Gaza Lies in Ruins: UN Appoints Commission to Investigate War Crimes
August 14, 2014
Anthony Bellchambers / Global Research & Andrea Germanos / Common Dreams & Gareth Porter / Inter Press Service
As world media attention shifts to another war crime massacre, this time in Northern Iraq, much of Gaza lies in ruins. The UN Human Rights Council announced the appointment of experts to carry out an independent commission charged with investigating possible war crimes during the month-long assault on Gaza that killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis. UN officials and human rights groups have characterised Israeli attacks on civilian targets in Gaza as violations of the laws of war.
Gaza in Ruins, Heinous Crimes:
Israel's IDF Conscripts Take the Lives of Palestinian Women and Children
Anthony Bellchambers / Global Research
(August 12, 2014) -- As world media attention shifts to another war crime massacre, this time in Northern Iraq, much of Gaza lies in ruins whilst in Israel the IDF soldiers look forward to another day of firing 125mm shells from their Merkava tanks into schools, hospitals and houses and they hear the screams and watch the bloody body parts of men, women and children fly in the air and come to rest among the acrid smoke and the lumps of concrete.
1,938 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the launch of Israel's military campaign. What kind of men; what kind of soldiers; what kind of army kills 400 children and leaves 3000 other young people injured, maimed and crippled in a bloody war crime that has seen homes, hospitals and schools blown apart with tank shells and aircraft fired missiles upon a predominately civilian population?
What kind of men, claiming to be from a western-style democracy, would commit such an atrocity before the eyes of the world, and then disclaim responsibility for such heinous, hateful killings?
These men are not soldiers in any accepted use of the word. They are conscripts who take the lives of women and children in the same way they would switch-off the ignition in a car before going to the pub for a drink.
And as the killings continue, the Israeli government remains adamant that it will continue to keep the 1.8 million indigenous people of Gaza in the world's largest prison camp; under a blockade that is now in its seventh year and which is tacitly condoned by the rest of the world under instructions from the Israel-lobby-controlled US Congress.
It is a travesty of justice that violates every principle not only of the internationally agreed Geneva Conventions but also of the American Bill of Rights and its own Declaration of Independence.
For how much longer will the world watch and wait as Israel attempts to destroy the largest indigenous people of the region for over a thousand years?
Israeli Backlash Follows UN Appointment of Gaza War Crimes Commission
Israeli officials slam 'kangaroo court' looking into possible violations of international law during assault on Gaza
Andrea Germanos / Common Dreams
(August 12, 2014) -- The United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday announced the appointment of experts to carry out an independent commission charged with investigating possible war crimes during the month-long assault on Gaza that has killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
On July 23 the Council adopted a resolution to launch the inquiry into possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws during the assault. The United States issued the sole vote against setting up the inquiry.
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office was quick to criticize the resolution, saying in July that the inquiry would be carried out by "a kangaroo court" and whose "predictable result will be the libeling of Israel."
The announcement Monday prompted backlash from Israeli officials who said that Canadian law professor William Schabas, who will head the three-member panel, holds an anti-Israel bias.
"The report has already been written and the only question is who signs it," the Jerusalem Post reports the Israeli Foreign Ministry as saying.
Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Agence France-Presse Tuesday, "For this commission the important thing is not human rights but the rights of terrorist organizations like Hamas."
Schabas shot back, telling public radio, "I've frequently lectured in Israel, at universities in Israel, I'm a member of the editorial board of the Israel law review, I wouldn't do those things if I was anti-Israel."
"As far as I'm concerned [the conclusions of the report] are not written at all, that's the whole point of an investigation," he continued. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Schabas added, "Like everybody inside and outside Israel, I disagree with people. Is everyone in Israel who has an opinion about Netanyahu anti-Israel?"
Joining Schabas on the Commission is Senegalese lawyer Doudou Diène, a former UN Special Rapporteur on racism. Though the Council indicated Monday that the third member of the Commission would be British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin, she issued a statement Monday that though she "strongly believe[s] that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed," previous commitments prevent her from taking on this role.
In addition to the thousands of Palestinian casualties, most of whom were civilians, over 10,000 housing units were also destroyed, creating what the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) described as a "man-made homelessness crisis." Efforts to rebuild while Gaza remains under an Israel-imposed blockade are near impossible, the agency states.
"The last seven years have shown that reconstruction under blockade is unsustainable. Rebuilding Gaza will be next to impossible if the blockade is not lifted. The blockade must end," UNRWA stated.
US Avoided Threat to Act on Israel's Civilian Targeting
Gareth Porter / Inter Press Service
(August 12, 2014) -- United Nations officials and human rights organisations have characterised Israeli attacks on civilian targets during the IDF war on Gaza as violations of the laws of war.
During the war, Israeli bombardment leveled whole urban neighbourhoods, leaving more than 10,000 houses destroyed and 30,000 damaged and killing 1,300 civilians, according to UN data. Israeli forces also struck six schools providing shelter to refugees under UN protection, killing at least 47 refugees and wounding more than 340.
But the Barack Obama administration's public posture during the war signaled to Israel that it would not be held accountable for such violations.
A review of the transcripts of daily press briefings by the State Department during the Israeli attack shows that the Obama administration refused to condemn Israeli attacks on civilian targets in the first three weeks of the war.
US officials were well aware of Israel's history of rejecting any distinction between military and civilian targets in previous wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
During the 2006 Israeli War in Lebanon, IDF spokesman Jacob Dalal had told the Associated Press that eliminating Hezbollah as a terrorist institution required hitting all Hezbollah institutions, including "grassroots institutions that breed more followers".
And during Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in December 2008 and January 2009, the IDF had shelled a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 42 civilians. The IDF's justification had been that it was responding to mortar fire from the building, but officials of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) who ran the school had denied that claim.
Given that history, Obama administration policy makers knew that Israel would certainly resort to similar targeting in its Gaza operation unless it believed it would suffer serious consequences for doing so. But the administration's public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.
On July 10, two days after the operation began, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki was asked in the daily briefing whether the administration was trying to stop the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas.
Psaki's answer was to recite an Israeli talking point. "There's a difference," she said, "between Hamas, a terrorist organisation that's indiscriminately attacking innocent civilians . . . in Israel, and the right of Israel to respond and protect their own civilians."
After four children playing on a beach were killed as journalists watched on July 16, Psaki was asked whether the administration believed Israel was violating the international laws of war. She responded that she was unaware of any discussion of that question.
Psaki said that "tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel; the Secretary [of State John Kerry] has made that point directly as well."
The IDF shelled Al-Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on July 17, claiming it was a response to launches of rockets 100 metres from the hospital. Psaki was asked the next day whether her failure to warn the Israelis publicly against bombing the hospital had "made any difference".
She said, "We're urging all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities . . . ." But she refused to speculate about "what would've happened or wouldn't have happened" had she issued an explicit warning,
On June 16, two days before the ground offensive began, the IDF began dropping leaflets warning the entire populations of the Zeitoun and Shujaiyyeh neighbourhoods to evacuate. It was a clear indication they were to be heavily bombed. IDF bombing and shelling leveled entire blocks of Shujaiyyeh July 20 and 21, citing rockets fired from that neighbourhood.
Kerry was recorded commenting to an aide on an open microphone Jul. 20 that it was a "hell of a pinpoint operation", revealing the administration's private view. But instead of warning that the Israeli targeting policy was unacceptable, Kerry declared in a CNN interview that Israel was "under siege from a terrorist organisation", implying the right to do whatever it believed necessary.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Jul. 21 that Kerry had "encouraged" the Israelis to "take steps to prevent civilian casualties", but she refused to be more specific.
On July 23, Al Wafa hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike, forcing the staff to evacuate it. The IDF now charged that it had been used as a "command centre and rocket launching site".
Joe Catron, an American who had been staying at the hospital as part of an international "human shield" to prevent attacks on it, denied that claim, saying he would have heard any rocket launched close to the hospital.
On the same day, three missiles hit a park next to the Al Shifa hospital, killing 10 and wounding 46. The IDF blamed the explosions on Hamas rockets that had fallen short. The idea that three Hamas rockets had fallen short within such short distances from one another, however, was hardly a credible explanation.
The IDF also appeared to target facilities run by the UNRWA. On Jul. 23 and 24, Israeli tank shells hit Palestinian refugees at two different school compounds designated as UN shelters, despite intensive communications by UN officials to IDF asking to spare them.
An attack on a UN refugee shelter at Beit Hanoun elementary school Jul. 24 killed 15 civilians and wounded more than 200. The IDF again claimed a Hamas rocket had fallen short. But it also claimed Hamas fighters had fired on Israeli troops from the compound, then later retreated from the claim.
At the July 24 briefing, Harf read a statement deploring the Beit Hanoun strike and the "rising death toll in Gaza" and said that a UNRWA facility "is not a legitimate target".
Harf said Israel "could do a bit more" to show restraint. But when a reporter asked if the United States was "willing to take any kind of action" if Israel did not respond to US advice, Harf said the US focus was "getting a ceasefire", implying that it was not prepared to impose any consequences on Israel for refusing to change its military tactics in Gaza.
On July 25, a reporter at the daily briefing observed that the hospital and schools had been targeted despite reports confirming that there had been no militants or rockets in them.
But Harf refused to accept that characterisation of the situation and repeated the Israeli line that Hamas had used UN facilities to "hide rockets". She said she could not confirm whether there were rockets in "the specific school that was hit".
The IDF hit another UNRWA school sheltering refugees at Jabaliya refugee camp Jul. 30, killing 10 and wounding more than 100. The IDF acknowledged it had fired several tank shells at the school, claiming again that mortar shells had been fired from there.
That was too much for the Obama administration. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the attack "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible" and even made it clear that there was little doubt that Israel was responsible.
Even then, however, the administration merely repeated its call for Israel to "do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves", as Earnest put it.
On Aug. 3, the IDF struck yet another refugee facility at the Rafah Boys Prep School A, killing 12 refugees and wounding 27. The IDF said it had been targeting three "terrorists" riding a motorcycle who had passed near the school.
"The suspicion that militants operated nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians," said Psaki.
But that criticism of Israeli attacks was far too restrained and too late. The IDF had already carried out what appear to have been massive violations of the laws of war.
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