Posts Tagged ‘Israeli soldiers’

Israel Forces Fired On Sleeping Civillians Under Cover Of Darkness

May 31, 2010

Israel  Forces Fired On Sleeping Civillians Under Cover Of Darkness  310510attack

Heavily armed soldiers “began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck”

Steve Watson
Prisonplanet.com

Monday, May 31st, 2010

While the Israeli government is praising it’s soldiers as heroes and saying they were acting in self defence by firing on unarmed civilians flying a white flag in international waters, one group involved with the Freedom Flotilla has a quite different story.

A spokeswoman for Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Avital Leibovich, claims that Israeli officers gave several warnings before boarding the the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara.

Somehow, according to Leibovich, when the soldiers did board the boat, they were then attacked by unarmed activists and relieved of their guns – a claim that is not backed up by video footage of the ambush.

Leibovich told reporters “We found ourselves in the middle of a lynching,”

“We didn’t look for confrontation but it was a massive attack,” she said. “What happened was a last resort.”

This story is on its face ridiculous.

Continues >>

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Israeli soldiers: Talk to Hamas

February 15, 2010

As Israeli soldiers we hang our heads in shame over last year’s attack on Gaza’s civilian population. Dialogue, not war, is needed

by Arik Diamant and David Zonsheine, The Guardian/UK, Feb 15, 2010

Gaza conflictCivilians flee during last year’s war on Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli media marked the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the war on Gaza, almost as a celebration. The operation is recognised almost unanimously in Israel as a military triumph, a combat victory over one of Israel’s deadliest enemies: Hamas.

As combat soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), we have serious doubts about this conclusion, primarily because hardly any combat against Hamas took place during the operation. As soon as the operation started, Hamas went underground.

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Palestinian Women Suffer as Israel Violates CEDAW

November 5, 2009

By Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service

RAMALLAH, Nov 5 (IPS) – Palestinian women continue to suffer abuse and denial of basic human rights at the hands of Israeli settlers and soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This is in flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is the first international human rights treaty devoted to the rights of women.

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Student expelled to Gaza Strip by force

October 30, 2009

Palestinian’s involuntary return is the sixth in 10 days, says human rights group

By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem, The Independent/UK, Oct 30, 2009

Berlanty Azzam, 21,was handcuffed and blindfolded
Berlanty Azzam, 21,was handcuffed and blindfolded

 

Berlanty Azzam, 21, who was studying for a business degree at Bethlehem University, said she was coming home in a shared taxi from a job interview in Ramallah on Wednesday when soldiers at the “Container” checkpoint took her identity card and that of another passenger with a Gaza address.

After six hours of waiting, soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention centre in the southern West Bank, and she was handcuffed and blindfolded, she said.

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Is the Zionomedia Kingdom Invincible?

September 19, 2009
by Kourosh Ziabari, Foreign Policy Journal, Sep 18, 2009

The suggestion that Israelis might be involved in illegal organ harvesting has sparked considerable controversy.The suggestion that Israelis might be involved in illegal organ harvesting has sparked considerable controversy.

An August 17th article by Swedish photojournalist Donald Bostrom on longstanding suspicions amongst Palestinians that Israeli soldiers might have been involved in an illegal organ harvest conspiracy predictably sparked controversy and acrimony between the governments of Israel and Sweden.

With their exasperated and precipitate reactions, Israel officials once again underscored the accuracy and precision of an analogy made by the late founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who likened the Israel’s stability to a “Spy Nest” some 30 years ago. A government whose very security and stability is threatened by the publication of a critical article should drastically review its policies to see what’s wrong with its trembling foundations. The same rule could be justly applied to Iranian authorities whose severe crackdown on the dissident media highlights major political shortages which the country suffers from; however, the Israeli lobby is so formidable and influential as to convince the “international community” to take its side in the face of such a “legitimacy crisis” while Iran has not ever nurtured such a network of lobbies worldwide.

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Israel: Transforming International Law by Violating It

April 2, 2009

by George Bisharat | The San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2009

The extent of Israel’s  brutality against Palestinian civilians in its 22-day pounding of the Gaza Strip is gradually surfacing. Israeli soldiers are testifying to lax rules of engagement tantamount to a license to kill. One soldier commented: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him.”

What is less appreciated is how Israel is also brutalizing international law, in ways that may long outlast the demolition of Gaza.

Since 2001, Israeli military lawyers have pushed to re-classify military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the law enforcement model mandated by the law of occupation to one of armed conflict. Under the former, soldiers of an occupying army must arrest, rather than kill, opponents, and generally must use the minimum force necessary to quell disturbances.

While in armed conflict, a military is still constrained by the laws of war – including the duty to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and the duty to avoid attacks causing disproportionate harm to civilian persons or objects – the standard permits far greater uses of force.

Israel pressed the shift to justify its assassinations of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which clearly violated settled international law. Israel had practiced “targeted killings” since the 1970s – always denying that it did so – but had recently stepped up their frequency, by spectacular means (such as air strikes) that rendered denial futile.

President Bill Clinton charged the 2001 Mitchell Committee with investigating the causes of the second Palestinian uprising and recommending how to restore calm in the region. Israeli lawyers pleaded their case to the committee for armed conflict. The committee responded by criticizing the blanket application of the model to the uprising, but did not repudiate it altogether.

Today, most observers – including Amnesty International – tacitly accept Israel’s framing of the conflict in Gaza as an armed conflict, as their criticism of Israel’s actions in terms of the duties of distinction and the principle of proportionality betrays. This shift, if accepted, would encourage occupiers to follow Israel’s lead, externalizing military control while shedding all responsibilities to occupied populations.

Israel’s campaign to rewrite international law to its advantage is deliberate and knowing. As the former head of Israel’s 20-lawyer International Law Division in the Military Advocate General’s office, Daniel Reisner, recently stated: “If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries … International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds. Eight years later, it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”

In the Gaza fighting, Israel has again tried to transform international law through violations. For example, its military lawyers authorized the bombing of a police cadet graduation ceremony, killing at least 63 young Palestinian men. Under international law, such deliberate killings of civilian police are war crimes. Yet Israel treats all employees of the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip as terrorists, and thus combatants. Secretaries, court clerks, housing officials, judges – all were, in Israeli eyes, legitimate targets for liquidation.

Israeli jurists also instructed military commanders that any Palestinian who failed to evacuate a building or area after warnings of an impending bombardment was a “voluntary human shield” and thus a participant in combat, subject to lawful attack. One method of warning employed by Israeli gunners, dubbed “knocking on the roof,” was to fire first at a building’s corner, then, a few minutes later, to strike more structurally vulnerable points. To imagine that Gazan civilians – penned into the tiny Gaza Strip by Israeli troops, and surrounded by the chaos of battle – understood this signal is fanciful at best.

Israel has a lengthy history of unpunished abuses of international law – among the most flagrant its decades-long colonization of the West Bank. To its credit, much of the world has refused to ratify Israel’s violations. Unfortunately, our government is an exception, having frequently provided diplomatic cover for Israel’s abuses. Our diplomats have vetoed 42 U.N. Security Council resolutions to shelter Israel from the consequences of its often illegal behavior.

We must break that habit now, or see international law perverted in ways that can harm us all. Our government has already been seduced to follow, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Israel’s example of targeted killings. This policy alienates civilians, innocently killed and wounded in these crude strikes, and deepens the determination of enemies to harm us by any means possible.

We do not want civilian police in the United States to be bombed, nor to have anyone “knock on our roofs.” For our own sakes and for the world’s, Israel’s impunity must end.

George Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

The Testimony from Gaza

March 31, 2009
Israeli soldiers’ accounts of the fighting last winter further undermine the official rationale of the war.

The soldier had served as a squad commander during the Israeli army’s invasion of the Gaza Strip last winter. His unit was assigned to advance into Gaza City. His initial orders, he recalled, were that after an armored vehicle broke down the door of a building, his men were to enter, spraying fire: “I call it murdering … going up one floor after another, and anyone we spot, shoot him.” The word from his higher-ups was that anyone who hadn’t fled the neighborhood could be assumed to be a terrorist. The orders fit a pattern: In Gaza, “as you know, they used lots and lots of force and killed lots and lots of people on the way so that we wouldn’t be hurt,” he said.

Before the operation began, he recounted, the orders were softened. The building’s occupants would be given five minutes to leave and be searched on their way out. When he told his squad, some soldiers objected. “Anyone there is a terrorist; that’s a fact,” one said. The squad commander was upset. “It’s pretty frustrating that inside Gaza you’re allowed to do what you want,” he explained at a discussion in February among graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin Academy, a pre-army training course.

A transcript from that gathering, published in an academy newsletter, reached the Israeli media late last week. (The full Hebrew text is here; a Ha’aretz report in English is here.) Predictably, it set off a storm. In contrast to earlier criticism of the Gaza campaign, this time charges of disregard for civilians’ lives came not from Palestinians or the foreign media but from Israeli soldiers. Their testimony challenged the story of the war that is widely accepted in Israel and indicated a change, apparently dictated from above, in the Israel Defense Forces’ rules for fighting.

The soldiers who spoke at the academy hadn’t served together and weren’t talking about a breakdown in a single unit. Instead, they described an atmosphere in which “the lives of Palestinians were, let’s say much less important than the lives of our soldiers,” as one put it. Every civilian was presumed dangerous, a potential suicide bomber. In one segment of the testimony that received wide media attention, a soldier told of marksmen shooting a mother and her two children after they took a wrong turn as they fled their home. (In response, the army hastily announced that the brigade commander had investigated and that the marksmen had only fired warning shots, without harming the mother and children.)

There were counter-instances. A soldier identified as Binyamin (not his real name) described leading a patrol along the fence between Israel and Gaza. If the soldiers saw a Palestinian come within 300 meters of the fence, the orders were to treat him as a potential terrorist: Shoot in the air; if the “suspect” didn’t flee, shoot at his legs; then, if necessary, shoot to kill. But the 300-meter zone included farm land. Binyamin spotted an old man working in the fields. At first, the patrol’s marksman fired over the farmer’s head. The old man, apparently inured to gunfire, didn’t respond. Binyamin and the marksman looked at each other. “We simply understood that neither of us … wanted a farmer on our conscience.” The patrol drove on. Telling the story, Binyamin added, “Anyone who thinks I hurt Israeli security can come talk to me afterward.” His defensive tone suggested that his restraint was an exception to the wider atmosphere during the Gaza fighting.

Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza began with an air campaign in late December, followed by the ground invasion in early January. The immediate catalyst was heavy rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Strip at southern Israeli communities, after a six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ran out. (The actual chain reaction leading to war was more complex, as I wrote at the time.) From the start, Israel deflected charges of causing excessive civilian casualties with several arguments: Palestinian casualty figures were inflated; many of the supposed civilians were really combatants; and by fighting from within urban areas, Hamas had turned the civilian population into human shields. The Israeli army also feared that nearly anyone in Gaza could be a suicide bomber. None of those arguments should be dismissed out of hand. The Palestinians were also engaged in a public-relations battle. Hamas did base itself in urban areas, and it is infamous for its use of suicide bombers.

Most Israelis regarded the war as defensive, and the reports from Gaza have gained little traction in the Israeli domestic arena. The soldiers’ accounts may boost domestic criticism. As one of the soldiers commented, their experience reflected “a change in the rules for ‘purity of arms'” — meaning military ethics — compared to previous Israeli wars. Another soldier explained massive use of firepower as a response to Israel’s heavy casualties in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. “The intent was … to protect soldiers’ lives,” he said.

Any army will seek to minimize its losses. That said, the Israeli army does have a code of ethics that demands a balance between protecting its own forces and avoiding harm to noncombatants. If the code were not simply violated but superseded by new orders this time, a critical question is, who gave the orders — mid-level commanders, the top brass, or the country’s political leaders?

One lesson that generals and politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, may have learned from Lebanon, and from wars elsewhere, is that public support for a war can turn to opposition when the number of fallen soldiers increases. Similarly, direct media coverage from the battlefield can spur political debate. During the Gaza fighting, the Israeli army prevented both local and foreign journalists from entering the Strip.

There is at least one more reason that domestic support for a war can evaporate: failing to achieve the war’s goals. At the outset of the Gaza campaign, Olmert said its purpose was to “change the situation in the south part of our country” — a deliberately modest and ambiguous goal. Other officials spoke of weakening Hamas and restoring Israeli deterrence. While Israel decided to stop the fighting unilaterally in January — just before Barack Obama’s inauguration — it sought a new ceasefire arrangement with Hamas, negotiated indirectly via Egypt. Olmert then injected the additional goal of a prisoner exchange to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since 2006.

There’s still no agreed ceasefire in place. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in January, over 180 rockets have been fired from there at southern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. That’s less than the rate last November and December, as the ceasefire unraveled and expired. But it’s much more than the sporadic launchings when the truce was in place. Arguably, Gaza’s rulers have not been deterred from launching — or from allowing other groups to launch — missiles at Israel. Meanwhile, the talks on a prisoner exchange broke down last week, just before the soldiers’ testimony was published nationally.

This is the familiar arc of a poorly conceived war. At first, it looks like necessary defense. The public rallies around in the adrenaline rush of solving an intolerable problem by force. The critics are few, or foreign, and easily dismissed. As time passes, it becomes more difficult to name what has been gained amid the horror. The moral price reveals itself. Criticism becomes mainstream and respectable and is entirely too late.

An Army of Extremists

March 26, 2009

How some military rabbis are trying to radicalize Israeli soldiers.

Israeli soldiers, just back from Gaza. Click image to expand.

Israeli soldiers, just back from Gaza

Recent reports of atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers in the course of the intervention in Gaza have described the incitement of conscripts and reservists by military rabbis who characterized the battle as a holy war for the expulsion of non-Jews from Jewish land. The secular Israeli academic Dany Zamir, who first brought the testimony of shocked Israeli soldiers to light, has been quoted as if the influence of such extremist clerical teachings was something new. This is not the case.

I remember being in Israel in 1986 when the chief army “chaplain” in the occupied territories, Rabbi Shmuel Derlich, issued his troops a 1,000-word pastoral letter enjoining them to apply the biblical commandment to exterminate the Amalekites as “the enemies of Israel.” Nobody has recently encountered any Amalekites, so the chief educational officer of the Israeli Defense Forces asked Rabbi Derlich whether he would care to define his terms and say whom he meant. Rather evasively—if rather alarmingly—the man of God replied, “Germans.” There are no Germans in Judaea and Samaria or, indeed, in the Old Testament, so the rabbi’s exhortation to slay all Germans as well as quite probably all Palestinians was referred to the Judge Advocate General’s Office. Forty military rabbis publicly came to Derlich’s support, and the rather spineless conclusion of the JAG was that he had committed no legal offense but should perhaps refrain in the future from making political statements on the army’s behalf.

The problem here is precisely that the rabbi was not making a “political” statement. Rather, he was doing his religious duty in reminding his readers what the Torah actually says. It’s not at all uncommon in Israel to read discussions, featuring military rabbis, of quite how to interpret the following holy order from Moses, in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 31, Verses 13-18, as quoted from my 1985 translation by the Jewish Publication Society. The Israelites have just done a fairly pitiless job on the Midianites, slaughtering all of the adult males. But, says their stern commander-in-chief, they have still failed him:

Moses, Eleazer the priest, and all the chieftains of the community came out to meet them outside the camp. Moses became angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of thousands and the officers of hundreds, who had come back from the military campaign. Moses said to them, “You have spared every female! Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so that the Lord’s community was struck by the plague. Now, therefore, slay every male among the children, and slay also every young woman who has known a man carnally; but spare every young woman who has not had carnal relations with a man.”

Moses and Eleazar the priest go on to issue some complex instructions about the ritual cleansings that must be practiced after this exhausting massacre has been completed.

Now, it’s common to hear people say, when this infamous passage and others like it come up, that it’s not intended to be “taken literally.” One also often hears the excuse that some wicked things are done “in the name of” religion, as if the wicked things were somehow the result of a misinterpretation. But the nationalist rabbis who prepare Israeli soldiers for their mission seem to think that this book might be the word of God, in which case the only misinterpretation would be the failure to take it literally. (I hate to break it to you, but the people who think that God’s will is revealed in scripture are known as “religious.” Those who do not think so must try to find another name for themselves.)

Possibly you remember Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the man who in February 1994 unslung his weapon and killed more than two dozen worshippers at the mosque in Hebron. He had been a physician in the Israeli army and had first attracted attention by saying that he would refuse to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath. Now read Ethan Bronner’s report in the March 22 New York Times about the preachments of the Israeli army’s latest chief rabbi, a West Bank settler named Avichai Rontzski who also holds the rank of brigadier general. He has “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath … is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred.” Those of us who follow these things recognize that statement as one of the leading indicators of a truly determined racist and fundamentalist. Yet it comes not this time in the garb of a homicidal lone-wolf nut bag but in the full uniform and accoutrement of a general and a high priest: Moses and Eleazar combined. The latest news, according to Bronner, is that the Israeli Defense Ministry has felt compelled to reprimand Rontzski for “a rabbinal edict against showing the enemy mercy” that was distributed in booklet form to men and women in uniform (see Numbers 31:13-18, above).

Peering over the horrible pile of Palestinian civilian casualties that has immediately resulted, it’s fairly easy to see where this is going in the medium-to-longer term. The zealot settlers and their clerical accomplices are establishing an army within the army so that one day, if it is ever decided to disband or evacuate the colonial settlements, there will be enough officers and soldiers, stiffened by enough rabbis and enough extremist sermons, to refuse to obey the order. Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs. The dress rehearsals for this have already taken place, with the religious excuses given for Baruch Goldstein’s rampage and the Talmudic evasions concerning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Once considered highly extreme, such biblical exegeses are moving ever closer to the mainstream. It’s high time the United States cut off any financial support for Israel that can be used even indirectly for settler activity, not just because such colonization constitutes a theft of another people’s land but also because our Constitution absolutely forbids us to spend public money on the establishment of any religion.

Will Israel be brought to book?

March 25, 2009

The evidence of war crimes in Gaza is a challenge to universal justice: will western-backed perpetrators ever stand trial?

Evidence of the scale of Israel‘s war crimes in its January onslaught on Gaza is becoming unanswerable. Clancy Chassay’s three films investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip, released by the Guardian today, include important new accounts of the flagrant breaches of the laws of war that marked the three-week campaign – now estimated to have left at least 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead.

The films provide compelling testimony of Israel’s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.

Naturally, the Israeli occupation forces’ spokesperson insists to Chassay that they make every effort to avoid killing civilians and denies using human shields or targeting medical workers – while at the same time explaining that medics in war zones “take the risk upon themselves”. By banning journalists from entering Gaza during its punitive devastation of the strip, the Israeli government avoided independent investigations of the stream of war crimes accusations while the attack was going on.

But now journalists and human rights organisations are back inside, doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.

It’s not as if Clancy’s reports are unique or uncorroborated by other evidence. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January. As one explained: “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way”.

They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent”, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza. In the case of Israel, the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.

Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently, any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment now faced by Sudan’s leaders over Darfur. Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel’s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?

Falk: Gaza offensive possible ‘war crime’

March 20, 2009
Al Jazeera, March 20, 2009

Falk said the Gaza border blocade trapping Gazans in a war zone may also be a crime against humanity

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories has said Israel’s military offensive on Gaza “would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law”.

Richard Falk calls the Israeli attacks a “massive assault on a densely populated urbanised setting”, with the civilian population subjected to “an inhumane form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm”.

His findings were written in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

Islamic and African countries backed by China, Cuba and Russia have a majority in the 47-member forum.

Neither Israel nor US, its principal ally, are members.

Falk said the Geneva Convention required forces at war to be able to distinguish between military targets and civilians.

If that is not possible, then “launching the attacks is inherently unlawful”.

Israel launched its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in December saying it aimed to stop rocket fire by Hamas into southern Israel.

A ceasefire was declared on January 18 after the offensive left 1,300 Palestinians dead, many of them women and children.

Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers were killed during the offensive.

Another crime

Falk said that the Gaza border blockade also was not legally justified and may represent a “crime against peace”, a principle established at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

Sealing the border, denying people the right to flee the war zone as refugees, may also be a crime against humanity, his report said.

In video

Gaza family tells of Israeli shooting

Israeli soldiers say killing civilians ‘allowed’

He said Israel’s violations included alleged “targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances” during the offensive, and its use of weapons including white phosphorus, as well as Hamas firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.Falk called for an independent experts group to investigate possible war crimes committed by both the Israeli military and Hamas.

He recommended witness testimonies as well as explanations from Israeli and Palestinian military commanders.

Falk gave the same death toll from Israel’s offensive in December and January – 1,434 Palestinians, 960 of those civilians – as the Palestinian Human Rights Centre.

Israel disputes the figures and accuses Hamas fighters in Gaza of using civilians as human shields.

Falk said Israel’s allegation should be investigated.

Criminal tribunal urged

Falk suggested the UN Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability for war crimes in Gaza, noting Israel has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the International Criminal Court.

He was refused entry into Israel two weeks before the offensive started, preventing him from a planned mission to Gaza. In the report, he said the refusal had set an “unfortunate precedent” for treatment of a special rapporteur.

Israel dropped bombs on Gaza saying it wanted to halt rocket fire from Hamas [EPA]

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Santa Barbara, California, Falk said he is not optimistic that his report will lead to concrete action.”There is a lack of political will on the part of several major governments,” he said.

“There has all along been a pervasive double standard with respect to the implementation of international criminal law.

“It has been applied to non-Western countries in the south and has exempted actors associated with Europe, North America and, generally, the north.”

Falk’s criticism came as reports surfaced in the Israeli media suggesting that Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under what may have been lax rules of engagement during the Gaza offensive.

Property ransacked

Quoting Israeli soldiers who fought in the offensive, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that soldiers had ransacked and destroyed civilian property.

The soldiers’ testimony, made at a course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, runs counter to the Israeli army’s claims that troops observed a high level of moral behaviour during the operation.

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader in which he relates an incident where an Israeli sharpshooter shot a Palestinian mother and her two children, Haaretz reported.

If proved, the soldiers’ testimonies could contribute to war crimes charges against Israel.


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