September 15, 2009

UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Today the UN released the results of its investigation into Israel’s recent war on Gaza. Led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact Finding Mission determined that the Israeli army committed war crimes during the conflict:

The Report concludes that 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 the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population…

The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction" in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times. The report states that "Taking into account the ability to plan, the means to execute plans with the most developed technology available, and statements by the Israeli military that almost no errors occurred, the Mission finds that the incidents and patterns of events considered in the report are the result of deliberate planning and policy decisions."

Now if you’ve been living anywhere on this side of the Milky Way for the past few months, none of this should come as a surprise to you. As I wrote in July, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have already provided evidence that Israel committed war crimes.

(HRW showed that Israel “exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.” Amnesty gave evidence that “Israeli forces repeatedly breached the laws of war, including by carrying out direct attacks on civilians and civilian buildings and attacks targeting Palestinian militants that caused a disproportionate toll among civilians.”) And just last week, B’Tselem, the well-respected Israeli human rights organization, claimed that the majority of the 1,387 Palestinians killed in the war “did not take part in the hostilities.”

It should also come as no surprise that Israel has condemned the UN report, just as it has condemned the above-mentioned human rights groups, just as it has condemned numerous Israeli soldiers who’ve spoken out about Operation Cast Lead. Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor says he is both “appalled and disappointed” by the report, claiming that it “effectively ignores Israel’s right of self defense, makes unsubstantiated claims about its intent and challenges Israel's democratic values and rule of law.”

Now, of course, there’s no substance in Palmor’s words.

Operation Cast Lead had nothing to do with self-defense. From June to November of last year, let’s remember, Hamas upheld its end of a ceasefire agreement with Israel and stopped firing rockets into Israel and even tried to force other militant groups to do the same. So there was peace. For several months, there was peace. But Israel decided not to live up to its end of the agreement. First of all, it only slightly eased the blockade. And then on November 4, IDF forces entered Gaza, purportedly to blow up a tunnel, and ended up killing six Hamas gunmen. So intermittent fighting resumed, and Israel again tightened the blockade. But then in mid-December, Hamas attempted to renew the ceasefire. So again there could have been peace. But Israel (which had spent the previous six months preparing for war) wasn’t interested and began bombing Gaza on December 27.

But even if we ignore all this and accept Palmor’s claim that Israel launched Operation Cast Lead out of self-defense, the report makes it clear that much of Israel’s conduct during the war had nothing to do with defense.

For example, Chapter XI of the report describes a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched "direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome." These are, it says, cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes. The incidents described include: Attacks in the Samouni neighbourhood, in Zeitoun, south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble; Seven incidents concerning "the shooting of civilians while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an injunction from the Israeli forces to do so;" The targeting of a mosque at prayer time, resulting in the death of 15 people.

A number of other incidents the Report concludes may constitute war crimes include a direct and intentional attack on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City.

Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has also condemned the report. Like Palmor, Shalev doesn’t offer evidence to debunk any of the report’s claims but merely says that it’s “biased and one-sided” and complains that the UN Human Rights Council “is known as a body constantly critical of Israel.”

As far as the report being biased and one-sided, it should be emphasized that the Fact Finding Mission was headed by Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge. And it should be noted that, far from singling out Israel, the report also condemns “Palestinian armed groups” for committing war crimes during the conflict. Regarding Shalev’s claim that the Human Rights Council constantly criticizes Israel—well, yeah, duh, of course it does. And the reason for this, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is that Israel constantly violates people’s (namely, Palestinians’) rights.

As I wrap up this article, I now see that new Israeli officials are coming out, calling the report “nauseating,” saying that it was written by “people without morals” pretending to be “warriors for human rights.” Of course, they’re not making sound arguments, for the simple reason that they know the UN is right, just as they knew Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence (and many other groups, for that matter) were right. So these Israeli officials keep slinging as much mud as they can, biding their time until something comes along to divert the public’s attention. Which, of course, shouldn’t take more than a day or two.

1 comment:

primerica life insurance said...

I think that the least, Israel can do, is to take the blame for this conflict - I was watching this affair proceeding and I was disgusted from the very beginning. There is not even a need to write a report to be sure that the deeds made during it were in breach of human rights, violating the most fundamental of them. It is sick to argue now over the lost lives whose intention to kill was the least harmless. Lorne