Israel's Investigation into Gaza Offensive More Than Disappointing

The Israeli Army (IDF) this week concluded that its forces had committed no violations during the recent Gaza military offensive. Most shocking to me was the claim that “no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas”. I recently spent a whole week with the members of our Gaza mission team, who entered Gaza a few hours before Israel’s halt of attacks. They found hundreds of white phosphorus-wedges in residential areas all over Gaza.

To learn more about White Phosphorus from a guy who actually used it, check out the video clip.

Following are excerpts of statements from human rights groups in response to the release of the IDF investigation:

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem:

The investigation emphasizes repeatedly that the military acted in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and that the use of white phosphorus “of the kind in use by the IDF is legal and used by militaries around the world.” The investigation’s authors prefer to focus on the theoretical questions regarding WP use, ignoring the horrific consequences on the ground during the operation. At least 14 civilians were killed due to the use of white phosphorus, seven of them children. Fires caused by WP in homes, UN installations and warehouses of humanitarian agencies have been documented. White phosphorus injuries are particularly severe as it burns everything with which it comes into contact: it causes severe burns when it strikes people and is liable to set buildings and fields on fire.

Human Rights Watch:

The military’s finding that “no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas” is blatantly wrong (…). Immediately after major fighting stopped, Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza found spent white phosphorous artillery shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets and apartment roofs, in residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school. Artillery shells containing white phosphorus also struck a hospital and the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), both in central Gaza City.

Amnesty International:

Regarding the use of white phosphorus in densely populated residential areas, the army’s assertions that “no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas” and that the “pieces of felt dipped in phosphorus… are not incendiary” could not be further from the truth. Amnesty International researchers on the ground found hundreds of white phosphorus-impregnated felt wedges in residential areas all over Gaza, still smouldering weeks after they had been fired. They similarly found dozens of artillery shells which had delivered the white phosphorus all over Gaza. As well, there is ample photographic and TV footage of white phosphorus artillery shells fired in airburst mode exploding over densely populated residential areas and white phosphorus literally raining down over these areas.

Under Fire: White Phosphorus, Civilians, and Arkansas

Israeli army ‘using white phosphorus’ – 12 January 2008

White phosphorus, often supplied by the US, has accounted for approximately 100 deaths and injuries in Gaza, as of February 3.  The pain of the burns alone frequently leads to death.   The questions remain, did Israel use white phosphorus on civilians in violation of international law and if so, who supplied them with it?

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. […] More investigation needs to be done to determine whether Israel used U.S. weapons to violate international law and thus not a legitimate use of force, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests Israel has violated international law.  – Amnesty International.

The evidence leads to a question of the structure of arms trade between the U.S. and any country, but especially where U.S. weapons have been used against civilians.  In the following video, U.S. citizens in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, react to the Pine Bluff Arsenal’s exclusive production of white phosphorus weapons.

Following the White Phosphorus Trail

A Bloodstained Wall Full of Flechettes

(Originally posted on Livewire)

Monday January 26: The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza has captured much of the world’s media interest. However, the Israeli forces also used a variety of other weapons against civilian residential built-up areas throughout the Gaza Strip in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.

Among these are flechettes – tiny metal darts (4cm long, sharply pointed at the front and with four fins at the rear) that are packed into120mm shells. These shells, generally fired from tanks, explode in the air and scatter some 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes in a conical pattern over an area around 300 metres wide and 100 metres long.

Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.

The Israeli Army has used flechettes in Gaza periodically for several years. In most reported cases, their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured. The last reported case was in April 2008, when Israeli soldiers fired a flechette shell at Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana while he was filming in Gaza, killing him.

He was filming the tank at the time and caught its firing of the flechette shell on camera in the split second before he was killed. Other civilians, including children, were killed and injured by the same flechette shell.

The Israeli Army said later that it had investigated the incident and concluded that its troops’ actions were justified – although the film footage of the incident showed clearly shows that Fadel Shana and others who were killed and injured were posing no threat to the soldiers in the tank when they fired the flechette shell, or to anyone else.

We first heard about the use of flechettes in the conflict that began on 27 December some 10 days ago. The father of one of the victims showed us a flechette that had been taken out of his son’s body.

Then, when we went to a Bedouin village in north Gaza, we saw several flechettes embedded in the walls of houses and residents told us that the street had been littered with them after the attack. Today, we found more hard evidence of their use in two other villages.

In ‘Izbat Beit Hanoun, to the south-west of the town of Beit Hanoun, several flechette shells were fired into the main road, killing two people and injuring several others on the morning of 5 January. Wafa’ Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was one of those killed.

Her husband and her mother-in-law told us that the family had just had breakfast and were outside the house drinking tea in the sun. Wafa’ and her husband were standing by the corner of the house when they heard a noise, followed by screams.

They turned to go back into their house, but, at that moment, Wafa’ and several other members of the family were hit by flechettes. Wafa’ was killed outright. Her two-year-old son, who was in the house, was struck by a flechette which became embedded in his right knee.

Wafa’s husband, Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad, and his father were both injured in the back and other parts of the body. One of the flechettes that hit Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad is still lodged in his back, close to his spinal cord. It was clearly visible in an X-ray that he showed to us. Doctors have not attempted to remove it as they fear that he could be left paralyzed.

At the other end of the same street, we visited the house of 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd-al-Dayem, who was hit on the same day by a flechette that struck him in the neck. He was taken to the hospital’s ICU (intensive care unit) but died three days later.

Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back. We found flechettes embedded in the walls of these and several other houses nearby – the tiny darts explode out of their shell with such force that sometimes only the fins at the back are left sticking out when they become embedded in walls.

In the village of al-Mughraqa, a few kilometres south of Gaza City, dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombardments and shelling. Most residents of the area fled from their homes when the Israeli ground incursion began on 3 January. But some did not, with tragic consequences.

They included Atta Hassan Aref Azzam, who feared that if he left his home it would be destroyed. He decided to stay. He and his family remained inside their house because there was frequent shelling and shooting in the area, only going out to fetch water.

At 8.30 am on 7 January, a shell struck the room in which Atta Azzam was sitting with two of his children, Mohammed, aged 13, and Hassan, aged two and a half, killing all three of them. The six other members of the family who were in the house fled to the nearest school for shelter. When we examined the bloodstained wall by which the three were killed, we saw that it was full of flechettes.

– Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London