Natan Blanc (Photo Credit: Hagar Shezaf for Amnesty International).
Written by Nehal Amer, Social Media Specialist, Middle East Coordination Group
Each year, a handful of courageous Israeli teenagers are imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military on grounds of conscience. Natan Blanc, 19, from Haifa has been imprisoned eight times in four months for his refusal to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Amnesty International considers those imprisoned for total or selective objection to military service for reasons of conscience to be prisoners of conscience. Blanc spoke to Amnesty International about his motivation for objecting to military service in February 2013. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.
Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare. He has said that he has come to listen. One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank. The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish. The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.
For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price. I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests. During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital. In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.
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.
Although the UN initiated a Board of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Gaza, Dion Nissenbaum, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for McClatchy news company, says
”I’m not sure what impact this UN report is going to have.” He continues to explain, “I think the only thing that the Israeli government will look at is reports from Israeli soldiers. Israel has always been skeptical of the United Nations, the international press, and they are certainly skeptical of what comes out of the Palestinians.”
Stories from members of the Israeli forces came out recently and created a firestorm of discussion within Israel about accusations which had already been levelled by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the international media and other NGO’s working in the area. These stories from the soldiers were given more credit than all the evidence presented from outside sources.
Sadly, these stories were discounted out of hand by investigators and the IDF investigation has been closed already saying the stories by the IDF members were based on ‘hearsay’.
So will there ever be justice for the victims of the human rights violations that took place during the Gaza crisis?
Amnesty Int’l has been calling for an independent, impartial international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties involved be undertaken from the beginning and has said that the UN inquiry is insufficient in that it only looks into attacks on UN personnel and facilities. Other human rights groups are also calling for an independent inquiry and look on the IDF’s eagerness to close the investigation into the IDF members’ stories as questionable:
“the speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that [it] was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity…”
UPDATE (April 3, 12:10pm): The UN Human Rights Council announced today that the former chief prosecutor of two criminal tribunals, Richard J. Goldstone will lead a probe into allegations of war crimes committed during Gaza crisis between December 27th, 2008 and January 18th, 2009 by all parties involved. This investigation is separate from the UN Board of Inquiry created by the UN Security Council which was formed to look into specific attacks on UN personnel and facilities in Gaza.
In a series about the lax rules of engagement of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is currently publishing testimonies of Israeli soldiers who participated in the recent fighting in Gaza. The first story in today’s edition describes an incident of an IDF sharpshooter who mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children:
There was a house with a family inside …. We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family (…)
The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn’t understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he … he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders.
(..) The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.
In response to the publication of the testimonies, the IDF today ordered an investigation into the alleged violations of the army’s rules of engagement.
We have previously criticized both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters for endangering the lives of Palestinian civilians – including by using them as human shields.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.