounds

Antiwar.com

Posted February 3, 2009

The Pine Bluff Arsenal, a United States Army installation in Arkansas, specializes in chemical and biological weapons. The military touts them as the only facility in the Northern Hemisphere which fills white phosphorus munitions. That’s the important point here, as it once again ties the US military directly into the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip, and one of its most unseemly practices.

State Department officials told the Associated Press that the United States provided Israel with white phosphorus rounds, and photos taken during the Israeli conflict show the military readying rounds with Pine Bluff Arsenal serial numbers.

The use of white phosphorus is not in and of itself a war crime, and is generally considered acceptable as a means of obscuring troop movements or illuminating areas. Its use in civilian areas however, even if not directed at the civilian population, is banned under the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Preliminary investigations show indisputable evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in some of the most densely populated portions of Gaza, and still burning fragments were found after the war ended wedged into civilian buildings.

The Israeli military officially denied using such munitions during the war, though they eventually conceded to it. Their official story now is that the use was not illegal and that Hamas was the one committing war crimes by provoking such attacks. The treaty prohibits the use of such weapons against military targets in civilian regions however, and makes no exception allowing the nation violating it to transfer blame to others in case they really wanted to hit those targets. Related Stories • February 2, 2009 — Relative End to Gaza War Bolsters Israeli Right in Polls • February 1, 2009 — Israel Bombs Central Gaza as Olmert Vows ‘Disproportionate’ Response • January 30, 2009 — Israeli Envoy: Attack on Gaza a ‘Preintroduction’ to Attack on Iran compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

Israel will back troops accused of war crimes

January 26, 2009

Reuters
The Independent, UK, Monday, 26 January 2009

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International calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution yesterday.

“The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals and Israel will assist them on this front and defend them, just as they protected us with their bodies during the Gaza operation,” Olmert said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said after meeting counterparts from the European Union, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in Brussels that Olmert’s comments should not preclude action against Israeli military figures.

“It does not mean there is an immunity against legal actions…More of such efforts will be seen also in the near future.”

Last week, the military censor ordered local and foreign media in Israel not to publish names of army commanders in the Gaza war and to blur their faces in photos and video for fear they could be identified and arrested while travelling abroad.

Israeli media reports said the military had been advising its top brass to think twice about visiting Europe.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel’s justice minister would consult the country’s top legal experts and find “answers to possible questions relating to the Israeli military’s activities” during the 22-day war.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians, were killed, medical officials said, in the offensive Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The civilian deaths sparked public outcry abroad and prompted senior UN officials to demand independent investigations into whether Israel committed war crimes.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians, hit by rocket salvoes, were killed in the conflict.

Israel said hundreds of militants were among the Palestinian dead and that it tried its best to avoid civilian casualties in densely populated areas where gunmen operated.

Rights group Amnesty International has said that Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions — which can cause extreme burns — in built-up areas of the Gaza Strip was indiscriminate and therefore constituted a war crime.

Israel has said it used all weapons in Gaza within the limits of international law. Its military, however, has opened an investigation into white phosphorous use during the conflict.

US Envoy

In a quick start to efforts by US President Barack Obama’s new administration to shore up a shaky Gaza truce and revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, his envoy, former US Sen. George Mitchell, is expected in Israel on Wednesday.

He plans to visit the occupied West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. A Western diplomat said Syria was not currently on his schedule.

Palestinians have lobbied for a tougher international response to Israel’s military crackdowns. Yet legal frameworks are problematic.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has no jurisdiction to investigate in the Gaza Strip, as it is not a state. Though the Palestinian Authority has been functioning as an interim sovereign polity since 1993, it was forced out of Gaza last year by Hamas after the Islamists won an election.

And while Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC, it can still be investigated, but that would require a UN Security Council mandate. Any such proposal would probably be vetoed by Israel’s ally, the United States.

Some European nations allow for war crimes lawsuits to be filed privately against members of Israel’s security services.

Israel ‘admits’ using white phosphorus munitions

January 20, 2009

Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday

Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday

The Israeli military came close to acknowledging for the first time yesterday its use of white phosphorus munitions during the war in Gaza, but continued to insist that it did not breach international law.As fresh evidence emerged of Gazan civilians being burned by phosphorus, Avital Leibovich, the army spokeswoman, said its use was “legal according to international law…All the munitions we were using were legal, like the French, American and British armies. We used munitions according to international law.

“They [Hamas] were committing war crimes by putting the civilians in the front line,” she said. “If Hamas chooses to locate training camps, command centres…in the middle of the [civilian population]…look how populated it is…naturally they are endangering the lives of civilians. Hamas is accountable for the loss of the civilians.”

Major-General Amir Eshel, the army’s head of strategic planning, said that firing shells to provide a smoke screen was legal. “It is the most nonlethal kind of weapon we used. I don’t see any issue with that,” he said.

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The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had privately admitted using phosphorus bombs, and that the Judge Advocate General’s Office and Southern Command were investigating.

The Times first accused Israeli forces of using white phosphorus on January 5, but the IDF has denied the charge repeatedly. Phosphorus bombs can be used to create smoke screens, but their use as weapons of war in civilian areas is banned by the Geneva Conventions.

Yesterday reports emerged from Gaza about the killing of five members of the Halima family, when a single white phosphorus shell dropped on their house in the town of Atatra on January 3. Two others were in a coma and three were seriously wounded, according to doctors and survivors.

Salima Halima, 44, who is in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, said that the chemical burst in all directions after hitting her living room.

Nafiz Abu Shahbah, a doctor who trained in Britain and America, said he was sure white phosphorus was responsible. Her wounds at first appeared superficial “but it eats at the flesh, it digs deeper and gets to the bone…The whole body becomes toxic,” he said.

In the Jabaliya refugee camp, the Associated Press found a crater that was still producing acrid smoke days after the war ended, and in the town of Beit Lahiya a lump of white phosphorus burst into flames after some boys dug it up from beneath some sand.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, expressed outrage at Israel’s destruction of Gaza yesterday, when he became the first world leader to visit the Palestinian territory since the end of the war. “This is shocking and alarming,” he declared while visiting a UN warehouse that was still smouldering after being hit on Thursday, allegedly by white phosphorus shells. “I’m just appalled.”

Visibly angry, he condemned Israel’s “excessive” use of force, and demanded that those responsible for shelling schools and other facilities run by the UN Relief and Works Agency during the 22-day offensive should be held to account. “It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations,” he said.

Israel has apologised for attacks on UN facilities but insisted in almost every case that Hamas fighters were using the buildings for cover.


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