Amnesty International – 2009-02-23 23:04:40
Photo: Palestinian Louai Sobeh, 10, is treated for burns at Shifa hospital in Gaza City on January 12, 2009. (© YASSER SAYMEH/AFP/Getty Images)
A new report released just hours ago reveals that US-made white phosphorus artillery shells among other US weapons were found throughout Gaza. When white phosphorus munitions are used in densely-populated civilian areas as Israel has, it violates international humanitarian law’s prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and amounts to a war crime.
In light of this new finding, we are urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for:
• an investigation into Israel/s use of US arms in Gaza
• a suspension of US military aid to Israel and
• to urge the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict
Samia Salman Al-Manay’a, 16 years old, was asleep in her home in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, when a phosphorus shell landed on the first floor of the house on January10th. Ten days later, from her hospital bed, she spoke to our delegation.
“The pain is piercing. It’s as though a fire is burning in my body. It’s too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong.”
Since 2001, the US has been the largest supplier of arms to Israel. The US has also provided considerable funding each year for Israel to buy arms despite US legislation that restricts such aid to consistently gross human rights violators. Since 2002 Israel received over $21 billion in US military and security assistance. Put simply, Israel’s military intervention in the Gaza Strip has been equipped to a large extent by US-supplied weapons, munitions and military equipment paid for with US taxpayers’ money.
Even after the start of the current conflict and reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, US authorities continued to authorize large shipments of US munitions, including white phosphorus munitions, to Israel.
In January, Amnesty called for a suspension of all arms transfers to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a serious risk that such equipment will be used for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. The Department of State should lead the call for accountability. If we suspect our weapons are being used in attacks that are indiscriminately killing civilians, we must act.
Urge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately call for an investigation into Israelâ€™s use of US arms in Gaza and a suspension of military aid.
Last month you called for an independent investigation into all parties involved in the conflict in Gaza. We are happy to report that your voice was heard. Over 45,000 messages were sent to Secretary Clinton and UN Representative Susan Rice, who highlighted the importance of an investigation. Additionally, three Members of Congress, including the highest ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Gaza and witnessed firsthand the humanitarian devastation.
Larry Cox is the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.
To: Secretary Clinton
– Ambassador Karen Stewart, Acting Assistant Secretary, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
– Thomas Goldberger, Director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs
Over the last few weeks, I have read with increasing concern many reports about Israel’s military tactics in Gaza, aimed at mitigating indiscriminate attacks into Israel from Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. While Israel has a right to protect itself, I am deeply disturbed by Israel’s apparent disproportionate use of force and disregard for civilians using US made weapons. I encourage you to call for a US government investigation into Israel’s potential misuse of US made weapons in Gaza.
According to many eye-witness accounts and investigations, for example, the Israeli military systematically fired White Phosphorus munitions, including those made by the United States, over or near heavily populated areas of Gaza, killing and injuring scores of civilians and damaging residential buildings. Although these munitions, which can easily burn through skin, are not strictly prohibited by international law, several reports claim that Israel’s use of these weapons in civilian populated areas violates the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks.
As of February 3, 2008, news accounts have stated that more than 100 people in Gaza have been killed or injured by these munitions; victims often experience a horrific amount of pain from the burning, which frequently leads to death. After finding US made white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, Amnesty International spoke to a 16-year-old girl in the hospital on January 20 that said she was experiencing intense pain due to the burns to her face and legs. A phosphorus shell had previously landed on her home in the Jabalia refugee camp on January 10.
In addition, Amnesty International found fragments in late January of a US made Hellfire missile near the scene of an Israeli attack that killed three Palestinian paramedics and a boy attempting to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. Under international humanitarian law, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting, or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. It, however, appears Israel failed to fully follow this law.
Amnesty International is asking the State Department to do two things to address this conflict:
1.Investigate Israel’s use of US weapons to determine if any US weapons were used to harm civilians. Until this can be certified, the US should cease all weapons transfer to Israel.
2. The US should support a UN Sanctioned arms embargo on all parties to the conflict until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons or munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.
• PS. Visit our blog to read more about the conflict in Gaza and the effects of white phosphorous munitions
Investigate misuse of US weapons in
Gaza and stop arms transfers to Israel
With fragile ceasefires now in place in Gaza and southern Israel, the full extent of the devastation caused in recent weeks is becoming increasingly clear. Amnesty International researchers visiting Gaza and southern Israel during and after the fighting found evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict, including with many US weapons.
According to Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, “A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State.”
Following the start of the Israeli military offensive on 27 December, Israeli forces killed more than 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 300 children and many other civilians, and injured over 5,000 other Palestinians, again including many civilians. Israeli forces also destroyed thousands of homes and other property and caused significant damage to the infrastructure of Gaza, causing a worsening of the humanitarian crisis arising from the 18-month blockade maintained by Israel.
Some of the Israeli bombardments and other attacks were directed at civilians or civilian buildings in the Gaza Strip; others were disproportionate or indiscriminate. During the same period, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups continued to fire indiscriminate rockets into residential areas of southern Israel, killing three civilians.
Amnesty International researchers found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli Army — many US-made — littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes. They included artillery and tank shells, mortar fins and remnants from Hellfire and other airborne missiles, large F-16 delivered bombs, and still-smoldering, highly incendiary white phosphorus remains.
For example, they found the marking PB-91K018-035 on the fragments of one of the white phosphorus artillery shells used in the Israeli attack of UNRWA’s field operations headquaters in Gaza City on January 15. This attack had caused a large fire, which destroyed tens of tons of humanitarian aid, including, medicines, food and other non-food items. The markings indicate that the shells were assembled by Pine Bluff Arsenal (PB) in 1991 (91) in October (K).
White phosphorus is a weapon intended to provide a smokescreen for troop movements on the battlefield. When each 155mm artillery shell bursts, it releases 116 wedges impregnated with white phosphorus which ignite on contact with oxygen and can scatter, depending on the height at which it is burst (and wind conditions), over an area at least the size of a football pitch.
In addition to the indiscriminate effect of air-bursting such a weapon, firing such shells as artillery exacerbates the likelihood that civilians will be affected. When white phosphorus lands on skin it burns deeply through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn until deprived of oxygen. It can contaminate other parts of the patient’s body or even those treating the injuries.
In another example, Amnesty International researchers found a fragment labeled “guided missile, surface attack”, made in the USA, at the scene of a troubling attack by the Israeli military. Three paramedics in their mid 20s — Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al — were killed in the early afternoon of January 4 in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard.
A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedic the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.