Goldstone report findings support Amnesty's own field investigations

Amnesty International said yesterday that the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, if implemented, offer the best hope for justice and accountability. The UN-mandated report by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the Gaza conflict this year.


 The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.

Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International’s fact finding mission last winter in Israel and the Gaza Strip, said:

“The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don’t get away with murder. The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN’s most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims. The Security Council must refer the Goldstone findings to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.”

Note:  The United States holds the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of September.

Despite powerful evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law which emerged during and in the aftermath of the conflict, both Israel and Hamas have failed to carry out credible investigations and prosecute those responsible.  The UN Security Council condemned attacks against civilians during the conflict and urged both sides to respect international law, but so far it has turned a blind eye to the allegations of war crimes and other grave violations committed by both sides.

The report’s findings are consistent with those of Amnesty International’s own field investigation into the 22-day conflict during which some 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed (four other Israeli soldiers were killed by their own side in ‘friendly fire’ incidents).

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children. Amnesty’s investigations also found Israeli forces carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields.  Amnesty’s findings also agree with the Goldstone report in that the rocket fire into southern Israel by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, was indiscriminate which constitutes a war crime.

Key findings of the Goldstone report include:

• Israeli forces committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and some possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. Notably, investigations into numerous instances of lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects revealed that the attacks were intentional, that some were launched with the intention of spreading terror among the civilian population and with no justifiable military objective and that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields.

• Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, notably wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. As grave breaches these acts give rise to individual criminal responsibility.

• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing. Notably acts which deprive Palestinians in Gaza of their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their access to an effective remedy and could amount to persecution – a crime against humanity.

• Palestinian armed groups violated the principle of distinction by launching rocket and mortars attacks which cannot be aimed with sufficient precision at military targets and that their attacks into civilian areas which had no intended military target constituted deliberate attacks against civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.

• Palestinian combatants did not always adequately distinguish themselves from he civilian population and they unnecessarily exposed civilians to danger when they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings.

• The Fact-Finding Mission found no evidence that Palestinian armed groups directed civilians to areas where attacks were launched or that they forced civilians to remain within their vicinity, nor that hospital facilities were used by the Hamas de-facto administration or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities, or that ambulances were used to transport combatants, or that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from within hospitals or UN facilities that were used as shelters.

“I Have to Hold Back Tears” — Jimmy Carter

During the lead up to former president Jimmy Carter’s trip to Gaza, the general media sentiment regarding the trip was ominous. Questions of safety (and loyalty, due to the boycott of Gaza and the legitimacy of its government) arose as Carter announced he would be meeting with Hamas leaders to discuss the future of Palestine.

He arrived on Tuesday, June 16th, and met with the Gazan leadership, including Ismail Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar. He also visited sites that were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, including an American school obliterated by bombs dropped by F-16s. The human rights violations that took place during the Israeli offensive in earlier this year have stunned him, he said. “I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people.”

Other objectives of Carter’s trip to Gaza included delivering a letter to Gilad Shalit (the Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas in June 2006), asking Hamas to consider recognition of Israel (it refused), calling for an end to the Gaza blockade, and also to insist that Hamas end its rocket fire into areas such as Sderot.

Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip last December in response to rocket fire, a war that left the territory in shambles and unable to rebuild due to the stiff international blockade from 2 years prior. Only the bare humanitarian needs are delivered to a population of 1.5 million. Carter specifically pushed the US and Europe to allow basic goods into Gaza. “Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself,” said Carter. “The citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

New Report Confirms Hamas' Deadly Campaign During Gaza War

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week released a report detailing the unlawful killings and torture of Palestinians by Hamas during the recent Gaza conflict. This report confirms Amnesty’s own findings, published in February, of instances where Hamas murdered and tortured Palestinians. They accused the victims of “collaborating” with Israel, or the victims were members of opposing Palestinian parties, including Fatah.

The HRW report provides a more in depth analysis of the situation. The report claims that Hamas forces and masked gunmen alleged to be members of Hamas extra-judicially executed more than 30 people since December and injured dozens more by shooting them in the leg. Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and the government of Hamas should address these crimes. According to HRW, the Hamas authorities have begun investigations into only four of these cases, but more needs to be done. Hamas should work to uphold international law and protect human rights as it has said that it will do.

"What went on here?" : U.S. Lawmakers Assess the Damage in Gaza

In the first congressional visit since Hamas was elected in 2006, Representative Brian Baird from Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Senator John Kerry visited Gaza yesterday.  They witnessed and reported the devastation of the population and the dire need of humanitarian assistance.  Rep.  Ellison, Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee member and the first Muslim congress member, stated that:

People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in – Rep. Ellison.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

None of the men toured the area as representatives of the Obama administration and all refused to meet with Hamas, but they opened up a dialogue between American lawmakers and Gaza residents.  Rep. Baird “wanted to witness the situation on the ground” and helped Palestinian aid workers highlight the humanitarian crisis to the BBC.  Sen. Kerry, on the other hand, emphasized the problems with Hamas leadership, while touring a bombed out American school:

…Your political leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond – Sen. Kerry.

As lawmakers balance the politics of Hamas and Israeli interests, the Palestinian people are left with the shocking humanitarian devastation, 5,000 home destroyed, 1,300 lives lost, and over 5,000 injured.  More pointedly, Rep. Braid describes:

The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental needs such as water, sewer, and electricity facilities have been hit and immobilized. Relief agencies, themselves, have been heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words. – Rep. Baird.

Gaza crossings remain restricted despite dire need

Almost two weeks ago Donatella Rovera, AI researcher posted an entry ‘Task of reconstruction will be truly immense’ during her mission to southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.

This 20 year veteran stated how she and her team were “shocked” and “horrified” at the scale of destruction found and that although prepared for devastation, what they “found was even worse than we had first realized”.

United Nation’s satellite imagery taken of northern Gaza shows widespread and intense damage to buildings, infrastructure and impact craters. Although over 1500 buildings, roads and structures have been damaged, UNOSAT notes that other structures may be damaged or unstable as well, and that estimates of damage are probably an under-estimate because of the difficulty in assessing damage to dense urban areas.

To date, the US has provided nearly $60 million in humanitarian aid like water, food, medicine and plastic sheeting. The cost of damage has been assessed to be more than 2-3 billion dollars

According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, crossings continue to be closed intermittently and imports greatly restricted. Exports are still not allowed.

The following audio clip offers a dire insight into the difficulties into getting humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip after the ceasefire:

A little over a week ago and two weeks after the ceasefire (and audio above), the European Union approached Israeli officials concerned that they “have not witnessed much improvement of the overall restrictions.”

Amnesty International along with other organizations including the United Nations continue to request that all the crossings into the Gaza Strip be opened to allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid and workers. Thousands remain homeless, requiring basic essentials such as food, water, mattresses, blankets and medicine. The grand task of trying to re-build can also not take place when simple reconstruction materials like concrete and plastic are not being allowed in.

Proper monitoring procedures can be put into place to guarantee aid is not going to Hamas authorities, but are properly being utilized. The bottle necks of aid at the crossings are unnecessary and continuing to hurt the victims of the attacks on Gaza from Dec. 27 – Jan. 18th. UNRWA has already shown their ability in guaranteeing the proper carrying out of its function when they stopped aid distribution after Hamas confiscated UNRWA supplies. The supplies were returned and guarantees were made by Hamas that no other confiscations would take place and UNRWA re-started their operations

No more excuses. Open the crossings now.

The Crisis Continues

As Israeli's vote, Palestinians rebuild; tents serve as a temporary shelter while humanitarian supplies filter into Gaza.

As Israelis vote, Palestinians rebuild; Tents serve as temporary shelter while humanitarian supplies filter into Gaza.

The crisis in Gaza continues as the Israeli elections wrap up.  Of the two front runners, Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, Livni appears to have a small lead as of this evening.  The question remains, who will address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza with the most diligence?  Palestinian Fatah leaders worry about a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi, on the Israeli right, who they say would bolster Hamas in response to his appointment.  Then there’s Tzipi Livni, who has campaigned on a platform for peace, although she was an architect of the recent conflict.  She leans towards negotiations for a Palestinian state, where Bibi would not.  But the unknown of the election may be Avigdor Lieberman whose nationalist policies ban Arab journalists from his press conferences.  Lieberman may be the controversial candidate but Livni and Netanyahu are the two to watch in the next few days.  Israel’s elections are parliamentary offering 33 parties and proportional representation.  Voters select their party of choice and cast one vote; however, the Prime Minister is nominated by the President, based on the parties elected.

“Palestinian commentators explained that after being disappointed by governments led by all three major Israeli parties – Labor, Kadima and Likud – the public has stopped hoping. Regardless of who heads it, every government has continued building in the settlements and failed to reach a final-status agreement, the pundits said.” – Haaretz.

While election results filter in today and tonight, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon continues to work with the UN Relief Works Agency in Palestine to investigate possible targeting of UN civilian facilities committed by Israeli forces.  The elections and the UN investigation, however, have missed a vital human rights concern.

In a recent Media Briefing, Amnesty International reported the maiming, killings, abductions and disappearances of Hamas’ political opponents in Gaza.  At least 20 people have been killed since the start of the Israeli offensive in December.  Individuals targeted were former prisoners, Fatah affiliated politicians, and those who “collaborated with Israel.”

The testimonies and medical evidence of these attacks are irrefutable:

“Jamal al-Ghandour, in his mid-50s, was shot dead in his bed in al-Shifa hospital at about 4pm on 28 December by unmasked gunmen wearing plain clothes in front of relatives and other witnesses. Also present were uniformed members of Hamas security forces, who took no action to prevent the killing or to apprehend the perpetrators. Jamal al-Ghandour was receiving treatment for injuries he had sustained that morning in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza’s Central Prison, where he had been detained with his son since January 2008; both were accused of “collaborating” with the Israeli army.” – Amnesty International

Victims are hesitant to come forward under the Hamas de-facto administration.  Amnesty International is gravely concerned that administration in the Gaza Strip – instead of taking steps to stop and prevent deliberate killings and other grave abuses being perpetrated by its forces and militias – is not only disregarding such abuses but is justifying and even facilitating and encouraging them.

On February 2, 2009, Tahar al-Nanu spoke to a press conference:

“The government differentiates between abuses [of the law] and the actions taken by the resistance to protect itself from collaborators in times of war… There will be no mercy for the collaborators who have stabbed our people in the back.”

Unfortunately, al-Nanu provided a green light to target anyone based on any allegations of “collaboration” with the Israeli army, without giving those targeted a possibility to defend themselves against such accusations.

While Israel works out their new administration and the UN investigates attacks on UN facilities, there must be an impartial commission to investigate these human rights abuses and Hamas must be held accountable to fair trial standards and to witnesses and victims.  One step towards an investigation into these abuses would be for the UN to heed Amnesty International’s call for their inquiry into the conflict to include evidence of violations by all sides, not solely against UN facilities.

Written by Ally Krupar.  Edited by Zahir Janmohamed.

Al Jazeera Video on AI Mission

In a moving story on Al Jazeera English, Amnesty International researcher Donatella Rovera walks through a bombed out home in Gaza and discusses how AI has found evidence that Israel fired into civilian areas.

Amnesty International has called upon the US to investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas.

In other news, the UN has halted aid after it learned that supplies were seized by Hamas.  Meanwhile Arab TV stations have reported that a Lebanese ship carrying aid was fired upon by Israel. The Guardian reports:

A Lebanese boat said to be carrying ­humanitarian aid but which Israel claims is carrying activists, has been intercepted by the Israeli navy on its way to the Gaza Strip.

Reporters from the Arab TV stations al-Jadeed and al-Jazeera, who were on the vessel, said the Israelis fired at the ship before boarding it and beating the crew. The journalists said they were unable to show pictures of the incident as the Israeli force smashed their broadcast equipment.

At the moment, an estimated 80% of Palestinians in Gaza depend on UN assistance for food.

Israel Foreign Minister Livni in DC

On my way to work this morning, I noticed a brief mention in the paper that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today. After doing some more research, I realized that Secretary Rice was again not intending to address Israel’s disproportionate attacks on civilians. We sent her a letter today to reiterate our concerns about ongoing human rights violations by both Israel and armed Palestinian groups.
While Amnesty International recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself and has also called on Hamas and other Palestinian groups to immediately cease all unlawful attacks, Israel does not have a right to use disproportionate force, target civilians or civilian buildings. In the recent conflict, there has been growing evidence that Israel has failed to adhere to the principles of distinction and proportionality in its military actions. Yesterday’s bombing of the UN compound in Gaza City was only the most recent example for that. The US government as a strong supporter of Israel and a provider of military equipment should have a louder voice in speaking out on the issue of protecting civilians in Gaza – unfortunately it continues to fail to do so.

UN Should Investigate War Crimes

Last week, the UN passed a binding resolution calling for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.” Resolution 1860 also calls for “the unimpeded provisions and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment” and “condemns all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism.” In addressing the issue of arms trafficking into Palestinian territories, the resolution calls for “intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling
The resolution passed, with fourteen members voted in favor.  The United States abstained.

But despite the binding resolution, both Israel and Hamas have continued their attacks.  Nearly 25 rocket attacks were fired on Israel on one day alone, January 10.  According to Israel, 13 Israelis have died, three of them civilian.

Meanwhile, Israel continues shelling Gaza, moving its land invasion deeper into Gaza.  In air and land attacks that have been waged since December 27, over 900 Palestinians have been killed.  The director of emergency services in Gaza, Dr Muawiya Hassanein, said half of the casualties were women and children.  But Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni promised more of the same from Israel: “Israel is a country that reacts vigorously when its citizens are fired up, which is a good thing,” she said.  “That is something that Hamas now understands and that is how we are going to react in the future.”

But with mounting evidence that Israel deliberately attacked civilians, prevented civilians from fleeing areas of conflict, and prevented wounded from seeking medical attention, Amnesty International is concerned that the UN resolution did not go far enough.  In a statement released today, Amnesty said, “the resolution failed to state that parties must stop violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, nor does the resolution address the mounting evidence of war crimes and other serious abuses of international law, or provide for an investigation and for those responsible to be held to account.”

For more, read here.

Direct from our researcher near Gaza

Reporting directly from southern Israel, Amnesty International researcher Donatella Rovera answered questions submitted about the Gaza crisis.

Our vote for the toughest question answered:

How can AI even ask the question whether or not US military equipment was used in the killing of civilians. Also, your home page announcing all of this certainly seemed to try to equalize Hamas/IDF — how can that be? First paragraph — you never said that the deaths were caused by the Israeli ASSAULT not only the blockade…. Here is how to stop Hamas: END THE OCCUPATION!!

And the toughest question left unanswered:

Just what does Hammas want???   Wouild just one Hammas member trade their weapons for an XBox? I have never played a war game on XBox, don’t care to,  but I will donate one if one  reciprent will lay down their weapons.