Posts Tagged ‘John Ging’

The ruins of Gaza

June 22, 2009

Laura Durkay describes what she witnessed as part of a Code Pink delegation that visited Gaza earlier in June.

Socialist Worker, June 22, 2009

The American School in Gaza was destroyed during Israel's onslaught (Laura Durkay | SW)The American School in Gaza was destroyed during Israel’s onslaught (Laura Durkay | SW)

“PEOPLE ARE being kept alive.” It was one of the first things that John Ging, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza told us.

It’s a pretty accurate description of the conditions in Gaza, four months after the end of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 dead, over 5,000 wounded and at least 40,000 homeless. People are being kept alive–and that’s about all.

Four months after the ceasefire, not a brick has been rebuilt in Gaza. Thousands of buildings–from the Palestinian parliament building (heavily damaged) and presidential residence (obliterated), to the Islamic University, the American School, Al Quds Hospital (hit with white phosphorus) and thousands of homes, shops, factories and police stations–stand exactly as they were on January 18, the last day of the war.

Continued >>

Divide and torture

June 7, 2009

The military onslaught on Gaza may have halted but the economic and political onslaught continues. Ewa Jasiewicz reports on a people under siege

Israel’s winter assault further disfigured the Palestinian body politic. If the Gazan limb had been kept alive on a drip of international aid, with the West Bank strapped down for economic shock therapy, December and January’s events saw both repeatedly shocked, with Gaza flattened after 22 days of bombardment.

In spite of Israel’s destruction of communications masts in the northern Gaza strip, the blockade of basic journalistic materials for Palestine’s main news agencies and attacks on reporters – killing five – news, images and voices from Gaza continued to stream forth into ’48 Palestine, the West Bank and the world. People across the globe were collectively traumatised as they watched more than a million and a half people locked into a ghetto bombed with phosphoric bombs, tank shells, flachete shells, surveillance aircraft, warships, F16s, F15s, Apache and Cobra helicopters and M16 machine guns for three unrelenting weeks.

Continued >>

The Rape of Gaza

June 2, 2009

by Roane Carey | The Nation, June 2, 2009

How would you feel if you found out that an American school, paid for with your tax dollars, was bombed and completely destroyed by a US ally? This happened in Gaza just a few months ago, during Israel’s now-infamous Operation Cast Lead.

I’ve been touring Gaza for the past three days as part of a Code Pink delegation, and the concrete rubble and twisted rebar of the American International School in Gaza is just one of the many horrifying images we’ve seen on this trip. The school, which taught American progressive values to Palestinian kids in grades K-12, was bombed by US-supplied Israeli F-16s in early January. The Israelis claimed, without supplying evidence, that Hamas fighters had fired rockets from the school. Now several hundred kids have not only lost the school they dearly loved; they have been given a very different lesson in American values, one no doubt unintended by the school’s founders and teachers.

The people of Gaza suffered immensely from the Israeli assault, which not only killed some 1,400 and injured 5,000 but destroyed or heavily damaged mosques, schools, hospitals, universities, and industrial and other business establishments, in addition to thousands of private homes. Dr. Marwan Sultan, who practices at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, told me his hospital was so damaged they had to send all patients to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City–which was itself damaged. The bombing of one school in Beit Lahiya killed about forty kids and injured a hundred, Sultan told me. He saw scenes of death and mutilation that still give him nightmares. Thousands are living in tent cities all over the Strip, and the entire population of Gaza is being strangled to this day by a blockade that is choking off any possibility of reconstruction or recovery.

Make no mistake about it: the blockade, directly enforced by Israel and Egypt but conspired in by their superpower patron in Washington, is a continuing act of war against an entire civilian population of 1.5 million, a form of collective punishment and a crime against humanity. John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which officially invited Code Pink to come to Gaza, told our delegation that billions in aid had been promised in the wake of Israel’s massacre, but so far nothing had arrived. Our delegation, he said, is the first concrete action of solidarity with an oppressed, long-suffering population. Four months after a devastating conflict, he added, the siege continues. “The first thing we need to see is the opening up of crossing points and an end to collective punishment because of the political failures and security problems created by a few.” It’s a matter of life and death, he said, “and we’re running out of time…. The people of Gaza are asking for help, justice and the rule of law.”

Code Pink–whose organizers, I might add, have done a fabulous job in arranging this tour–is urging Obama to break the siege himself by visiting Gaza on his Middle East tour. That’s not likely to happen, of course, but the least he could do is demand an end to the blockade. He’s more likely to do so if Americans put on the pressure. Readers: it’s your turn.

© 2009 The Nation

Roane Carey, managing editor at The Nation, was the editor of The New Intifada (Verso) and, with Jonathan Shainin, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press).

Turks hail PM after bust-up with Peres

January 31, 2009

The Morning Star

(Friday 30 January 2009)
Supporters of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan awaiting his arrival at Ataturk airport in Istanbul.

DELIGHTED: Supporters of Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan awaiting his arrival at Ataturk airport in Istanbul.

THOUSANDS of Turks welcomed their prime minister home on Friday with chants of “Turkey is proud of you” after he publicly confronted the Israeli president over the bloody Gaza onslaught.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intervention at the World Economic Forum in Davos also won praise in Gaza, where Turkish flags fluttered from a ruined mosque.

Mr Erdogan was greeted by a jubilant crowd of more than 5,000 supporters, many waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, who had flooded Istanbul’s airport when his plane from Davos touched down at about 2am.

The dispute about Israel’s offensive against Gaza took place at a panel discussion in Davos on Thursday. Israeli President Shimon Peres launched into a 25-minute defence of Tel Aviv’s attack on the coastal enclave, jabbing his finger repeatedly at Mr Erdogan.

“The tragedy of Gaza is not Israel. It is Hamas. They created a dictatorship, a very dangerous one,” he screamed.

After Mr Peres’s intervention had won applause, Mr Erdogan said: “I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because many people have been killed.

“Mr Peres, you are older than me. Your voice is too loud,” he said, suggesting that his emotion betrayed a guilty conscience.

The session moderator cut Mr Erdogan off in mid-sentence, prompting the Turkish premier to walk out, declaring that he would never return to Davos.

In the Gaza refugee camp of Jebaliya, Turkish flags decorated the ruins of a local mosque that had been destroyed by Israeli air strikes. On the Egyptian side of the Gaza border, over two dozen lorries loaded with food, medicines and commercial goods remain stranded because Tel Aviv refuses to open the crossings.

The UN launched an emergency appeal on Thursday for $613 million (£440m) to help Palestinians rebuild, but UN officials on the ground warned that this would be useless if Israel continues to bar aid from entering Gaza.

John Ging, the top UN official in Gaza, said: “The ordinary people here in Gaza are not getting enough help and are not getting it quickly enough,” demanding that the border crossings be opened.

“There are thousands of tons of assistance generously donated, sitting in Egypt, Jordan and also in the ports in Israel,” Mr Ging reported, adding: “That aid should be right here, right now, helping the people who need it.”

U.N. Chief Appalled at Israeli Destruction in Gaza

January 22, 2009

By Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 (IPS) – When Israel went on a military rampage during its 22-day air strikes and artillery attacks on Gaza, it largely singled out residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, schools and U.N. buildings on the pretext of targeting Hamas fighters.

But John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), based in Gaza, kept insisting there were no Hamas fighters anywhere in the vicinity of U.N.-run schools or warehouses.

“What we have regretted in the past is that we have not been given a hearing to answer,” he told reporters Monday.

He charged that most of the allegations made by Israel were “unsubstantiated, unfounded – and continue to be repeated.”

Perhaps his strongest indictment of the Israelis was reflected in his response to a question on military tactics: “We don’t, in a civilised world, shoot the hostage to get to the hostage taker.”

But in reality that was what the Israelis were doing in Gaza, says an Arab diplomat, echoing Ging’s comment.

“The Israelis violated every single international convention governing the rules of war and the treatment of civilians,” he told IPS. “Their military excesses can, in no way, be justified.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who praised Israel at a press conference in Jerusalem last week, describing the Jewish state as “a responsible member of the United Nations”, apparently had second thoughts when he saw the devastation caused in Gaza.

Standing outside a U.N. compound that was destroyed by Israel, Ban told reporters Tuesday: “I am just appalled. Everyone is smelling this bombing still. It is still burning. It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations.”

Despite pleas from the secretary-general, Israel bombed U.N.-run facilities, including schools and warehouses, on four different occasions.

One of the bomb attacks on the UNRWA compound took place on the same day Ban arrived in Israel.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the final tally read: 1,314 Palestinians killed, including 416 children and 106 women; 5,320 injured, including 1,855 children and 795 women.

In comparison, the number of Israelis killed included four civilians and nine soldiers, along with 84 injured.

And according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the buildings destroyed included 4,100 residential homes (with 17,000 damaged), 20 mosques, 25 educational institutions and medical facilities, 31 security offices, 16 government buildings and 1,500 factories and shops.

The Office of the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator pointed out that 16 health facilities and an equal number of ambulances were destroyed or damaged during the 22-day conflict.

Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS: “The scale of the devastation is such that Israel and its supporters are unlikely to be able to bury or bulldoze it out of the collective conscience of the world.”

There have already been calls to bring war crimes charges against Israeli leaders, she pointed out.

Although the formal wheels of international justice may grind slowly, citizens are not waiting.

“Trade unions in different parts of the world are calling for a boycott. Israel’s fruit shipments are rotting in its warehouses as importers in Scandinavia, Jordan and the UK cancelled orders,” she said.

In an open letter in the London Guardian last weekend, Israeli citizens themselves called on world leaders to impose sanctions against their own country: “This is the only road left. Help us all, please!”

Although a ceasefire has been declared, said Hijab, Gaza’s torment and siege is not over and the U.N.’s “We the peoples” are likely to remain mobilised until justice is done.

Speaking from Gaza, Ging told reporters that the population in Gaza remains shell-shocked, traumatised and living in real fear.

Asked about the “most outrageous” incident he had witnessed, Ging said: “The dead children.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations is expected to lead international efforts to rebuild Gaza.

But Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the external affairs commissioner of the 27-member European Union, was quoted as saying that the EU would not fund reconstruction as long as Hamas was in control of Gaza.

Humanitarian aid, however, would be provided without any conditions, she added.

Hijab told IPS that “it is almost as though there are two different worlds, with the mainstream media, European and U.S. leaders, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon living in one world.”

And in the other, she said, are the leaders of the Third World, the president of the General Assembly (Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann), and millions of outraged citizens.

D’Escoto has taken a very strong stand denouncing the United Nations as ineffective in taking any action against Israel.

Hijab said the former parrot the Israeli line about Israel’s need for protection while the latter exchange U.N. reports and eyewitness accounts of the destruction and damage to thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure.

They also share photographs of phosphorous shells showering white flame on unprotected civilians; read about the killing of entire families among the thousands of dead and wounded; and respond with horror to the reports of women whose legs have been shorn off by new kinds of weapons, she added.

Is Israel’s Gaza War a New War Crime?

January 19, 2009

The use of the internationally banned substance white phosphorus in highly densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip gives new meaning to the phrase “white power.” White western supremacy enforced by latest advanced weaponry.

And not only white phosphorus, but also the latest in bunker buster bombs, unmanned drones, not to mention U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, etc.

Journalists, human rights officials, international aid workers, and many doctors and field medics, including high officials of the Red Cross and the UN, have accused the Israelis of using white phosphorus illegally against civilian populations, as well as other advanced weaponry. They have repeatedly witnessed burns on civilians, including women and children, consistent with the use of white phosphorous.

Meanwhile, Richard Falk, internationally respected legal scholar, and Special Reporter for the UN on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine, stated in a recent interview that Israel has potentially committed a new kind of war crime, by making it impossible for endangered civilians to flee a war zone.

Israel “has basically locked the population into this war zone and as far as I know, that hasn’t really happened before in such a systematic way and it probably should be considered a new kind of war crime,” said Falk.

On Jan. 15, Israeli forces bombed several hospitals and a UN compound. As many as 500 people were sheltering in the Al-Quds Hospital in the city’s southwestern Tal Al-Hawa district when it was bombed multiple times by Israel and set on fire.

A hospital spokesman said the fire was sparked by phosphorus shells. “We have been able to control the fire in the hospital,” the spokesman told reporters, “but not in the administrative building. We hope that the flames don’t spread again to the wings of the hospital.”

Sharon Lock is an independent journalist and human rights activist from Australia. For the past two weeks, Lock has been riding in a Red Crescent ambulance in Gaza, documenting attacks on medics and ambulances, as they try to reach hundreds of victims of the bombings, people cut down in the streets or caught under the rubble of hundreds of destroyed buildings.

According to Lock, who was in Al-Quds Hospital when it was struck multiple times, 80 percent of the calls for help have gone unanswered, because Israeli forces “attack the medics” when they try to retrieve the wounded and the dead, “even after they have been given permission to move in.”

In an interview on Jan. 16, Lock described the attack on Al-Quds Hospital, in a densely populated part of Gaza City, one of three medical centers bombed by Israel in a single day.

“During the night we had quite a lot of attacks, about 50 strikes people counted in our immediate area,” she told me, “and about 4 or 5 had actually hit our building. The two that did involve major damage happened in the morning …

“One was a rocket that went through the wall of the hospital, into the pharmacy building, and we retrieved the rocket shell. The other went through the roof of the social center, which was a part of the hospital complex, and that started the fire on the roof which the medics were fighting.

“We did manage to put it out eventually but it was quite difficult. And then, actually, we were only in the middle of getting the last bits of the fire out, when we heard shouting from upstairs and went up to the main steps and I saw my medical colleague covered in blood.

“He said that he’d just picked up a little girl who was part of a family fleeing their house, and who had come to the hospital to take shelter. He heard screaming and had gone out and saw she had been shot by a sniper, and had gunshot wounds to her face and also to her abdomen and so he swept her off and brought her in for surgery. ”

Later the central building at Al-Quds was bombed and also set ablaze. Lock and other medical staff had to walk hundreds of Palestinians, who had fled to the hospital for safety, through the darkened streets to another location in front of Israeli snipers who had taken positions on the roofs of various building near the hospital.

Overflowing Morgues

Caoimhe Butterly is an Irish human rights activist working in Gaza City as a volunteer with ambulance services and as co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. Butterly describes in troubling detail what life was like at Shifa Hospital, another key medical center attacked by Israel with U.S.-made weaponry.

“The morgues of Gaza’s hospitals are overflowing. The bodies in their blood-soaked white shrouds cover the entire floor space of the Shifa Hospital’s morgue. Some are intact, most horribly deformed, limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads blown off, skulls crushed in.

“Family members wait outside to identify and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved ones. … Blood is everywhere. Hospital orderlies hose down the floors of operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the injured continue to pour in – bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns, bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted and under siege, work day and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the predominance of death.”

On the same day, Israeli shells rained down on a UN compound in Gaza City, setting fire to its warehouses and reducing to ashes tons of sorely needed food and medical aid. Some 700 Palestinians had fled to the UN complex at the time of the bombings and a number of them were wounded.

John Ging, director of United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip, accused the Israelis of bombing the UN Food Complex with phosphorus shells.”They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because, if you put water on, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning,” he said.

On Jan. 17, two Palestinian young boys, brothers aged five and seven, were killed when Israeli tank fire hit a UN school in Gaza. Twenty-five other Gazans were wounded in the shelling at the school run by the UN relief agency in Beit Lahiya, The school was the third UN shelter to be hit by Israeli fire in its 22-day war on the tiny Gaza strip.

Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN-run school, said several tank rounds hit the school. The third floor of the school took a direct hit after a short pause, killing the pair of brothers and injuring another 14 people.

Gunness said about 1,600 civilians had sought refuge from the fighting inside the building when it was hit. And he made it clear that Israel knew what it was hitting.

“The Israeli army knew exactly our GPS coordinates and they would have known that hundreds of people had taken shelter there,” he told Arab-run news services. “When you have a direct hit into the third floor of a UN school, there has to be an investigation to see if a war crime has been committed.”

John Ging added “People today are alleging war crimes here in Gaza. Let’s have it properly accounted for. Let’s have the legal process which will establish exactly what has happened here. It is another failure for our humanity and it is exposing the impotence of our [the international community’s] inability to protect civilians in conflict.”

The statistics through the 20th day of the war – over 1,100 Palestinians dead, of which 300 are children, and 5,400 more wounded, some critically. So far the Israeli strikes have claimed over 15 mosques, many schools, at least three hospitals, several UN facilities, more than six field medics, and hundreds of private homes and civilian apartment buildings.

Tutu’s Concern

In 2006, Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, one of the leaders of the South African anti-apartheid movement, was prevented from entering Israel and the Gaza Strip to investigate another potential massacre of innocent Palestinian civilians.

It took him two years to finally get in. Tutu has been quoted many times in regards to the similarities between the former apartheid system in South Africa and the current treatment of occupied Palestinians.

Tutu wrote in 2003, “Yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the Occupied Territories. To travel only blocks in his own homeland, a (Palestinian) grandfather waits on the whim of a teenage soldier.

Dennis Bernstein is an award-winning investigative reporter and public radio producer. He is co-host and executive producer of the daily radio news magazine, Flashpoints, on Pacifica Radio, and a contributing editor to the Pacific News Service.

Israelis bombard Gaza Strip UN HQ

January 16, 2009

The Morning Star

(Thursday 15 January 2009)
Israeli air strikes destroying a building in the Gaza Strip.

OBLITERATION: Israeli air strikes destroying a building in the Gaza Strip.

ISRAELI forces bombarded the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip with phosphorus shells on Thursday, as hundreds of refugees cowered inside.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, who is in Tel Aviv on a mission to end Israel’s devastating offensive, expressed “outrage” over the bombing, which set buildings ablaze and injured at least three people.

Only that morning, the UN compound in Gaza was put to use as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of Gaza City residents seeking sanctuary from the relentless shelling.

Two of the shells hit a UN warehouse housing humanitarian supplies, setting off intense fires.

UN relief operations director John Ging said: “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning.

“This is going to burn down the entire warehouse. Thousands and thousands of tons of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance are there,” he warned.

UN spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that the UN had given Israel the co-ordinates of the building and that the compound was also clearly marked with UN flags and logos.

Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks and warplanes, pushed into a crowded Gaza City neighbourhood for the first time, sending terrified residents fleeing for cover.

Shells struck the al-Quds Hospital, causing fires that trapped about 400 patients and staff inside the main building.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Five high-rise apartment buildings and a building housing media outlets in Gaza City were also hit, injuring several journalists.

Bullets entered another building housing Associated Press offices and they lodged into the wall of a room where two staffers were working, but no-one was wounded.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, demanded a halt to attacks on press buildings.

Over 1,066 Palestinians, including at least 311 children, have been killed and 4,700 have been injured since Tel Aviv kicked off Operation Cast Lead on December 27.

Addressing soldiers at a southern base on Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak declared that the offensive would continue, but that Israel’s eyes were “also open to the possibility of winding up this operation and consummating Israel’s exceptional accomplishments through diplomacy.”

Demands grow for Gaza war crimes investigation

January 13, 2009

Gaza conflict, day 17: Israeli reservists join the fighting and Sderot residents send their children back to school, while conditions deteriorate in Gaza Link to this video

Israel is facing growing demands from senior UN officials and human rights groups for an international war crimes investigation in Gaza over allegations such as the “reckless and indiscriminate” shelling of residential areas and use of Palestinian families as human shields by soldiers.

With the death toll from the 17-day Israeli assault on Gaza climbing above 900, pressure is increasing for an independent inquiry into specific incidents, such as the shelling of a UN school turned refugee centre where about 40 people died, as well as the question of whether the military tactics used by Israel systematically breached humanitarian law.

The UN’s senior human rights body approved a resolution yesterday condemning the Israeli offensive for “massive violations of human rights”. A senior UN source said the body’s humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the “highest levels” to be used as seen fit.

Some human rights activists allege that the Israeli leadership gave an order to keep military casualties low no matter what cost to civilians. That strategy has directly contributed to one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults on the Palestinian territories, they say.

John Ging, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: “It’s about accountability [over] the issue of the appropriateness of the force used, the proportionality of the force used and the whole issue of duty of care of civilians.

“We don’t want to join any chorus of passing judgment but there should be an investigation of any and every incident where there are concerns there might have been violations in international law.”

The Israeli military are accused of:

• Using powerful shells in civilian areas which the army knew would cause large numbers of innocent casualties;

• Using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs;

• Holding Palestinian families as human shields;

• Attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men in marked vehicles;

• Killing large numbers of police who had no military role.

Israeli military actions prompted an unusual public rebuke from the International Red Cross after the army moved a Palestinian family into a building and shelled it, killing 30. The surviving children clung to the bodies of their dead mothers for four days while the army blocked rescuers from reaching the wounded.

Human Rights Watch has called on the UN security council to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes.

Two leading Israeli human rights organisations have separately written to the country’s attorney general demanding he investigate the allegations.

But critics remain sceptical that any such inquiry will take place, given that Israel has previously blocked similar attempts with the backing of the US.

Amnesty International says hitting residential streets with shells that send blast and shrapnel over a wide area constitutes “prima facie evidence of war crimes”.

“There has been reckless and disproportionate and in some cases indiscriminate use of force,” said Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty investigator in Israel. “There has been the use of weaponry that shouldn’t be used in densely populated areas because it’s known that it will cause civilian fatalities and casualties.

“They have extremely sophisticated missiles that can be guided to a moving car and they choose to use other weapons or decide to drop a bomb on a house knowing that there were women and children inside. These are very, very clear breaches of international law.”

Israel’s most prominent human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has written to the attorney general in Jerusalem, Meni Mazuz, asking him to investigate suspected crimes including how the military selects its targets and the killing of scores of policemen at a passing out parade.

“Many of the targets seem not to have been legitimate military targets as specified by international humanitarian law,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem.

Rovera has also collected evidence that the Israeli army holds Palestinian families prisoner in their own homes as human shields. “It’s standard practice for Israeli soldiers to go into a house, lock up the family in a room on the ground floor and use the rest of the house as a military base, as a sniper’s position. That is the absolute textbook case of human shields.

“It has been practised by the Israeli army for many years and they are doing it again in Gaza now,” she said.

While there are growing calls for an international investigation, the form it would take is less clear. The UN’s human rights council has the authority to investigate allegations of war crimes but Israel has blocked its previous attempts to do so. The UN security council could order an investigation, and even set up a war crimes tribunal, but that is likely to be vetoed by the US and probably Britain.

The international criminal court has no jurisdiction because Israel is not a signatory. The UN security council could refer the matter to the court but is unlikely to.

Benjamin Rutland, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said an international investigation of the army’s actions was not justified. “We have international lawyers at every level of the command whose job it is to authorise targeting decisions, rules of engagement … We don’t think we have breached international law in any of these instances,” he said.

Criticism of Israeli War Crimes Mounts

January 11, 2009

by Jonathan Cook |, January 10, 2009

Criticism by international watchdog groups over the increasing death toll in Gaza mounted this week as the first legal actions inside Israel were launched accusing the army of intentionally harming the enclave’s civilian population.

The petitions – over attacks on medical personnel and the shelling of United Nations schools in Gaza – follow statements by senior Israeli commanders that they have been using heavy firepower to protect soldiers during their advance on built-up areas. “We are very violent,” one told Israeli media.

There is also growing evidence that Israeli forces have been firing phosphorus shells over densely populated areas in a move that risks violating international law by inflicting burns on civilians.

The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, meanwhile, called the events in Gaza a “new Nakba,” referring to the catastrophe that dispossessed the Palestinians in 1948. The Palestinian Authority revealed that it was planning to seek the prosecution of Israel’s leaders for war crimes in the international courts.

The legal challenges follow a wave of Israeli attacks on schools, universities, mosques, hospitals, and ambulances in the past few days. The army claims the attacks are justified because the sites are being used by Hamas fighters.

A petition to the Israeli courts was announced on Wednesday by Taleb al-Sanaa, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, over the shelling on Tuesday of a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp that killed at least 40 Palestinians sheltering there.

UN officials, noting that they had passed on the school’s GPS coordinates to Israel and that it was clearly marked with a UN flag, insisted that only civilians had sought refuge at the school. The UN has demanded an investigation.

Al-Sanaa said the petition would name the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, as the responsible parties. “Israel needs to decide whether it wants to be a terrorist organization like Hamas or respect international law,” he said.

A further petition has been launched by eight Israeli human rights groups, demanding that Israel’s Supreme Court ban the army from targeting ambulances and medical personnel.

The petition cites a large number of cases in which Israel has fired on ambulances, arguing that as a result medics have been unable to treat the wounded or transport them to hospitals.

Palestinian medics said 21 of their staff have been killed by Israeli fire and many more wounded, according to reports on al-Jazeera TV. The al-Durra hospital in Gaza City was hit on Tuesday, and a day later three mobile clinics run by a Danish charity, DanChurchAid, were destroyed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross dropped its usual diplomatic language this week in denouncing Israel’s refusal to allow medical teams to tend the wounded.

During a three-hour pause in the fighting on Wednesday rescuers managed to reach the Zaytoun neighborhood, southeast of Gaza City, which was extensively bombed at the start of the week.

Four children were found close to starvation alongside 15 bodies, including those of their mothers. Many other civilians were found dead in the area, and others are believed still to be in hiding. Israeli tanks were stationed nearby the destroyed buildings during the whole period.

Pierre Wettach, a Red Cross spokesman, called Israel’s delay in allowing a medical evacuation “shocking” and “unacceptable.” He added, “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded.”

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel added its voice, criticizing the Israeli authorities for repeatedly ignoring requests to move seriously wounded civilians.

The UN suspended its aid operations on Thursday after two of its drivers were killed and others wounded by Israeli fire directed at one of its relief convoys during another three-hour cease-fire.

John Ging, head of the UN relief agency in Gaza, said, “They were coordinating their movements with the Israelis, as they always do, only to find themselves being fired at from the ground troops.”

Palestinian sources and international observers warned that the death toll among civilians is rising rapidly as Israel’s ground invasion pushes deeper into Gaza.

Al-Haq, a Palestinian legal rights group, warned that 80 percent of the more than 750 Palestinians killed in the fighting so far have been civilians. According to figures cited by the World Health Organization, at least 40 percent have been children. Another 3,000 Gazans have been wounded.

Israeli commanders were reported in the Israeli media to be unsurprised by the heavy toll on civilians of their latest actions, saying their priority was to protect soldiers.

“For us, being cautious means being aggressive,” one told the Ha’aretz newspaper. “From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground.”

The newspaper said the government had taken into account the likely high number of Palestinian civilian casualties when it approved the ground operation a week ago.

Another soldier, identified as Lt. Col. Amir, told Israeli TV on Wednesday, “We are very violent. We are not shying away from any method of preventing casualties among our troops.”

Among the dubious tactics the army appears to be resorting to is use of white phosphorus shells, which burn intensely on exposure to air, creating the firework-type explosions characteristic of Israel’s shelling of Gaza.

Although the shells produce dense clouds of smoke to cover military operations, they also cause severe burns on contact with skin.

Photographs of pale blue artillery shells lined up by tanks stationed on the edge of Gaza have been identified as American-made phosphorus munitions. Neil Gibson, a missiles expert for Jane’s, told the London Times that the shells were an “improved model” that burned for up to 10 minutes.

Although such shells are allowed when used solely as a smoke screen, they are banned as a chemical weapon if used as an anti-personnel munition. Palestinian and international medics in Gaza have reported large numbers of burn victims with injuries difficult to treat.

Yesterday, Amnesty International also accused Israeli soldiers of using Palestinian civilians as human shields – a charge Israel has repeatedly leveled against Hamas.

Malcolm Smart, a spokesman, said, “Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground-floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position.”

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

RIGHTS: Aid Groups Dispute Israeli Claims in Gaza Attacks

January 10, 2009

By Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 9 (IPS) – As the Israelis try to justify the massive loss of civilian life in Gaza, their arguments and counter-charges continue to be shot down either by the United Nations or by international human rights organisations.

Did the Israelis misidentify a school run by the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNWRA), where 43 Palestinians seeking shelter were killed in an early morning air strike? Or were there Hamas gunmen shooting from the school drawing Israeli fire?

Neither assertion is accurate, says John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza.

All U.N. schools in Gaza are clearly marked, and they fly the Organisation’s distinctly discernible blue-and-white flags.

Moreover, he told reporters, Israel has been provided with Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of all of UNRWA’s installations in Gaza.

So there could not have been a misidentification of the U.N. school in the Jabaliya refugee camp whose compound was hit by an artillery shell early this week.

Asked if Hamas militants could have taken shelter in the school that was attacked, Ging said that UNRWA was “hugely sensitive” to maintaining the integrity of its facilities.

“We vet all those who seek shelter in our facilities to make sure militants were not taking advantage of them,” he said.

Ging said that after visiting the site, he was confident no militants had been inside the building at the time of the bombing and no fire had come from within.

However, he said, “Israel’s position on the issue had shifted to suggest that militant fire had come from the vicinity of the school rather than from inside.”

Still, Ging demanded an independent investigation to prove the U.N.’s credibility against the unfounded charges.

On Thursday, UNRWA was forced to suspend its relief work following the killing of one of its drivers and the wounding of another. They were in a clearly marked aid convoy.

Ging said that while the Israeli authorities had given clearance to U.N. aid workers to move around, “it is wholly and totally unacceptable that (Israeli) soldiers on the ground are firing on our aid workers.”

On Friday, however, UNRWA resumed its relief operations after the Israeli defence ministry provided “credible assurances” that U.N. personnel and humanitarian operations would be fully respected.

Told that Israeli officials were denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes dismissed the denial by pointing out that the crisis was “worsening day by day”.

The appeals to halt the violence, he said, fell on deaf ears, both on the Israeli side and on the Hamas side.

According to the United Nations, the two-week old Israeli military operation in Gaza has killed 758 people, of whom 257 were children and 56 women, with 3,100 wounded, including 1,080 children and 452 women.

The staggering numbers were provided to the United Nations by the local Ministry of Health.

Although the United Nations could not independently verify the figures, Holmes told reporters “they appeared credible”.

In contrast, the total number of Israeli deaths, both military and civilian, was about 10, including by friendly fire, according to press reports.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, said Israel had attacked police stations in Gaza on the ground they were “combatants”.

“Police were not combatants and could not represent legitimate targets unless actively engaged in hostilities,” she pointed out. “It was Israel’s burden of proof to show the police they targeted were, indeed, Hamas militants.”

Instead, she said, it appeared that Israel had targeted police stations on a “blanket basis”.

Whitson said that only combatants actively engaged in fighting were legitimate targets of Israeli attacks.

Thus, a Hamas official at the Ministry of Health was not a legitimate target and neither was a Hamas media broadcasting station.

The situation in Gaza is so abominable that both the U.N. and international human rights organisations have refused to remain silent. Israel has been accused of violating both humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions on military operations.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council Friday, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) called for firm action “to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law”.

AI also urged the Council to dispatch international human rights monitors to Gaza and southern Israel to investigate and report on the continuing abuses by both warring parties.

Even the Vatican seemed outraged by the unmitigated violence by the Israelis.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, compared Gaza to a “concentration camp”, reminiscent of the horrors of a Nazi era — provoking anger from the Israelis.

“Look at the conditions in Gaza,” the Cardinal was quoted as saying, “more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”

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