3 September 2009 Edition
Justice for victims of Israeli state slaughter
BY EMMA CLANCY
As part of West Belfast’s Féile an Phobail the Irish Palestine Solidarity Committee organised a series of lectures on 6 August detailing Israel’s massive breaches of international humanitarian law during the December-January onslaught against the Gaza Strip. The audience heard presentations by Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan and representatives from Physicians for Human Rights and the Ramallah-based human rights organisation Al-Haq.
The Palestine Solidarity Day examined the impact of the assault on the people of Gaza during the attack that lasted from 27 December until 18 January, focusing on the war crimes committed by Israel such as the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of prohibited weapons and the targeting of medical personnel.
More than 1.5 million tonnes of explosives were dropped on the Gaza Strip – a tiny strip of land, about 25 miles by five miles, that with 1.5 million inhabitants is the most densely populated area in the world.
Fourteen-hundred Palestinians were killed in the attack, including 300 children, 115 women and 85 men over the age of 50. More than 240 Palestinian police officers – not counted as civilians by several major international organisations – were killed in the bombardment of police stations across the Gaza Strip in the first moments of Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ on 27 December. More than 5,000 people were seriously wounded and 21,000 houses destroyed.
Massive demonstrations held in solidarity with the people of Gaza were held around the world during the attack, which further destroyed Israel’s self-cultivated image as the ‘victim’ among much of the world’s public, and the onslaught has added impetus to the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the Israeli state. But despite the mounting volume of documented evidence of war crimes and atrocities, international bodies and governments have utterly failed to hold the Israeli architects of the war to account.
Exposing Israel’s lies
On 2 July, Amnesty International published a 117-page report titled Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction, in which it condemned the “wanton and deliberate destruction” of Gaza. The rights group demanded full international support for a UN-led independent investigation that could hold the Israeli leaders of the attack to account for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. It also urged a global freeze on arms sales to Israel.
Central to the Israeli government’s propaganda campaign during and after the assault was the line that Palestinian civilians were never targeted by the Israel Defence Force (IDF); that only 295 of those killed were civilians; and that any civilian deaths were caused by Hamas using the population as “human shields”. The Amnesty report decisively exposed each of these claims, which have been widely parroted by Israel’s Western allies and the corporate media, as totally false.
The report states that the victims “were not caught in the crossfire during battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, nor were they shielding militants or other military objects”.
It explained that most people were killed with high-precision weapons, with surveillance that would allow the IDF to see their targets in detail.
“Many were killed when their homes were bombed while they slept. Others were sitting in their yard or hanging the laundry on the roof. Children were struck while playing in their bedrooms or on the roof, or near their homes. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while attempting to rescue the wounded or recover the dead,” the report said.
Amnesty also found extensive evidence of the use of US-made white phosphorus bombs against civilian targets and densely populated areas including refugee camps. White phosphorus is a highly incendiary napalm-like substance which sticks to human skin and can melt flesh to the bone. Repeated and emphatic denials by the IDF that it was using the weapon, whose use in civilian areas is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, meant that many victims suffering “agonising burns” were unable to receive the appropriate treatment and died, according to the report.
Amnesty also demolished the Israeli myth that civilian deaths were caused by Hamas cynically using people as human shields. “Contrary to repeated allegations by Israeli officials of the use of ‘human shields’, Amnesty International found no evidence that Hamas or other Palestinian fighters directed the movement of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks,” the group said.
The IDF, on the other hand, systematically used civilians, including children, as human shields by forcing them to remain in or close to houses which they took over and used as military positions. “Some were forced to carry out dangerous tasks such as inspecting properties or objects suspected of being booby-trapped,” Amnesty reported.
After several Israeli soldiers went public about the IDF leadership-sanctioned policy of deliberately targeting civilians in April at a graduates ceremony at the Rabin Pre Military Academy, the Israeli government hastily announced it would launch a probe into the claims – but after an internal, private ‘investigation’ that lasted only a few days, the IDF unsurprisingly exonerated itself from any wrongdoing.
The US-based National Lawyers Guild (NLG), which sent its own investigating delegation to Gaza in the aftermath of Cast Lead, responded to this farcical inquiry by categorically rejecting the IDF’s claim that it had not committed war crimes.
The NLG reported that in addition to bombs being knowingly dropped on civilian centres and shelters, IDF soldiers also engaged in the wilful shooting of Palestinian civilians.
Citing its delegation report, the NLG said: “One such case is that of Khaled Abed Rabbo. Israeli soldiers shot dead Abed Rabbo’s two young daughters and severely injured a third daughter while his family stood, carrying white flags, in front of the soldiers. Another incident is that of 72-year old Ahmed Shrahi. Israeli soldiers shot the unarmed Shrahi from a distance and then approached to execute him at close range.”
Breaching medical ethics
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)-Israel have backed up Amnesty International’s assertion that medical workers, ambulances and medical facilities including hospitals were deliberately targeted by the IDF during the attack.
Amnesty reported an example of three Palestinian ambulance crew members and a boy who showed them the way to a group of injured people being killed on 4 January – by an Israeli guided missile generously supplied by the US government.
A fact-finding mission of medical experts commissioned by PHR-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society reported on 6 April that in many cases the IDF did not allow for the evacuation of wounded and trapped civilians for days, leaving them isolated with no access to food, water and medical treatment, and preventing Palestinian emergency vehicles and staff from reaching these civilians.
Muhammed Saad Abu Halima, who had just lost two brothers and a young sister, and whose wife and daughter were wounded in an IDF bombing attack, provided a harrowing testimony of the ordeal of his family’s attempted evacuation in a vehicle from the site of the explosion. They were stopped by the IDF.
“They could see we were all wounded and dirty from the explosions,” he said.
“They shot at us, killing my two cousins. I held my sister Shahed in my arms... but the soldiers said that the baby was already dead, so they forced me to leave her in the car. I tried to help my wife Ghada, who was completely burned, and they forced us to walk to the hospital. For about 300 metres the soldiers were shooting at our feet as we walked, raising so much dust that the wounds of my wife became full of dirt.”
PHR-Israel reported that 34 medical facilities were targeted during the assault, including eight hospitals and 26 primary care clinics. Sixteen medical personnel were killed and 25 more wounded by IDF fire. The mission reported the details of 12 cases of ambulances being fired on, while the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip meant that only six of 5,380 wounded people were admitted into Israeli hospitals for treatment.
‘Terror without mercy’
PHR-Israel concluded that “The underlying meaning of the attack on the Gaza Strip appears to be one of creating terror without mercy to anyone. Nearly all the people we spoke to slept cuddled together with the other members of their family in a central room of the house during the three weeks of the attack. No-one knew where or when the next bomb or explosion would occur. It appears that the wide range of attacks with sophisticated weaponry was predominantly focused on terrorising the population.”
Amnesty International reported a culture of impunity among IDF soldiers, who were encouraged by their commanding officers to “shoot anything that moved”.
One Israeli company commander said in a security briefing to soldiers during the onslaught: “I want aggressiveness – if there’s someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we’ll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we’ll take it down. There will be no hesitation – let the mistakes be over their lives, not ours.”
Chilling graffiti, including “Death to the Arabs”, “We came to annihilate you” and “A good Arab is a dead Arab”, was left by soldiers in houses they took over and vandalised, Amnesty’s 2 July report said.
An investigation into the racist and violent culture fostered in the IDF was published in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz on 18 August, which described some of the T-shirts ordered by IDF platoons, featuring burnt-out mosques and dead Palestinian babies.
A shirt designed for the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with cross-hairs over her stomach, with the slogan, “1 shot, 2 kills”.
The Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, “Bet you got raped!”
Haaretz said the shirts were usually approved by officers before being printed.
War crimes tribunal
The campaign for a war crimes tribunal at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to bring Israeli leaders to justice for war crimes committed in Gaza has been given added impetus by the series of reports documenting atrocities in December and January. A UN investigation is ongoing but Israel is refusing to co-operate with it, claiming it’s “prejudiced” against the IDF. Of course, the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip is also a war crime that continues to silently kill Palestinians.
The ICC is a treaty-based organisation and, although the US and Israel have both refused to sign on, any countries that are signatories to the Geneva Conventions can seek to prosecute any individuals deemed culpable for war crimes, such as those that occurred during Israel’s war on Gaza.
European Domestic Courts can also use “universal jurisdiction” to charge alleged criminals with war crimes.
Calling for action, Amnesty’s report stated: “Under international law, states have a responsibility to exercise universal jurisdiction and start criminal investigations in national courts, wherever there is sufficient evidence of war crimes or other crimes under international law, to arrest and bring to justice alleged perpetrators.”
INTERVIEW: The Israeli peace activist whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber
Putting the seeds of peace in the ground
BY PEADAR WHELAN
Dr Nurit Peled-Elhanan
IN an interview with An Phoblacht, Dr Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a prominent Israeli peace activist, and member of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Parents Group, described successive Israeli governments as racist, corrupt and criminal in their attitude to the Palestinians.
She also referred to successive Israeli Government ministers as murderers, reserving her strongest criticism for Ariel Sharon, who was the Israeli Defence Minister during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which left thousands of Lebanese dead.
It was under Sharon’s tutelage that right-wing Christian Phalangists massacred hundreds of Palestinian women and children in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.
Dr Peled-Elhanan was in Belfast during this year’s Féile an Phobail and spoke on the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was launched in March this year to investigate Israeli war crimes during the invasion of Gaza at the beginning of this year.
Named after Bertrand Russell, the British humanist, the Russell Tribunal has been described as “citizens’ tribunal”.
The Russell Tribunal has no legal status but acts as a court of the people, a tribunal of conscience, addressing injustices and violations of international law that are not dealt with by existing international jurisdictions or that are recognised but continue with complete impunity due to the lack of political will of the international community.
Today, and in the same spirit, the Bertrand Russell Foundation supports the setting up of a Russell Tribunal to examine the violations of international law, of which the Palestinians are victims, and that prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their rights to a sovereign state.
It aims to reaffirm the primacy of international law as a basis for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is also intent upon raising awareness of the responsibility of the international community in the continuing denial of the rights of the Palestinian people.
DAUGHTER SUICIDE BOMB VICTIM
Dr Peled-Elhanan’s testimony is all the more important and indeed poignant given that her 13-year-old daughter, Smadar Elhanan, was the victim of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street on 4 September1997.
Dr Peled-Elhanan told An Phoblacht that she blames the Israeli oppression of Palestinians as an indirect cause of her daughter’s death.
“My little girl was murdered because she was an Israeli by a young man who was humiliated, oppressed and desperate to the point of suicide and murder and inhumanity just because he was a Palestinian.
“There is no basic moral difference between the soldier at the checkpoint who prevents a woman who is having a baby from going through, causing her to lose the baby, and the man who killed my daughter. And just as my daughter was a victim [of the occupation], so was he.
“The occupation is the source of all the evil in the Palestinian/Israeli situation.
“The occupation is corrupt and corrupting. When you become an oppressor you become corrupt and see other people as inferior and you see yourself as having the right to abuse people.”
RACISM IN ISRAEL
Dr Peled-Elhanan lectures on Language Education at the University of Tel Aviv and the David Yellin Teachers’ College. Her current studies concern the racist discourse in Israeli schoolbooks and classrooms, mainly against Palestinians.
Speaking to An Phoblacht she was very clear that the attitude of the Israeli state to the Palestinians is racist.
“There is a racist discourse in education and it is in the classrooms and in the books the pupils use.
“Palestinians and Arabs are described as enemies to be eliminated. Palestinians are called Arabs and are portrayed as a people with no identity of their own.”
Dr Peled-Elhanan went on to outline how Israelis described Palestinians and Arabs as invaders as a way of justifying the Zionist colonial project which is “about taking as much land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible on it”.
In opposing the occupation Dr Peled-Elhanan describes the work she is involved in as “putting a seed in the ground. The more people who know what we are doing and come to support it the better.”
The Israeli Government doesn’t like what she does as it hurts them but she is determined to carry on regardless in her struggle for human rights and peace.