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ARE ISRAEL AND THE U.S. EXEMPT FROM WAR CRIMES LAW?
The Gaza War's Effect on Women
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
83% of all fatalities were civilian, and so were most of the injured. The September 25 Goldstone Commission's findings confirmed that Israel committed grievous war crimes. Israel and the White House, alone, are working to discredit the report.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' (PCHR) new report, titled "Through Women's Eyes," highlights "the Gender-Specific Impact and Consequences of Operation Cast Lead" and the ongoing siege, including 12 case study examples "through the victims' words." Several are discussed below.
In patriarchal Palestinian society, women traditionally are caregivers while men typically head households and are the main breadwinners. As a result, when widows are thrust into this role, they're often victimized by cultural, social and economic discrimination and marginalization. In Gaza today, it's hard for women to get by alone, so widows must either live with family members or remarry. The alternative is a hard struggle alone, something most Palestinian women try to avoid, but post-conflict many have no choice.
Besides the vast destruction from Operation Cast Lead claiming over 1,400 lives and thousands more wounded, 118 women were killed and 825 injured, in many cases severely enough to make it hard for them to get by. The majority of victims were in Northern Gaza and Gaza City where the heaviest fighting and bombardment occurred. PCHR listed the names of the dead by age, their address, date and place of attack, and date of death.
Israel said the death toll was an unavoidable part of its military operations during which efforts were made to minimize civilian casualties. PCHR debunked this as baseless by documenting numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and their property.
Individual testimonies bear witness that 83% of all fatalities were civilian, and so were most of the injured. "These crimes constitute serious violations of international law; they demand judicial redress." The September 25 Goldstone Commission's findings confirmed that Israel committed grievous war crimes that must not go unaddressed.
Israel's Imposed Closure of Gaza
The ongoing siege is a form of collective punishment, in direct violation of Fourth Geneva's Article 33 stating:
The siege restricts everything and makes reconstruction and recovery impossible. Homes can't be rebuilt. Families are forced to stay in camps, find temporary shelter with relatives, or get rented accommodation if available and they can afford it. Around 600,000 tons of rubble remain. It can't be cleared, and enough concrete for tombstones can't be found.
The situation is increasingly desperate with over 60% unemployment, at least an 80% poverty level, and according to a new UN Conference on Trade and Development report, the figure is 90% with the few jobs available almost solely in government, public administration, and small service industries along with the tunnel economy.
Health services "are in a state of imminent collapse due to shortages of electricity, medicine, and other vital, life-saving equipment," and the siege prevents most of those needing emergency care from leaving to get it. As a result, PCHR found that at least 61 patients died. It also cites a lack of safe drinking water as electricity cuts prevent pumps that supply it from operating. Even basic foodstuffs and other essentials are in short supply or not available, except for what UNRWA and other relief agencies supply in inadequate amounts.
As an occupying power, Israel is obligated under international law to fulfill what Fourth Geneva's Articles 55 and 56 require.
Article 55 states:
Article 56 states:
Article 69 of Fourth Geneva's Additional Protocol I requires the occupying power to:
Protection of Women Under International Law
As especially vulnerable non-combatants, they're afforded particular protection and remain so notably under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
As a result, their lives, physical, and moral integrity are protected against willful killing, coercion, collective penalties, reprisals, and the destruction of objects indispensable to their survival.
As a signatory to the major international human rights laws, Israel is required to obey them. Under the Hague Regulations and Geneva's Common Article 3, they include the principles of distinction and proportionality:
In addition, parties to a conflict must take all precautions to avoid and minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to non-military sites. Civilians must also be given "effective advance warning," and "neutralized zones" must be available to protect them as much as possible. Further, using human shields is strictly prohibited.
By committing egregious war crimes throughout its history, Israel is a serial scofflaw with a record few countries anywhere can match.
Case Study 1: Wafa Al-Radea
On January 10, 2009, she and her sister, Ghada, were hit by two rockets fired from an unmanned Israeli drone. In clear site, they were the only people on the street at the time.
Nine months pregnant, Wafa was going to her doctor as she was close to delivery. It was a period of declared hudna (a temporary ceasefire), and no fighting was ongoing in the area. Both women were seriously hurt. Wafa lost her right leg above the knee and suffered extensive injuries to the rest of her body. The attack fractured Ghada's legs. In the hospital, they became infected, and it was feared at least one would be amputated. In a coma, Wafa gave birth to a son by caesarean section.
They later managed to reach Egypt for over five months of additional treatment, but require extensive followup care and physiotherapy. On July 1, 2009, PCHR interviewed Wafa and her brothers at their home in Beit Lahiya. She nearly died but managed to survive in intensive care. Six or seven operations performed skin grafts and saved her leg. She was so severely hurt, the Egyptian medical team said she was the hardest case in the hospital, but she survived and was fitted to a prosthesis. Even so, she can't bend her leg at the knee and "still can't walk."
Case Study 2: Hala Al-Habash
On January 4, 2009, an unmanned Israeli drone fired a missile killing Hala's daughter (age 10) and niece (age 11). Three other children were injured in the attack, including Hala's daughter (age 14) and two nephews (ages 15 and 16).
One daughter lost both legs above the knee and a nephew had one leg amputated half way up his shin. The Al-Habash home was the only house targeted in the immediate area. On June 29, PCHR interviewed Hala and her husband at their home.
On the day of the attack, "the area was very quiet, we weren't really afraid at all. There was no resistance and we felt safe. We let the children play outside." They were on the roof. Hala was so distraught, she couldn't attend her daughter's burial. "I refused. I only wanted to remember her alive."
When she visited her other daughter in the hospital, there was chaos. "There were so many injured, so many dead, so much suffering. The situation was horrible...the smell of blood and the injured. There weren't enough doctors and nurses. It was like a market, not a hospital."
Al Jazeera interviewed her daughter in the hospital, and afterward, Saudi Arabia arranged for further free treatment in the Kingdom. Hala kept in contact daily and said:
Case Study 3: Majeda and Raya Abu Hajjaj
On January 4, Israeli forces shot and killed them. They were part of a group of 27 civilians fleeing the Johr Ad-Dik area following the ground invasion. They were killed with no warning or provocation. Majeda and another group member were carrying white flags.
On May 25, PCHR interviewed Raya's son, Salah, and Majeda's brother. "A fire broke out, so we decided to leave the house," said Salah. "We walked through the trees to a neighbor's house about 300 meters away. There were 27 of us hiding in the Assafadi stairwell. We were trying to call an ambulance....we called the Red Cross, but we couldn't get coordination. They told us there was a military operation and they couldn't reach the area."
The attack was so extensive he didn't recognize his neighborhood. After the ceasefire, he returned home and "was looking at the place where the Israeli had shot us. I found a piece of Majeda's foot and took it to the hospital....There was no resistance here. Nothing. The area is too open....This is a quiet area. It is an agricultural area. We have never had any troubles here, It was beautiful, and in a moment it was gone."
Case Study 4: Ghalya Nimr
On January 4, an Israeli helicopter fired a rocket at the roof of Ghalya's home in south Gaza City. It killed three of Rahlea's children and her daughter's fiance. Ghalya's nephew was also hurt. At the time, 21 civilians, including Ghalya's brother's family, were sheltering in the house. The attack traumatized them.
The family moved in with Ghalya's brother-in-law. "It was very cold," she said. "We had no clothes, no blankets, no money. We left without taking anything. I didn't even have shoes....All the clothes were burnt. The house was very badly damaged. It was full of rubble."
Ghalya told PCHR they have no work or income. Their situation is desperate like many in Gaza.
Wafa Awaja was Case Study 7. After Israeli soldiers destroyed her home, she and her husband were shot in the legs. They kept firing as her husband Kamal explained:
Wafa told PCHR: "now we have no life."
Leila Al-Ir was Case Study 8. She told PCHR that for six days "we were away from the world, we had no connection to anyone. I slept with my dead children." On January 3, Israeli bombardment killed three of them, her daughter-in-law, and her husband. As a result, she suffered severe psychological trauma. For a month, she couldn't speak. She's now being treated by Medeciins Sans Frontiers, but she won't go home because it's too dangerous she believes.
Salah Abu Halima was Case Study 9. She told PCHR:
On January 4, Israeli bombardment killed her husband and four of her children. Four others were injured, including from severe burns from white phosphorous. As family members tried to bring their dead and wounded to the hospital, Israeli soldiers killed two of them and shot two more. Terrified, the others left their dead and fled for their lives.
Masouda Al-Samouni was Case Study 10. She told PCHR: "I have no hope, no future, I lost everything in the offensive."
On January 5, about 150 members of her extended family were sheltering in her house when Israeli forces shelled it and the adjacent area killing 29, including her husband and son. Her home was completely destroyed.
The attack on the Al-Samouni family was widely publicized on numerous media outlets worldwide, yet the survivors got no real help. What little they received has now stopped except for limited assistance from local organizations. The family now lives in deep poverty with no source of income, and no publicity about their plight.
This case was the most egregious, but it highlighted what thousands of Gazans endured and still do under siege and the threat of new Israeli attacks against individually selected targets, including on farmers on their land, fishermen at sea, school children playing, and civilians trying to rebuild their lives.
Direct Targeting and Destruction of Civilian Objects
Testimony 8 of the Breaking the Silence Report on Operation Cast Lead read:
Testimony 9 read:
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as codified in Article 8(2)(b)(ii), targeting civilian objects is strictly forbidden under customary international humanitarian law. Doing so constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.
Israeli forces also violated Fourth Geneva's Article 16 by preventing ambulances from entering affected areas. Another family told PCHR that on the morning that their home was demolished, "There was no warning, no loudspeakers. We were sleeping. (They were awakened by their daughter saying) the Israelis were destroying the outside wall." Just as they left, "the ceiling fell down. It is God's will that (they) are still alive."
Homeless, they hid in an empty area of land near their house. In mid-winter, they were frozen in the pre-dawn morning and too traumatized to return. They then tried to retrieve some clothing, but Israelis shot their son and others in both legs. Two Bedouin women brought them to Odwan hospital. After being released, they lived in a tent, still injured. "We couldn't do anything. There was no water in the camp. If I wanted to wash our clothes, I had to go back to (our) old house."
For three months in the camp with no cooking gas, the family was forced to use an open fire. They had a hard time adjusting and got very little aid.
Testimony 6 from the Breaking the Silence Report read:
Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions' Additional Protocol I states that:
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross' Customary International Humanitarian Law, Rule 12, indiscriminate attacks are those which:
According to Additional Protocol I:
Under Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the ICC Statute, intentionally launching an indiscriminate attack is a war crime.
Insufficient Precautions in Attack
Testimony 8 from the Breaking the Silence Report read:
It's also an illegal weapon against civilians who were willfully targeted according to IDF commanders. Yet international humanitarian law requires protecting them and civilian objects. According to Article 57 of Additional Protocol I:
Additional Protocol I also states that attacks "shall be cancelled or suspended" if it's clear that it's against specially protected civilians or their property. Also, that "effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population...."
With regard to munitions, the principle of distinction, prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, and use of illegal weapons apply, such as shelling a civilian area, others not of a military nature, and using white phosphorous. It's an incendiary chemical dispersed through bombs, shells and rockets. On contact with oxygen, it ignites and can burn human flesh to the bone. After initially denying its use in Gaza, Israel later admitted that 155mm shells were fired, each containing 116 wedges soaked in the chemical. They inflicted severe burns on those struck, unseen before by doctors who treated them.
The Siege's Effect
Expressly prohibited by Fourth Geneva's Article 33 as a form of collective punishment, for over two years it's taken a terrible toll on Gaza's 1.5 million residents affecting all aspects of their lives, including their right to life, to an adequate standard of living, free movement, employment, education, good medical care, their emotional well-being, and what free people take for granted everywhere because they don't live under military occupation in Gaza.
Since June 2007, dozens have died by being forbidden to seek life-saving treatment abroad, unavailable in Gaza. This is in violation to Fourth Geneva's Article 17 that requires "Parties to (a) conflict (to) endeavour to conclude local agreements for the removal from besieged or encircled areas, (the) wounded, sick, infirm, and aged persons, children and maternity cases."
Investigations into Operation Cast Lead
Testimony 3 from Breaking the Silence read:
As the Israeli media later revealed, Israel's Military Attorney General (MAG) and the Attorney General (AG) were heavily involved in planning and executing Operation Cast Lead by crafting the legal framework even though no legitimate one is possible.
As a result, Israel obstructed human rights organizations' demands for an independent investigation and full account of the killing, maiming, and vast destruction from the conflict. Yet several extensive ones were conducted, all concluding that Israel committed grave war crimes for which those involved to the highest levels should be held accountable.
On its own, Israeli authorities conducted two sets of internal investigations that PCHR called "inadequate and inappropriate, inter alia, on the basis of the fundamental flaws (that whitewashed crimes and) concluded that Israeli forces acted in accordance with the law."
On March 30, 2009, Military Advocate-General Avichai Mandelblit closed the official inquiry after 11 days even though numerous IDF soldiers made serious allegations of war crimes and other grave international law violations, based on their own firsthand observations and from what commanders ordered them to do.
On April 22, Israeli military authorities announced the conclusion of five internal investigations, supervised by the IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. In an extreme example of chutzpah, deceit, unaccountability, and hypocrisy, he claimed there were few incidents of intelligence or operational errors, and that "throughout the fighting in the Gaza Strip (Israeli forces) operated in accordance with international law."
According to PCHR, such behavior:
The result is that for decades Palestinians have paid the price and still suffer "at the hands of a brutal and illegal occupier." No state or individual is above the law. But that hasn't deterred Israel up to now while calling itself a free and open society surrounded by hordes of hostile Arabs.
Human Rights Organizations Condemn Israeli War Crimes in Gaza
Independent investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, others, and, of course, the September 15 released Goldstone Commission report concluded that Israel committed grievous war crimes in violation of international humanitarian law and must be held accountable.
In addition, in July 2009, former UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, John Dugard, presented the results of his "investigations of Israeli conduct during the war in Gaza." As head of the "Independent Fact-Finding Committee (IFFC) on Gaza of the League of Arab States, Member, United National International Law Commission, The Hague," he revealed his findings at a UN international meeting in Geneva with regard to the:
He concluded that "states and their political and military (must) no longer (be) beyond the reach of the law, (and that) Israel's offensive in Gaza - Operation Cast Lead - must be seen in this context." He stressed that independent investigations found "a clear prima facie case that Israel committed very serious international crimes in the Gaza offensive."
Dugard's Independent Fact Finding Committee (IFFC) visited Gaza from February 22 - 27 and met with "a wide range of persons, including victims of" the conflict, "witnesses, members of the Hamas authority, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, journalists and member of NGOs and United Nations agencies."
IFFC members saw destruction of hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, factories, businesses, police stations, government buildings, UN facilities, private homes, agricultural land, and more. They asked Israel for cooperation, got none, but collected extensive evidence of great loss of life, injury, and vast indiscriminate destruction of targets unrelated to a military mission.
They heard "disturbing accounts of cold-blooded killing of civilians by (IDF) members, accounts which were later confirmed by Israeli soldiers...." They and civilians inside Israel suffered minor casualties by comparison.
Israel's actions were indefensible despite official government claims. The IFFC concluded that "the IDF was responsible for the crime of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians" and wanton destruction of property" - clear evidence of crimes of war and against humanity. "Considerable evidence" confirmed it enough for IFFC members to consider the "crime of crimes," namely genocide.
They "found Israel's actions met the requirement for the actus reus (guilty act) of the crime of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention, in that the IDF was responsible for killing, exterminating and causing serious bodily harm to members of a group - the Palestinians of Gaza," most of whom are non-combatants.
Members "rejected the argument that Israel had carried out operation Cast Lead in self-defense." Whether or not Israel's motive was genocide, individual commanders, soldiers, and rabbis who encouraged them "may well have had such an intent and might therefore be prosecuted for this crime."
As a result, IFFC members "found that members of the IDF committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly, genocide in the course of operation Cast Lead." In their judgment, they and Israel's political leaders must be held fully accountable under the law.
Unfortunately, "no serious attempt is being made to (do it). As far as the EU and the United States are concerned, Israel is beyond the reach of the law, above the law. What is the consequence? (It's) that the rules of international law on accountability for international crimes are not only undermined, their very existence is brought into question. (For Dugard), the position seems clear. Either the international community holds Israel and its leaders accountable for their actions or it abandons its efforts to secure international justice."
Consider also that on October 4, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, called Israel the "the number one threat to (the) Middle East given the nuclear arms it possesses," its refusal to allow inspections for over 30 years, and its stated intention to use all weapons at its disposal as it chooses in future conflicts.
So does America, of course, yet who in the international community dares hold it accountable for its many decades of grievous crimes, both before, during, and after the Korean war that slaughtered many millions. Who remembers, cares to, or speaks out publicly if they do.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Complicit in Gaza War Crimes Cover-up
Abbas is a notorious, longstanding imperial tool, so it's no surprise that despite clear evidence of Israeli crimes, he decided to delay action on the Goldstone Commission report by agreeing to defer a UN vote to condemn Israel's failure to cooperate with the investigation.
He thus risks buying it, and in so doing encourages the continued killing, repression, and occupation that benefits him, his cronies, and his sons' business interests, including the "Abbas-backed (Wataniya phone) company" in which one of his sons is closely involved, as revealed in an April 24 Reuters report. It said:
"US aid in the form of loan guarantees meant for Palestinian farmers and other small to mid-sized businesses has been given to a mobile phone firm backed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Gulf investors." Abbas' son, Tarek, is a vice president, and his elder son, Yasser, belongs to the US-based Aspen Institute, a right wing think tank, with prominent members like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Dennis Ross, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and former CIA Director John Deutch that supported the project.
Speaking for all Palestinians, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh accused Abbas of having "justified" the war, and added that his decision "cannot be seen as a conciliatory act. (It reflected an attitude that) would perpetuate internal conflict" and continued Israeli oppression. More than ever, Abbas exposed himself as an imperial tool on the side of the dark forces that perpetuate occupation and conflict and deny his people redress, justice, and the freedom they deserve.
Hundreds of West Bank protestors condemned him. Syrian officials postponed a scheduled meeting to express their displeasure. In Europe, 32 Palestinian groups demanded he immediately resign. Members of his own Fatah party were angered, and human rights groups accused him of acceding to Israeli and Washington pressure, a familiar tactic by him, yet he continues illegally as the Palestinian Authority (PA) president even though his term expired in January.
On October 2, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) planned to vote on a draft resolution condemning Israel for not cooperating. It would also have endorsed Goldstone's call for the Security Council and/or General Assembly to follow up on his findings.
On September 23, JTA, The Global News Service of the Jewish People, reported that:
It's now deferred, and given America's Security Council power, it may be buried unless the world community unites for accountability, redress, and justice. With that unlikely, Israel looks able to keep reigning terror freely by claiming threats to its security, even though it's the sole one in the region, aided and abetted by Washington and corrupted Fatah officials, headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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