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.

Letters to the Editor about Gaza

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) received a number of letters about our recent action asking the State Department why they allowed a massive shipment of arms to Israel despite clear evidence of Israel violating international law during the recent Gaza conflict.  We thought it might be useful to publish anonymously some of these letters, along with our response, so readers could better understand why we’re promoting such an action.

I think Amnesty International also needs to determine if arms shipments to Israeli may be a response to the ongoing policy of Hamas. The policy includes provocative shelling of Israeli communities and an avowed position calling for destruction of Jewish State.

Surely a more moderate coalition of Palestinian interests would be a step toward a more stable two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

It would be a far better policy choice than random shelling of Israeli communities and incidental suicide bombings  within Israeli borders  to disrupt the peace process and give a poltical edge to hardliners within Israel.

Those who have supported the work of Amnesty International expect more even handed and less partisan posturing in this delicate situation.

As an organization that promotes the respect of internationally recognized human rights laws and principles, AIUSA believes it is critical to address violations by all parties to the conflict.  As such Amnesty International’s International Secretariat (IS), the part of Amnesty that is engaged with most of the investigative research, has repeatedly condemned both parties to the recent conflict in Gaza for violations or abuses of human rights.    For an example of an Amnesty report on Hamas, please see: “Hamas waged a deadly campaign as war devastated Gaza dated February 12, 2009“.

Since AIUSA is the U.S. section of Amnesty International, we have a special duty to ensure the U.S. government is promoting the respect of human rights when it provides arms and other military equipment to Israel and other fighting forces around the world. Amnesty’s investigative research uncovered significant evidence that Israel violated international humanitarian law during the recent conflict in Gaza, which is why we are asking Secretary Clinton to explain why and under what conditions she approved the recent delivery of tons of weapons to Israel.

What is the history of A.I. regarding the acts of terrorism against Israel for the past 60 years?

You can find statements, reports and actions on Israel/Occupied Territories here and here.

Where can I find the report about Israel’s use of white phosphorous?  This email makes it sound like it is certain that these chemicals were used: I need to see the report because the speculation has not been proven elsewhere as fact.

Our report Foreign Arms Supplies To Israel/Gaza Fueling Conflict includes evidence of the use of white phosphorous during the most recent conflict in Gaza.

I would like to know what advice Amnesty International would provide to the United States if the United States were to unilaterally reverse the Gadsden Purchase <> and return this land to Mexico, and then Mexico were to use this returned land to launch missiles, several times a day, on Phoenix and other nearby cities, and if this behavior continued for several years, and if the missiles were launched from population centers, including hospitals and elementary school yards.

California, Texas, and other southwestern states were once part of Mexico and are now part of the United States, and some people may view this as a historic wrong perpetrated by the United States against Mexico. But this would not cause right-thinking people to think that Mexican terrorist groups should be allowed to continue their murderous missile attacks against the United States.

If all this were happening, I think at some point the United States might conclude that there was no choice but to invade Mexico to stop the missiles.

So, by all means, continue to spotlight human rights abuses anywhere in the world, including those perpetrated by Israel, but a little context, please. Israel does not kill Palestinians for pleasure. With respect to Israel’s late 2008 invasion of Gaza, Israel used more care in avoiding civilian casualties than just about any other country in the world has ever done. (I challenge Amnesty International to identify any other invasion by any other country that faced similar challenges of rooting out multiple missile launch sites from population centers, and achieved any bit of this objective, with a smaller impact on non-combatants.)

The fact that civilians were killed and injured is attributable not to Israel, but to the abuse of human rights on the part of Hamas and other terrorist groups that choose to locate their missile launch sites in the most sensitive population centers.

(In contrast, Israel locates its military sites far from population centers, so that attackers can attack Israel’s military sites without fear of harming civilians. But those who attack Israel always go for maximum Israeli civilian deaths and ignore Israel’s military sites.)

By not providing any context and placing all of the blame on a party that responded to years of extreme provocation, Amnesty International is marginalizing itself among many knowledgeable, compassionate people, Jews and Gentiles alike, in the United States and around the world.

As the UN Charter enshrines, governments have a clear right and duty to defend itself and its citizens and residents.  It is in when governments fail to respect international humanitarian or human rights law that Amnesty raises concerns.  In the most recent conflict in Gaza, it was clear that in some cases the Israeli military did not take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian causalities.  Responding specifically to the example you have raised, it is quite true that Hamas has launched missiles from civilian/residential areas.  It, however, is also true that it is Hama’s modus operandi to leave the area within a minute of shooting the rocket.  Thus, when the Israeli military launched attacks on these areas two hours after Hama launched the rockets, there were only civilians in the area.

I have no problem with the arm shipments to Israel,. That is a sovereign nation protecting themselves from an outside force that keeps attacking it to “push them into the sea”.

I do have a problem with AI lack of outrage and letter writing on the genocide of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

Tons of weapons are being shipped to that govt. and an ongoing genocide is happening right now in that country every minute…A sovereign government that is killing, maiming and starving their own citizens.!!! and your organization does not show much outrage.. and doesn’t make it a AI alert..

For as long as the conflict in Sri Lanka has been going, Amnesty has been raising concerns about both parties to conflict. Outside of arms transfers to Israel and Sri Lanka, you should also be aware that Amnesty has written reports and pushed for changes on arms transfers to many other countries such as Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Will victims of Gaza tragedy ever find justice?

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.

The Guardian 'Gaza War Crimes Investigation' – 3 videos

Hermes 450 unmanned drone used by Israel.

Hermes 450 unmanned drone used by Israel.

The Guardian website posted three incredible videos March 23rd by Clancy Chassay, Christian Bennett, Sarah Brodbin, Maggie O’Kane and Mustafa Khalili.  The Guardian team conducted their own investigations into some of the charges that Israel committed war crimes during the Gaza offensive.

The first video covers the use of precision weapons, many fired by unmanned drones, to attack civilians.  Amnesty International mentioned these drones in their report ‘Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza’.  The fact that these unmanned drones are used to attack as well as surveillance is a fact usually censored by the IDF on Israeli reporters and foreign reporters based in the region.

The second video deals with allegations by both sides of human shielding.  Amnesty issued a report on how both Israel and armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, were using military tactics that endangered civilians.  Chassay also mentions the deadly campaign that Hamas undertook during the crisis to injure and kill ‘collaborators’ and political opponents which Amnesty also investigated.

The third video shows footage of attacks on medical personnel while trying to tend to wounded and attacks on hospitals and medical facilities.  Amnesty also covered this issue in the blog, LiveWire and in a report.  [Donatella Rovera, senior researcher for AI on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, posted blog entries while on the fact finding mission to southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.]

Israeli Soldier's Speak Out About 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.

World’s Top Investigators Call for Gaza Inquiry

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

The top dogs of international justice and reconciliation today called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN member states to set up a UN commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict, adding a powerful voice to extend the current insufficient investigation beyond attacks against UN facilities.

The impressive group of signatories surely knows what they are talking about: they are the world’s top investigators and judges, having worked on transitional justice issues in countries like Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leona and South Africa – among others. Signatories include Richard Goldstone, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu.

In their letter they identify a key issue of why a proper investigation is so important, and how it will ultimately help to prevent future violence:

Without setting the record straight in a credible and impartial manner, it will be difficult for those communities that have borne the heavy cost of violence to move beyond the terrible aftermath of conflict and help build a better peace.

A prompt, independent and impartial investigation would provide a public record of gross violations of international humanitarian law committed and provide recommendations on how those responsible for crimes should be held to account. We have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East.

Additionally, I want to add one point: in setting the record straight, it will be possible to assign individual responsibility for the crimes committed, as opposed to group responsibility, a further key requirement to prevent further conflict.

If anyone can explain to me why attacks against UN installations, like the UN compound in Gaza City, by Israeli forces are worth investigating, while attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in both Gaza and Southern Israel are ignored – please go ahead. And if you agree with me on the importance of this issue, support the call for full accountability.

PS: Thanks to Crisis Action for initiating this letter!

Report on Palestinian Health Care released

Lancet, a British public health journal, released yesterday a series of reports entitled Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which examine the health situation in the West Bank and Gaza. The five reports cover the status of health in the OPT, maternal and pediatric health, common diseases, health as a security issue, and a health-care system assessment for the occupied Palestinian territories and take into consideration issues such as security, the availability of resources, the various conflicts between Israel and Palestinian organizations, the blockade of Gaza, and the occupation of Israeli troops. The series was compiled as a joint effort by health scientists in the OPT, together with help from WHO, associated UN agencies, and academic institutions in the USA, UK, Norway, and France.

It makes claim that the security threats to the region originate, at least partially, in constraints imposed by Israel such as checkpoints and border closings which prevent access for patients and medics, create a shortage of medical supplies, and “affect every aspect of Palestinian life, such as the ability to travel, work, marry, study, worship, and be with family…[thereby] compromis[ing] the social determinants of health by increasing social exclusion, unemployment, and creating barriers to food, social support and transport.

The reports also discuss how the armed conflicts in the area have negative mental health impacts in children. Studies done even before the recent conflict illustrated the traumatic effects that witnessing brutally violent acts can have on children, resulting in “behavioral problems, fears, speech difficulties, anxiety, anger, sleeping difficulties, lack of concentration at school, and difficulties in completing homework. In order to solve the health crisis in the region, the series calls for a just political and economic solution, claiming that if international laws were respected and enforced, they could “protect Palestinians from insecurity

The full series can be found at registration is required).

Great animated short on blockade of Gaza

Gisha, Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, an Israeli non-profit organization, produced this powerful animated short, ‘Closed Zone’.   They tapped the talent of Yoni Goodman, the animator of the award winning animated film ‘Waltz with Bashir’:

You can also watch the short video on the making of ‘Closed Zone’.

In the meantime, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is in the Middle East committing $900 million in aid to the Palestinians.  The issue remains how the aid being purchased is to make it into the Gaza Strip to the people that need it.  Secretary Clinton urged the Israeli government to allow more aid into the strip, but stopped short of asking for full, unhindered access.  Israel, as a gesture, has agreed to let more aid in.  Over 80% of the 1.5 million depend on aid from outside sources and the 100+/day trucks being allowed in are simply not enough to deal with the incredibly dire humanitarian situation.

Hope and Change? U.S. makes $900 million pledge to Gaza

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department leaked an upcoming pledge of $900 million to reconstruct Gaza and support the Palestinian Authority.  No money will pass through Hamas but will be filtered through non-governmental organizations.  I applaud this assistance but question the effectiveness of aid without negotiations and opening the borders.
Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an Israeli citizen, wonders whether money will pass into Gaza at all:

“The next step is opening the border crossings, and that requires more than just signing a check.”

The irony, of course, is that the US is supplying aid to victims of US made weapons.  The U.S. has been trading arms with Israel while donating to Palestinian reconstruction.  In fact, the Obama administration has continued Bush’s pledge of $30 billion in military assistance to Israel over the next 10 years.   There are no investigations into whether US weapons were used in the recent conflict to harm civilians.  And given that the US refuses to speak to the governing power in Gaza,   who, then, can be held accountable?  And how?
These structural obstacles to the $900 million pledge present a challenge for the Obama administration.  Levy goes on to analyze this:

“There are structural flaws – not least, that Israelis and Palestinians cannot negotiate the core issues alone and need an outside broker and that Palestinian statehood cannot be incubated under Israeli occupation. The very structure of the peace process has become a disincentive for peace itself. There now exists an opportunity to do away with the illusion, even if the danger also exists that events may take a more violent, confrontational and bloody turn.
A different approach would require the US conducting back-to-back talks with the Israeli side and with a Palestinian (or Palestinian plus Arab states) interlocutor, in which one attempts to address the key legitimate needs and concerns of each party. It will be the role of the US and international partners to produce a proposal and implementation plan.”

That’s not to say that aid is not needed:

“Two separate Palestinian surveys have put the cost of the damage at just under $2bn.” – the BBC reports.

But maybe the problem’s too big for a check—no matter how large or generous-to fix.  Nonetheless I am cautiously optimistic about this overture from the US and I hope the US follows up by pressing Israel to open up the borders so that aid can enter without hindrance.

Co-written by Zahir Janmohamed and Ally Krupar

"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.