March 25, 2009

Will Israel be Brought to Book?

Filed under: interview,media release,Uncategorized — newritings @ 2:59 pm

Follow up on the T-shirt story I think the piece in The Guardian talks of growing evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, in an article by Seumas Milne, 23 March 2009. The journalist writes of Clancy Chassay’s three films which is investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip. Milne says the” films provide compelling testimony of Israel ‘s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.”

Importantly, he points out that now that journalists and civil society organisations, human rights NGOs are allowed back into Gaza “doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.” The article is very informative and I will quote it at length:
“They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent”, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for [8] an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza . In the case of Israel , the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.

Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently [9], any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment [10] now faced by Sudan ‘s leaders over Darfur . Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel ‘s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza , the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?


  1. A story in the New York Time last week, March 22, 2009, casts the issue as a “religious war” within the IDF.

    Several days later, March 26th, 2009, National Public Radio ran a follow up story (transcript and URL available below), providing more detail on the Maariv and Haaretz reports.

    Middle East Israeli Soldiers Affirm Palestinians’ Accusations

    (Because of intense interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, NPR makes available free transcripts of its coverage. View related web coverage or listen to the audio for this story.)
    Morning Edition: March 26, 2009
    We turn now to the Middle East, where Israel and Hamas militants recently battled in the Gaza Strip. There were eyewitness accounts on NPR and other media outlets of heavy civilian casualties and of the Israeli army destroying neighborhoods. The army says it’s investigating, even as some Israeli soldiers are coming forward with their own accounts of what they describe as needless civilian deaths and highly permissive rules of engagement. Some soldiers say they were encouraged by military rabbis to see the operation as a kind of holy war. NPR’s Eric Westervelt reports.

    ERIC WESTERVELT: Accounts in the Israeli media make it clear some Israel Defense Force field commanders did not see Gaza civilians on the battlefield as a priority. This is from a report on Israel’s TV Channel 10 of an Israeli officer briefing his soldiers right before they enter the Gaza fight.

    Unidentified Man: (Through translator) If we are suspicious of a building, we take down the building. If there is someone suspicious in a house, we shell the house. If a person is walking towards us unarmed and continues to walk even though we fire in the air, this person is dead. No indecision. The mistakes should be with their lives, not ours.

    WESTERVELT: The Israeli newspaper’s Maariv and Haaretz published transcripts of interviews with soldiers who fought in Gaza, conversations that were leaked to the papers by the director of an institute that prepares soldiers for military service. One account has a sniper shooting an elderly Palestinian woman. In another, a Palestinian woman and her two children were told by the army to flee their house and go right. They misunderstood and went left. An Israeli sniper shot and killed all three.

    Mr. YEHUDA SHAUL (Israeli Army Veteran): You get a sense at this time some people and some high commanders felt that this time they can really, you know, cross lines that before weren’t crossed.

    WESTERVELT: Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli army veteran, has interviewed more than 20 soldiers who fought in the recent Gaza war. He’s director of a veteran’s group called Breaking the Silence. Shaul says testimony he has taken is remarkably similar to what was recently leaked to the Hebrew papers.

    Mr. SHAUL: Some soldiers from some units who led this operation in the front, basically when they received the briefing, it was – guys, we’re entering in, everything that moves, everything that is a threat, everything you are afraid of, you shoot.

    WESTERVELT: Shaul says some of the soldiers he’s interviewed also say they destroyed civilian property and homes, actions that seemed to have little or no tactical purpose or necessity. Some soldiers, he says, called it gratuitous and stupid.

    Soldiers interviewed by the Military Institute and Breaking the Silence also allege the army’s chief rabbi used an inflammatory religious and nationalist rhetoric to encourage soldiers to see the Gaza attack as a sacred fight to expel non-Jews from Jewish land.

    The rabbi’s office passed out booklets during the war that among other things urged soldiers not to show mercy to the enemy. The army’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronsky, is from Itamar, a West Banks settlement with a history of right-wing activism. Former soldier Yehuda Shaul says the picture that emerges is of a chief military rabbi promoting the fight in Gaza as a holy war.

    Mr. SHAUL: It’s more than a holy war. You know, there was testimony of one of the guys who came to us – he’s a religious reservist who, you know, there’s a rabbi who approached him; he spoke in the terms of the forces of light against the forces of darkness, a very religious and messianic language, you know. Of course it’s disturbing.

    WESTERVELT: The Israeli army says some in the chief rabbi’s office have been reprimanded for the booklets. Overall the army calls the misconduct allegations anecdotal and uncorroborated.

    Major AVITAL LEIBOVICH (Israeli Army Spokeswoman): As far as we’re concerned, these are hearsay unless our investigation will prove otherwise.

    WESTERVELT: Israeli Army spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich says operation Cast Lead, as the army called it, was a complex attack in a packed urban area where the enemy, Hamas, hid among civilians. She argues the Israeli army took extraordinary steps to try to warn Gaza civilians to stay out of harm’s way, even if it meant relinquishing the element of surprise.

    Major LEIBOVICH: Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, nearly a million phone calls were made to different homes, and you know, when you call a person and you tell him that in the next 48 hours you will be reaching his neighborhood, then you are actually giving away your plans. Show me another army that makes so many phone calls.

    Mr. FRED ABRAHAMS (Human Rights Watch): What good is a warning when people cannot leave the combat zone? People in Gaza had no place to go.

    WESTERVELT: That’s Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch. A report out today by the group alleges the Israeli army illegally and recklessly fired white phosphorus artillery shells over civilian areas of Gaza, killing and wounding non-combatants.

    Mr. ABRAHAMS: For us the evidence points to war crimes.

    WESTERVELT: Army spokeswoman Leibovich vehemently denies the charges by Human Rights Watch, but says the army is conducting an internal probe into the use of white phosphorus.

    Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

    Comment by shenid — March 27, 2009 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  2. What an intenses chess movements we’re gonna to see in the next months…in the MidEast chessboard!! the players are moving, and it looks as if the rules could be homogenic for all the involved, but Israel doesn’t wanna choose black or white, they choose as Sinatra sang, “My way”. Israelian society doesn’t have the chance to choose between different political options…it is war or war. And the situation nowadays has worsened as we never had imagined before. Liebernman and Netanyahu are in the governement, and the most affected by the “irruption” of this couple of hawks, choosen democratically don’t forget about it, is Israelian civil society and mainly the Palestinian and the rest of the MidEast society. I don’t know which are gonna be the policies of the Obama administration, mainly knowing the Clinton and Emmanuel’s CV, but the multipolar order that’s growing up could mean a little hope for those who believe in a better world.
    In my opinion Palestinian strategy must change, but the main prerequisite would be the aid of all the muslim governments whether shiite or sunnite. Hamás and Al-Fatah must get on well each other, that’s the first step and I’m sure civil society prays for the deal. Have you listened Lieberman’s opinion on the Annapolis Agreements? He refuses’em… I know they’re not the panacea, neither Camp David or Oslo ones, but this isn’t the way things are gonna improve…and who’s gonna suffer the most? stupid questions, simple answers.
    Best Regards, family!

    Comment by Hernán Cortés — April 2, 2009 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

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