- Independent investigations and convincing testimonies,
on both sides, provide compelling evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
It's time to hold the guilty accountable.
- In February, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority
Rights showed conclusively how Israel violated core international law principles
by indiscriminately attacking civilians in spite of IDF claims such instances
- Amnesty International accused Israel of war crimes and
called on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo.
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a long record of acting
as an imperial agent even while at times fulfilling its mandate "to
protect the human rights of people around the world....stand with (them)
and uphold political freedom (by) bring(ing) offenders to justice."
- It partly did this in a report titled "Rain of Fire"
by citing "Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorous in Gaza....over
populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian
structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse
and a hospital."
- The IDF also used "missiles, bombs, heavy artillery,
tank shells, and small arms fire in densely populated neighborhoods, including
downtown Gaza City (in violation of) international humanitarian law (and
laws of war) which require taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian
harm and prohibits indiscriminate attacks."
- HRW called the use of white phosphorous "indiscriminate,
deliberate (and) reckless." It said America supplied the weapons and
needs to answer for its actions. It called on the UN Security Council or
Secretary-General to appoint an independent international commission to
investigate credible war crimes allegations, including use of illegal weapons.
- Omitted from the report were over six decades of mass
slaughter and destruction, a process amounting to genocide. Also not mentioned
was the full impact of 22 days of attacks, Gaza still under siege, and
the West Bank under military occupation. Unlisted was the death and injury
toll; civilian shootings in cold blood; the vast number of homes, government
buildings, hospitals, ambulances, fishing boats, crops, schools, mosques,
businesses, UN buildings and shelters, entire infrastructure and neighborhoods,
and all other wanton destruction. Silence as well on the incalculable toll
on 1.5 million Gazans and continued assaults against them.
- On April 6, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI)
and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) compiled detailed evidence
of war crimes in a lengthy report - from Gazan and medical staff testimonies
of wounded being denied care, shot in cold blood at close range, prevented
from being evacuated, and being terrorized "without mercy." A
team of international independent legal, health, and medical experts conducted
- PHRI executive director Hadas Ziv said: "One of
the difficult things in the report is clear harm to innocent people....(the
unleashing of) such fire power among the population." It documented
44 civilian testimonies and took samples of tissue, soil, water, swamp
grass, suspected infected ammunition, and chemical weapons, then sent them
to the UK and South Africa for testing and evaluation.
- Al-Haq on Operation Cast Lead
- Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian NGO based in Ramallah,
West Bank, established in 1979 to "protect and promote human rights
and the rule of law" in Occupied Palestine.
- In April, it issued a position paper titled: "Operation
Cast Lead and the Distortion of International Law - A Legal Analysis of
Israel's Claim to Self-Defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter."
The justification is preposterous by a nation absolving itself of compelling
war crimes evidence.
- Nonetheless, on March 30 (after 11 days), the IDF closed
its inquiry into military misconduct allegations with judge advocate general,
Avichai Mendelblit, dismissively calling them "heresay" based
on no substantiating evidence. "They were based on rumors (and) did
not reflect the operational circumstances which had actually taken place
on the ground." This is typical Israeli stonewalling whenever it's
caught red-handed along with blaming victims for its own crimes.
- On March 31, a Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
press release stated:
- PCHR "believes that the speed with which this inquiry
was concluded illustrates the consistent failure of the (IDF) to genuinely
investigate crimes (its soldiers regularly commit) against Palestinian
civilians. Investigations of this nature do not meet international standards
of independence and transparency, and obstruct justice."
- Al-Haq reviewed 22 days of "unrelenting aerial attacks
coupled with intensive ground incursions" as well as the deaths, injuries,
and destruction they caused. Yet, incredibly, in the morning before the
attack, Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, informed the Secretary-General:
- "After a long period of utmost restraint, the government
of Israel decided to exercise, as of this morning, its right of self-defense....as
enshrined in Article 51 of the (UN) Charter."
- Its basis was legally untenable on at least two counts:
- -- that Gaza remains effectively occupied and Israel
bears full responsibility for it; and
- -- Israel's attack was unprovoked, preemptive, and related
to the broader occupation and conflict matching the world's fourth most
powerful military against a defenseless civilian population with only small
arms and homemade weapons for defense.
- Gaza's Legal Status
- Despite its 2005 disengagement, Gaza remains occupied.
Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that:
- "territory is considered occupied when it is actually
placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends
only to the territory where such authority has been established and can
- Legally, "effective control" exists if adversarial
military forces can "at any time they desire assume physical control
of any part of the country." In addition, whether an "occupying
power" has enough "force" or "capacity" to make
its power felt. Israel's disengagement plan asserts its right to "guard
and monitor (Gaza's) external land perimeter and will continue to maintain
exclusive authority (of its) air space" and coast line. It also allows
troop deployments inside the Territory and right to control the population
administratively through the tax and revenue system, civil population registry,
and exclusive regulation of all goods and people traffic in and out.
- Self-Defense under International Law
- The UN Charter's Article 2(4) declares that all Member
States "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat
or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence
of any State, or in any manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United
- However, the Charter permits armed force under two conditions
- when authorized by the Security Council or under Article 51 authorizing
the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack
occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures
to maintain peace and security."
- Operation Cast Lead was unprovoked aggression in the
context of 42 years of occupation and conflict, and as such is "regulated
exclusively by international humanitarian law," not the whim of the
occupier to twist it.
- As an occupying power, Article 51 doesn't apply, since
Israel is bound by international humanitarian laws, including Fourth Geneva
Convention provisions. It has specific legal obligations over Gaza and
the West Bank:
- -- to treat civilians humanely;
- -- refrain from violence of any kind;
- -- care for the sick and wounded;
- -- ensure adequate food and medical supplies;
- -- afford judicial guarantees; and
- -- look after "protected persons" under its
control in all other respects.
- International law also restricts combat methods and means
employed by all parties. Legally, only narrowly defined "military
necessity" justifies an attack - on targets intended to weaken or
overcome the enemy or bring conflict to an end. Even then, the principles
of distinction and proportionality apply:
- -- distinction between combatants and military targets
vs. civilians and non-military ones; attacking the latter is a war crime;
- -- proportionality prohibitions against disproportionate,
indiscriminate force likely to cause damage to or loss of lives or objects.
- Prior to an attack, Israel is also obligated to provide
"effective advance warning" to alert civilians, then take all
measures possible to minimize non-combatant casualties. Under Fourth Geneva,
"neutralized zones" protect them to assure they're free from
harm as much as possible during conflict.
- Israel violated the rules of war and occupation and committed
crimes of war and against humanity. It attacked civilians disproportionately
without distinction, including in densely populated areas. It made no effort
to distinguish between military and civilian targets. It willfully targeted
the entire Gaza population, its property and infrastructure - indiscriminately
in grave breach of Geneva and other international humanitarian laws. The
laws of war as well. As such, its officials and commanders are criminally
liable and should be held accountable for their actions.
- Al-Haq concluded:
- "Israel's reliance on self-defence misconstrues
international law in an attempt to evade (its) international legal obligations...."
Its self-defense justification under Article 51 is fraudulent on its face
and "holds no validity under international law."
- UN Gaza War Crimes Inquiry
- On April 3, the UN announced Richard Goldstone's appointment
to head a Gaza fact-finding investigation into alleged Gaza war crimes
during Operation Cast Lead. Martin Uhomoibhi, president of the UN Human
Rights Council, said an independent team of experts will conduct the mission
after discussing it in Geneva for the next few weeks.
- Goldstone is a respected jurist, having been a justice
for nine years on South Africa's Constitutional Court. He also served as
chief prosecutor for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals and is a Hebrew
University board member. As a Jew, he was "shocked" to be appointed
but promised to be fair and even-handed. He "hope(s) that the findings....will
make a meaningful contribution to the peace process....and provide justice
for the victims."
- On March 17, he was one of 16 international figures,
including Archbishop Desmund Tutu, calling for a war crimes investigation.
His mandate is to focus on Palestinian victims of the recent Gaza war but
will investigate all alleged violations before, during, and after the conflict.
- Earlier, Israel refused to participate in previous Council
investigations, calling them biased. It's unclear if it will cooperate
now after Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said "This committee
is instructed not to seek out the truth but to single out Israel for alleged
crimes." He accused the Council of having "practically (no) credibility
- Goldstone is currently a Spinoza Fellow at the Netherlands
Institute for Advanced Study in The Hague. He's received several human
rights awards, most recently the MacArthur Foundation Award for International
Justice to be awarded at The Hague on May 25, 2009.
- On May 3, 2007, he was unequivocal as one of four panel
members on the topic of whether war crimes trials do more harm than good.
When asked to participate, he said "organizers must have known that
I would be saying they do more good than harm and that, of course, is my
- He cited Nuremberg successes as "the first attempt
to hold individual criminals liable for violating international criminal
law. It was the first recognition that the rule of law could be applied
internationally" but did it through a "fair trial" exposing
"the most appalling war crimes" by focusing on "the victims....They
know what happened to them. They don't need to go to court and hear evidence....but
they want official acknowledgment (as) the beginning of their healing process....I
have no doubt that the world is a better place today (as a result of) the
rapid growth of international criminal justice" and the Rome Treaty
establishing the International Criminal Court.
- B'Tselem's Guidelines to Investigate Operation Cast Lead
- B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human
Rights in the Occupied Territories. It's part of a coalition of Israeli
human rights organizations pressing Israel to investigate allegations of
its war crimes thoroughly and fairly. Of course, we now know it whitewashed
them, much like it's done in the past.
- Nonetheless, B'Tselem cites the enormity of lost lives,
injuries, destruction, homelessness, and irrevocable human loss and suffering
demanding full accountability. It prepared a document "to lay out
the principal questions" regarding Israel's conduct and outlined guidelines
to investigate it.
- Firing at Civilians
- Civilians were willfully targeted in violation of international
law, and the vast majority of deaths and injuries were non-combatants.
B'Tselem documented numerous incidents "in which young men not involved
in hostilities were killed" or wounded.
- "Examination of the (IDF's) conduct during the operation
raises (serious) concerns as to the extent (it) complied with its obligations
under international humanitarian law." Compelling evidence, by any
standard or measures, indicates systematic and grievous war crimes.
- During the conflict, B'Tselem got "particularly
grave reports of soldiers intentionally aiming gunfire directly at civilian"
non-combatants. They must be thoroughly investigated to learn if commanders
ordered these actions or if troops acted on their own.
- Lack of Protection of Civilians
- Israel willfully trapped 1.5 million Gazans during the
conflict. Border crossings were closed, and Egypt (in compliance with Israel
and Washington) refused to open the Rafah one. Israel claimed dropping
flyers was enough. False. International law requires that advance warning
be given and all precautions taken to protect civilians. Instead they were
targeted in their homes, schools, mosques, work places, and UNRWA shelters.
- B'Tselem got testimonies that the IDF also used Palestinians
as human shields. They were ordered into buildings ahead of soldiers to
assure they weren't booby-trapped. Also to remove suspicious objects on
roads and stand in front of troops so they wouldn't be shot. Fourth Geneva's
Article 28 bans the practice and states:
- "The presence of a protected person may not be used
to render points or areas immune from military operations." In other
words, act as human shields. In Adalah et al v. OC Central Command et al,
Israel's Supreme Court prohibited the practice in any form for any purpose.
- Targeting Symbols of Government
- During the conflict, the IDF bombed hundreds of civilian
targets, including homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and government buildings
- in clear violation of international law. Israel's response: Targets "support(ing)
the financing, planning, and carrying out terrorist acts" were struck.
Other statements were similar but failed to say anything about these structures
being for military purposes. B'Tselem concluded that "the reason for
striking these targets was not related to the purposes for which they were
being used" and thus were off-limits to attack.
- For its part, Israel claimed everything related to Hamas
was a legitimate target. Deputy chief of staff general Dan Harel stated:
- "We are striking not only terrorists and launchers,
but the entire Hamas administration, and all its arms. We are striking
government buildings, manufacturing plants, security branches, and so forth.
We demand governmental responsibility from Hamas and we do not distinguish
between the various branches. Following the operation, no Hamas building
will be left standing." Presumably he included hospitals, schools,
mosques and private homes.
- Another official statement said:
- "When a terrorist organization controls the government,
all government ministries are used to fulfill the objectives of the terrorist
organization. Why do you assume that the Palestinian transportation ministry
serves only to set bus routes? Maybe it serves other purposes. Hamas does
not make the separation that is customary in an orderly-run country."
Maybe also surgeons, teachers, women, and infants are covert suicide bombers
and thus legitimate targets.
- B'Tselem wrote to Israel's attorney general, Menachem
Mazuz, "demanding clarifications on the attacks on civilian objects."
The response "completely ignored the questions raised...."
- Evacuation of Wounded and Attacks on Medical Teams
- Numerous reports were that IDF forces targeted hospitals,
ambulances, and medical workers, and "that soldiers (prevented) wounded
persons from getting to hospitals." In some cases, they were fired
on at close range or left stranded to bleed to death. Once Israel invaded,
medical teams movement was impossible "as was access to hospitals
in (Gaza's) central section...at least 16 medical-team personnel were (targeted
and) killed during the operation."
- The ICRC deviated from its normal procedure by stating
that Israel violated international humanitarian law that requires treatment
and evacuation of wounded persons, and that prevention or delays were illegal
- On January 6, eight human rights organizations petitioned
the Supreme Court "demanding that the military permit medical teams
and ambulances to move about in (Gaza) and enable evacuation of wounded
to hospitals." Israel claimed it gave unequivocal instructions to
refrain from attacking medical teams and ambulances and let the wounded
be evacuated to hospitals. It then qualified the statement saying:
- "Reports (received) indicate clearly and unequivocally
that the terrorist activities sometimes use ambulances to carry out terrorist
acts, and also disguise themselves as medical-team personnel. This is a
mode of operation, rather than isolated and exceptional incidents."
- This is a typical Israeli defense to justify its most
outrageous crimes of war and against humanity. It's a fictitious legal
shield dismissed by international jurists. They're based on supposition,
not facts, and would be thrown out of any legitimate court as unfounded
- International law is clear and unequivocal. Civilian
hospitals, medical personnel, and all others tending to the wounded "may
in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be
respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Israel blamed
Hamas instead of taking full responsibility for its actions.
- Collapse of Civilian Infrastructure and Public Services
- During the conflict, Gaza's civilian infrastructure and
public services "collapsed almost completely." Its power station
ran out of fuel and shut down. Residents got only 25% of the electricity
they needed. Water and sewage systems were impaired. At the peak of fighting,
over 800,000 people had no running water. Sewage flowed onto farmland and
flooded Beit Hanun streets. Hospitals had to run on generators. They also
suffered shortages of virtually everything necessary to function. Food
and other essentials were in short supply. Bakeries shut down for lack
of flour, cooking gas and electricity. International agencies weren't able
to distribute food and other supplies.
- The result was a human catastrophe compounded by 18 months
under siege. Two weeks before the conflict, an OCHA report said Gaza was
in crisis, and its residents struggled daily to meet basic needs and survive
- like get enough food, water, fuel and medical care. Most of them felt
trapped "physically, mentally, and emotionally."
- According to OCHA, in Q 2 2008, unemployment reached
50%, and in 2007, 79% of households lived in poverty and for 70% it was
"deep." This was Gaza on the eve of conflict. Today it's far
worse after so much destruction.
- "The extent of the harm to the civilian population
during Operation Cast Lead is unprecedented. Only now is the full magnitude
of the destruction coming to light" with further evidence from newly
revealed testimonies. Entire families were killed. Parents were helpless
to prevent their children from dying. Others were powerless to prevent
loved ones from bleeding to death. These are permanent scars, forever etched
in the collective memory of a tortured people - isolated, uncared for,
and ignored by world leaders.
- Human rights groups and others demand full accountability
"for the gravest of crimes." Israel claims its military acted
properly. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the IDF "the most moral
army in the world....(that it) employed every possible means to avoid injuring
people." The IDF's judge advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, told
- "While we regret, of course, any harm to civilians,
we emphasize again that the responsibility for that lies solely at the
doorstep of the Hamas organization...."
- B'Tselem was unforgiving in calling Israel's actions
"unacceptable." International law protects civilians from the
"horrendous effects of war....Using ambiguous terminology (and unwarranted
justifications to condone) such grave harm to civilians, in an attempt
to create a semblance of compliance with the law, constitutes" blatant
deceit of the highest order.
- Israel's conduct "raises grave suspicion that soldiers
and commanders breached international humanitarian law" willfully
and repeatedly. "In light of this, a public reckoning....is crucial....The
scope and severity of the violations can be determined only in the framework
of a comprehensive investigation - (one that is) independent, effective,
open to public review, and conducted within a reasonable time."
- B'Tselem calls on Israel to do it. It never has and won't
now beyond claiming to have examined allegations and determined them to
be unfounded. Only an independent body should be tasked. It remains to
be seen if the UN Human Rights Council team under Richard Goldstone is
up to the job. The whole world is watching.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday
- Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished
guests on world and national issues.