- The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is an
"independent legal body dedicated to the protection of human rights,
the promotion of the rule of law, and the upholding of democratic principles
in the Occupied Territories." It issues frequent press releases, statistics,
fact sheets, documents, and reports like its October 22, 2009 English version
of "Targeted Civilians: A PCHR Report on the Israeli Offensive against
the Gaza Strip (27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009)."
- Its 184 pages comprise a comprehensive, conclusive, and
damning account of Israel's war crimes, along with numerous others, including:
- -- PCHR's "Through Women's Eyes" on the war's
effect on women;
- -- B'Tselem's "investigation of fatalities in Operation
- -- Amnesty International's "Operation 'Cast Lead':
22 days of death and destruction;"
- -- several Human Rights Watch reports, including "White
Flag Deaths" and Rain of Fire: Israel's Use of White Phosphorous in
- -- former UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Occupied
Palestine, John Dugard's "Independent Fact-Finding Committee (IFFC)....investigations
of Israeli conduct during the war in Gaza;" and
- -- the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)'s "Human Rights
in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United
Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict" - the prominent
Goldstone report that has Tel Aviv and Washington officials scrambling
to diffuse its extensive Israeli war crimes evidence. The report's conclusion
- "....the Israeli military operation was directed
at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing
policy aimed at punishing (humiliating and terrorizing) the Gaza population,
and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian
- In a September 17 New Times op-ed, Goldstone said "Israel
willfully killed hundreds of civilians as a result of 'disproportionate
attacks (and repeatedly) failed to adequately distinguish between combatants
and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require....Pursuing justice
in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above
the law....the perpetrators of (these) violations must be held to account."
- Israel's "Dahiya Doctrine"
- For over six decades, targeting civilians and inflicting
collective punishment have been standard Israeli practice. But after the
2006 Lebanon war, it was named "Dahiya" after the Beirut suburb
the IDF destroyed in the conflict. Later, Northern Command General Gabi
- "What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in
2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will
apply disproportionate force at the heart of the enemy's weak spot (civilians)
and cause great damage and destruction. From our standpoint, these are
not civilian villages (towns or cities), they are military bases. This
is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved."
- Israel's 2006 chief of staff, Dan Halutz, said Lebanon's
bombing would "turn back the clock 20 years." In October 2008,
Col. Gabriel Siboni added that:
- The idea is to use enough "disproportionate force
(to inflict) damage and met(e) out punishment to an extent that will demand
long and expensive reconstruction processes....With the outbreak of hostilities,
the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is
disproptionate to the enemy's actions and threat it poses....The strike
must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damag(ing)
assets....be aimed at decision makers and the power elite (and at) economic
interests and the centers of civilian power."
- Applied to Operation Cast Lead, General Yoav Galant called
it "send(ing) Gaza decades into the past," with no regard for
the safety or welfare of civilians. The Goldstone report referred to the
"military doctrine that views disproportionate destruction and creating
maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to
achieve military and political goals."
- It quoted retired Major General Giora Eiland's war strategy
of eliminating the military threat as well as destroying "the national
infrastructure and (inflicting) intense suffering among the population."
It concluded from facts on the ground that this was "precisely what
(Israel did, and the responsibility for these actions lies) in the first
place with those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw the operations."
- Dahiya tactics were central to the overall war strategy
to inflict mass civilian deaths, injuries, destruction, and human suffering
on 1.5 million Gazans. PCHR's report documents what it calls "the
most extensive and brutal offensive in (the) history of Israeli occupation
(constituting) clear and flagrant violations of IHL (international humanitarian
- Background to the War
- Throughout 2008, Israeli crimes escalated in what "was
the bloodiest year since the beginning of the" 1967 occupation, particularly
while Gaza's been under siege since mid-2007 "in violation of all
relevant international human rights instruments."
- Besides closure, Israel conducted willful killings, extra-judicial
assassinations, targeted civilian property and vital infrastructure destruction,
and deliberate razing of agricultural land. From February 28 - March 5,
2008 alone, a planned air and sea operation caused extensive property destruction
and killed 110 Palestinians, including 27 children, six women, and a paramedic.
During the first six months of 2008, over 440 Palestinians were killed,
mostly civilians, including 65 children and six women.
- On June 19, 2008, Egyptian mediators negotiated a six-month
truce with the possibility of renewal. It stipulated that attacks by both
sides would cease. Israel would gradually reopen crossings. Then life in
Gaza would begin to be normalized.
- Israel reneged despite the deteriorating humanitarian
conditions, yet Hamas and other Palestinian factions committed no major
violations during the first five months.
- As the six month anniversary approached, repeated IDF
violations interrupted the truce throughout November and December in what
clearly were planned provocations to encourage a response and provide justification
for an all-out attack.
- On December 18 alone, Israeli warplanes bombed a Khan
Yunis workshop destroying it as well heavily damaging nearby houses. For
weeks, attacks escalated. Palestinians were being killed and many other
wounded. Property was being destroyed. The siege remained fully in force.
In desperation, Palestinian resistance factions responded in self-defense
as international law allows.
- Israeli officials hyped the danger to create popular
outrage and enlist international community support. On December 25, prime
minister Ehud Olmert demanded that rocket attacks stop, saying "otherwise,
I will use power (to do) it." In Egypt, foreign minister Tzipi Livni
said Israel intended to topple Hamas through a planned operation, whether
or not calm returned, and deputy defense minister Matan Vilnaei told Israeli
radio that "Israel is about to take a cabinet decision of waging a
wide scale military campaign against the Gaza Strip." On December
27, Operation Cast Lead followed, an operation six months in the planning
to reign terror on a defenseless civilian population.
- For eight days, indiscriminate land, sea and air bombardment
was intensive against civilian infrastructure targets, including homes,
schools, mosques, hospitals, municipal buildings, UN facilities, charitable
foundations, fishing boats, and civilians visible in public.
- On day eight, a ground operation followed despite international
appeals for a halt. Indiscriminate bombing and shelling continued. Hundreds
of deaths and injuries were reported. Thousands sought shelter for their
safety, but all targets were fair game making no place off-limits to attack.
Human shields were used. Snipers shot civilians waving white flags in cold
blood, including women and children. Entire families were killed. The Al-Samounis
lost 29 members when Israeli forces shelled their house, leveled the property,
and massacred them.
- On January 18, when hostilities officially ended, 1,413
Palestinians were killed. An estimated 922 were unarmed civilians, including
313 children and 118 women. Another 255 were police officers, not involved
in hostilities, and at least 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, many seriously
enough to lose limbs, suffer brain damage, and/or experience severe psychological
- Under the Hague Regulations of 1907, Fourth Geneva, Geneva's
Common Article III, and various other international laws, civilians are
protected persons. So is civilian property. Attacking them is prohibited.
War crimes are clearly defined. The principles of distinction and proportionality
- -- distinction between combatants and military targets
v. civilians and non-military ones; attacking latter ones are war crimes
except when civilians take direct part in hostilities; and
- -- proportionality prohibits disproportionate, indiscriminate
force likely to cause damage to or loss of lives and objects.
- In addition, precautions must be taken to avoid and minimize
incidental loss of civilian lives, injuries to them, and damage to non-military
sites. Under Fourth Geneva, they must be given "effective advance
warning" and "neutralized zones" where they can be as protected
- Fourth Geneva also prohibits collective punishment; the
use of human shields; private property destruction; torture, cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment; denying the population adequate amounts of food
and medical supplies; and assuring free passage of all "consignments"
intended for civilian purposes.
- Under international law, Israel willfully and repeatedly
committed grievous crimes of war and against humanity and must be held
accountable. The Goldstone and other reports demand it.
- Illegal White Phosphorous and Flechette Shells Used
- Israeli forces illegally used both weapons in densely
populated residential areas. Flechettes are 4cm-long metal darts used as
anti-personnel weapons that can penetrate human bone and inflict horrific
injuries. One artillery shell contains from 5,000 - 8,000 of them. After
firing, the shell ruptures, releasing them at high speed in a funnel-shaped
pattern over a range of about 300 meters.
- White phosphorous is a flammable chemical used both as
an incendiary weapon and a smoke screen. When exposed to air, it spontaneously
ignites and keeps burning until either all of it is consumed or it's deprived
of oxygen. On human flesh it causes severe second and third degree chemical
burns that are extremely hard to treat as well as suffocation, convulsions,
severe eye pain and inhalation complications. Head of Al-Shifa Hospital's
burn unit, Dr. Nafez Abu Sha'gan, said persons were admitted with "severe
burns due to which (their) muscles and body cells (were) completely destroyed."
In some cases, amputations were necessary. Others sustained fractures,
internal hemorrhaging, and three patients died after surgery.
- Using Civilians as Human Shields, Holding Others in Their
Homes as Hostages
- Fourth Geneva's Article 28 and Article 8(2)(b) of the
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court explicitly prohibit both
practices. Yet Israeli troops repeatedly forced civilians to walk in front
of them as they searched houses. They also held them involuntarily during
clashes with Palestinian resistance fighters. Others were subjected to
various humiliations and cruel treatment in their homes.
- Attacking Medical Crews and Humanitarian Relief Personnel
- Dozens were killed or wounded. Many of the wounded were
denied health care. As a result, dozens bled to death in close proximity
to soldiers. Medical personnel, ambulances, and fire fighters were prevented
from helping them. In total, two doctors, five paramedics and one driver
were killed. Another 50 were wounded. Shelling destroyed or heavily damaged
dozens of hospitals and medical centers.
- Fourth Geneva's Articles 14 - 23 explicitly protect medical
personnel and facilities. Article 20 states:
- "persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation
and administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged
in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and
sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and
- Israel's non-compliance caused widespread suffering throughout
Gaza, especially affecting those who lost loved ones or were denied proper
treatment for their wounds. Many died as a result.
- Targeting Journalists and the Mass Media
- International human rights laws protect journalists as
civilians and ensure their right of free expression, opinion, access to
information, and freedom to report it. Nonetheless, Israeli forces fired
indiscriminately at them, killed two, wounded nine more, detained others,
shelled five media offices, and denied international journalists access
to Gaza for a month before the war and throughout hostilities by declaring
the Strip a closed military zone.
- Attacking Educational Institutions
- The attacks were heavy enough to bring the "entire
educational sector....to a halt," depriving half a million students
one month's education or more. Many of them and their teachers were also
killed, many others wounded, and public, private, and UNRWA schools were
either partially or entirely destroyed. Universities were also attacked
with the same disturbing results.
- "Israel's conduct of hostilities seriously affected
the educational sector, violating Palestinian civilians' right to education,
life and security. The Israeli offensive violated numerous (international
laws), including the right to education" as affirmed by Article 26
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Fourth Geneva.
- Violations of the Right to Life
- Israeli attacks killed or wounded many children and young
men and women at school, including on the offensive's first day when air
strikes coincided with the end of the first school day shift and beginning
of the second when most students were on Gaza's streets.
- HIgher educational institutions were also struck, damaged
and in some cases heavily. Included were the Islamic University, al-Azhar
University's Faculty of Agriculture in Beit Hanoun, the University College
for Applied Sciences, al-Aqsa University, Palestine University, al-Quds
Open University and the College of Science and Technology.
- Attacking NGOs
- The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), Union of Agriculture
Relief Committees, al-Karama Society for Children of Martyrs, Union of
Medical Care Committees, and other NGO and charitable groups were directly
targeted and heavily damaged.
- Arrests, Torture, and Other Forms of Cruel and Abusive
- Israeli forces made large numbers of arbitrary arrests,
transferred those seized to Israeli detention facilities, and subjected
them to harsh torture and abuse that included violent beatings, exposure
to severe cold, starvation, and sleep deprivation. The "majority of
those (arrested) were civilians taken from houses stormed by Israeli troops,"
including children and the elderly, some of whom were used as human shields.
- Destruction of Civilian Facilities
- Ones targeted, destroyed or damaged included government
buildings, homes, businesses, mosques, hospitals and medical clinics, graveyards,
schools, media institutions, agricultural land, irrigation networks, fishing
harbors and boats, animal and bird farms, beehives, sports clubs, and more.
- The destruction of houses and residential buildings created
an unprecedented state of forced migration, affecting thousands of Palestinian
civilians. As many as "450,000 individuals had to leave their homes"
to seek shelter. As a result, thousands of families lost everything - their
homes, property, personal belongings, identity cards, passports, birth
certificates, and worst of all husbands, wives, children and other extended
- Destruction of Government Ministries, Local Councils,
and Other Facilities
- Attacks targeted the Palestinian Legislative Council
(PLC) building, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry
of Planning, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of
Education, police stations and compounds, municipality structures, and
numerous other facilities.
- Infrastructure Destruction
- Infrastructure affected included main and secondary roads,
water and sewage networks, power transformers, high and low pressure power
networks, communication networks, and more, causing serious disruptions
to vitally needed services.
- Economic Infrastructure Destruction
- The entire economy was severely impaired after a nearly
two and a half year total import and export ban, yet air and ground attacks
destroyed industrial, agricultural, commercial, tourist, service and construction
facilities, including concrete and brick factories and material storage
facilities. It was pre-planned, systematic, of course, illegal under international
law, and it devastated the entire economy already reeling under siege.
- Destruction of Cultural Property
- Included were archaeological buildings, museums, historic
sites, religious ones, ancient buildings, heritage centers, the Tourism
and Antiquities Ministry, and more such as invaluable art works, manuscripts,
books, and other objects of historic, cultural, religious or scientific
- Aggravating an Already Severe Humanitarian Crisis
- Already in dire need, the conflict caused a far greater
crisis, leaving many thousands of Gazans without essentials for their health,
well-being or safety. Most lack everything, including enough food, medical
care, shelter, clean water, power, and virtually everything normal societies
need. Rampant poverty and unemployment make it worse and deter their ability
to survive under conditions that for many are impossible.
- Targeting Humanitarian Organizations and Personnel
- Ones struck were distributing food, medicines, fuel,
blankets, and other essentials. In addition, basic services providing water,
sanitation, power and much more were disrupted or destroyed.
- Tightened Restrictions on Free Movement
- The siege was further tightened to a degree PCHR called
"unprecedented" to halt deliveries of food, medicine, fuel, and
- Final Comments
- "PCHR strongly condemns all war crimes committed
during" Operation Cast Lead. It "also condemns the international
community's silence," including its failure to exert enough pressure
to halt the fighting and hold Israel accountable. PCHR and others demand
- -- ending the Gaza siege;
- -- holding Israel responsible for rebuilding Gaza and
making proper redress to the victims;
- -- effectively investigating its crimes of war and against
humanity; disseminating the findings widely, and holding those responsible
to the highest levels accountable;
- -- assuring non-compliance with international laws no
longer will be tolerated;
- -- denying Israel weapons and munitions; halting all
financial aid; cutting diplomatic ties; and supporting and strengthening
the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement; and
- -- exerting pressure to insure all the above measures
are implemented and enforced, with enough teeth to compel Israel to obey
the law and face punishment for its crimes against Gazans.
- The time for accountability is now.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate for the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com.
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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