Posts Tagged ‘violation of international humanitarian law’

ICRC Says Israel Broke International Law in Gaza

January 9, 2009

GENEVA – Relief workers found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City bombed by Israeli forces, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.

[A Palestinian boy, who also holds Russian citizenship, sits atop a Red cross vehicle as he waits with his family to leave the Gaza Strip January 8, 2009. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)]A Palestinian boy, who also holds Russian citizenship, sits atop a Red cross vehicle as he waits with his family to leave the Gaza Strip January 8, 2009. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

The ICRC accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the hit area and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded.”This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded,” he said.

In unusually strong terms, the neutral agency said it believed Israel had breached international humanitarian law in the incident.

In a written response, the Israeli army said it works in coordination with international aid bodies assist civilians and that it “in no way intentionally targets civilians”.

The Israeli offensive launched in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 to end rocket attacks by Islamic militants has drawn increasing international criticism over mounting civilian casualties.

Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances and ICRC officials managed to reach several houses in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City on Wednesday after seeking access from Israeli military forces since last weekend, the ICRC statement said.

The rescue team “found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses”, the ICRC said.

“They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses,” it said.

In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, it said. Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters (yards) away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, it said.

The ICRC said it had been informed that there were more wounded sheltering in other destroyed houses in the area.

“The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuated the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable,” it said.

In all, it evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were exhausted, including the children, by donkey cart. This was because large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the immediate area.

Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, warring parties are obliged to do everything possible to search for, collect and evacuate the wounded and sick without delay, it said.

Dominik Stillhart, ICRC deputy director of operations, declined to say explicitly whether the Israeli inaction constituted a war crime.

“Clearly, it is (for) the International Criminal Court — not for the ICRC — to say whether this is or is not a war crime,” he said, referring to the Hague tribunal.

Ambulances must be given “round-the-clock” access to the wounded throughout Gaza, Stillhart told a news briefing. “We cannot wait for the next suspension of hostilities for the wounded to be evacuated and brought to hospital.”

The Israeli army said any serious allegations would need to be investigated properly after a formal complaint was received, “within the constraints of the military operation taking place”. (Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Jerusalem) (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)

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The slow death of Gaza

November 24, 2008

The collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population is illegal. But international law was tossed aside long ago

It has been two weeks since Israel imposed a complete closure of Gaza, after months when its crossings have been open only for the most minimal of humanitarian supplies. Now it is even worse: two weeks without United Nations food trucks for the 80% of the population entirely dependent on food aid, and no medical supplies or drugs for Gaza’s ailing hospitals. No fuel (paid for by the EU) for Gaza’s electricity plant, and no fuel for the generators during the long blackouts. Last Monday morning, 33 trucks of food for UN distribution were finally let in – a few days of few supplies for very few, but as the UN asks, then what?

Israel’s official explanation for blocking even minimal humanitarian aid, according to IDF spokesperson Major Peter Lerner, was “continued rocket fire and security threats at the crossings”. Israel’s blockade, in force since Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-2007, can be described as an intensification of policies designed to isolate the population of Gaza, cripple its economy, and incentivise the population against Hamas by harsh – and illegal – measures of collective punishment. However, these actions are not all new: the blockade is but the terminal end of Israel’s closure policy, in place since 1991, which in turn builds on Israel’s policies as occupier since 1967.

In practice, Israel’s blockade means the denial of a broad range of items – food, industrial, educational, medical – deemed “non-essential” for a population largely unable to be self-sufficient at the end of decades of occupation. It means that industrial, cooking and diesel fuel, normally scarce, are virtually absent now. There are no queues at petrol stations; they are simply shut. The lack of fuel in turn means that sewage and treatment stations cannot function properly, resulting in decreased potable water and tens of millions of litres of untreated or partly treated sewage being dumped into the sea every day. Electricity cuts – previously around eight hours a day, now up to 16 hours a day in many areas – affect all homes and hospitals. Those lucky enough to have generators struggle to find the fuel to make them work, or spare parts to repair them when they break from overuse. Even candles are running out.

There can be no dispute that measures of collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are illegal under international humanitarian law. Fuel and food cannot be withheld or wielded as reward or punishment. But international law was tossed aside long ago. The blockade has been presented as punishment for the democratic election of Hamas, punishment for its subsequent takeover of Gaza, and punishment for militant attacks on Israeli civilians. The civilians of Gaza, from the maths teacher in a United Nations refugee camp to the premature baby in an incubator, properly punished for actions over which they have no control, will rise up and get rid of Hamas. Or so it goes.

And so what of these civilian agents of political change?

For all its complexities and tragedies, the over-arching effect of Israel’s blockade has been to reduce the entire population to survival mode. Individuals are reduced to the daily detail of survival, and its exhaustions.

Consider Gaza’s hospital staff. In hospitals, the blockade is as seemingly benign as doctors not having paper upon which to write diagnostic results or prescriptions, and as sinister as those seconds – between power cut and generator start – when a child on life support doesn’t have the oxygen of a mechanical ventilator. A nurse on a neo-natal ward rushes between patients, battling the random schedule of power cuts. A hospital worker tries to keep a few kidney dialysis machines from breaking down, by farming spare parts from those that already have. The surgeon operates without a bulb in the surgery lamp, across from the anaesthetist who can no longer prevent patient pain. The hospital administrator updates lists of essential drugs and medical supplies that have run out, which vaccines from medical fridges are now unusable because they can’t be kept cold, and which procedures must be cancelled altogether. The ambulance driver decides whether to respond to an emergency call, based on dwindling petrol in the tank.

By reducing the population to survival mode, the blockade robs people of the time and essence to do anything but negotiate the minutiae of what is and isn’t possible in their personal and professional lives. Whether any flour will be available to make bread, where it might be found, how much it now costs. Rich or poor, taxi drivers, human rights defenders, and teachers alike spend hours speculating about where a canister of cooking gas might be found. Exhaustion is gripping hold of all in Gaza. Survival leaves little if no room for political engagement – and beyond exhaustion, anger and frustration are all that is left.


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