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Dismissing Israel's war crimes undermines Washington's moral fabric Open in fullscreen

Said Arikat

Dismissing Israel's war crimes undermines Washington's moral fabric

Israel's war on Gaza caused chaos throughout the besieged strip [Click to enlarge]

Date of publication: 25 June, 2015

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Comment: By rejecting any suggestion that Israel may have been wrong in waging war(s) on Gaza, the United States is losing what credibility it had in the Middle East.

The long-awaited United Nations Human Rights Council report on Israel's atrocious war on Gaza last summer was finally released on Monday, to the expected Israeli and US condemnation.

The report accused both Israel and Hamas militants of committing possible war crimes in last summer's Gaza war, finding that Israeli airstrikes on residential buildings caused many civilian deaths and suggesting Israeli leaders knowingly endangered civilian lives.

The report, which took nine months to complete, concludes that both Israel and "Palestinian armed groups", including Hamas, violated international law and may have committed war crimes during fighting that claimed more than 2,251 Palestinian lives - 1,462 civilians, including 551 children - and the deaths of six Israeli civilians and 67 Israeli soldiers.

Most Israeli soldiers were killed while assaulting the Gaza neighbourhoods of Shujaeyyea, Khuzaa, Khan Younis and Rafah.

Details of the deaths

The report confirms that more than 11,000 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured - with almost 10 percent suffering permanent disabilities.

It also gives staggering detail on how the Gaza carnage was inflicted across 6,000 Israeli airstrikes, with 36,000 Israeli artillery shells and 16,000 Israeli tank shells shot.

Palestinians, meanwhile, shot 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortar shells towards Israel between July 7 and August 26.

The 183-page report was compiled by the Commission of Inquiry's investigators and their staff, who conducted hundreds of interviews with victims and witnesses, received hundreds of written submissions and obtained large amounts of data from other UN bodies.

According to the report, the investigators also consulted satellite imagery, independent military experts, government documents and statements, and evidence gathered by independent organisations.

"The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come," Mary McGowan Davis, the chair of the investigation commission, told journalists.

     The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations
- Mary McGowan Davis


"There is also ongoing fear in Israel among communities who come under regular threat," added McGowan Davis, a former New York Supreme Court Justice.

False equivalence

The commission was led by two independent experts: McGowan Davis, named chair after Canadian international law expert William Schabas was forced to resign under relentless pressure, and Senegal's Doudou Diène, a former UN special rapporteur on racism.

To placate Israel, and schmooze the United States - as with all things related to Israel's behaviour - the report almost exaggeratingly highlights the audacious notion of some quirky parity between Israel's formidable arsenal - almost exclusively supplied by the United States, including F16 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships - and Hamas' homemade rockets.

As it has become customary for all UN and international reports or comments pertaining to Israel, the report goes out of its way to note that "the threats to the security of Israel remained all too real".

It describes at length the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, as well as "Hamas' terrifying tunnels" into Israeli territory.

It describes Israel's casualties, including children killed - one during the war by rocket-fire and the three teenage settlers who were killed in the West Bank and whose deaths gave the pretext to Israel to launch its crazy war.

It highlights "Israeli children, wounded and emotionally scarred" by rockets coming from Gaza. And it charges that the firing of these rockets without guidance systems in the vague direction of civilian residential areas in Israel by "Palestinian armed groups" was a blatant violation of international law, and possibly a war crime.

But the report's most damning charges against Hamas involve "executions" of suspected collaborators by "Palestinian armed groups" - its collective term for the military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and several smaller groups.

Lack of proportionality

But despite all efforts to somehow draw sameness and parity between Israel's massive aggression with military hardware unseen in battle in the history of man thus far, with that of Gaza's hapless ragtag militia and the hopelessness of a besieged population, the truth comes out glaring to shame a world too paralysed, or numbed with apathy to stand up to the Israeli aggressor.

The report cites dozens of cases where Israel's response might not have been "proportional" to any threat perceived.

It notes that international laws of war dictate that "military action should be proportional, not to the harm suffered, but to the achievement of a legitimate military goal".

According to the report, the investigators studied 15 specific residential buildings out of the thousands that Israel shelled.

It found evidence of a military target in nine of them. In the other six, it couldn't find any evidence of a military target, raising the suspicion that these buildings were purely civilian facilities, suggesting that the attacks violated international law.

Since Israel didn't cooperate with the investigators, and didn't allow them entry to Israel or Gaza, the report urges Israel to answer the question "of what it was aiming at in each case".

Obstructing the truth

"The commission requested details from the Government of Israel on where the rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza actually landed, so as to make a more detailed assessment of the proportion of cases in which they were directed at densely populated areas in Israel," stated the report's 86th finding.

"Unfortunately, the Government of Israel did not provide a response, which made it difficult for the commission to determine the extent to which attacks were directed at the civilian population in Israel."

On the other hand, the report states that investigators had found evidence of war crimes during Israel's siege and shelling of the village of Khuzaa "between 20 July and 1 August and its massive bombardment of the southern city of Rafah after one of its soldiers was reported captured on 1 August".

The report charges Israel with using Palestinians as human shields in Khuzaa, a small farming community in east central Gaza.

It further charges that on July 23, a 17-year-old named Ahmed Abu Reda was abducted by Israeli soldiers from his family as they tried to flee the area. According to his father, the boy was kept hostage for five days, during which he was interrogated and forced to undertake "risky tasks such as opening doors, inspecting rooms, switching the lights on and off to test whether secret explosives were being connected to the light switches, open fridges and other devices that may have detonated explosions".

It concluded that "there are strong indications that elements of the IDF operation in Khuzaa may qualify as direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects and may thus amount to a war crime".

     Israel, of course, rejected the report, and dismissed it out of hand


Disregard

The report cites Israel's military "as a contributing factor for the unleashing of massive firepower on Rafah, in total disregard for its impact on the civilian population", a charge, among others, that would appear tantamount to war crimes.

Israel, of course, rejected the report, and dismissed it out of hand - as it has done throughout its history of wars against the Palestinian populations.

It seems that rarely a day passes without Israel committing some sort of a war crime against Palestinians.

With glaring mockery of even the most modest moral standards, it issued its own 277-page report, absolving itself of any wrongdoings.

And, of course, the United States stood complicit with Israel, as it not only provides Israel with the tools to commit war crimes, but it gives it empowerment, and political cover to continue committing these war crimes with impunity.

Even before the release of the UNHRC report, the United States government dismissed it. State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters last week that the US opposed even the creation of the Gaza investigation.

"There is, unfortunately, a long history of anti-Israeli bias in UN resolutions and mechanisms, including at the Human Rights Council," he said.

This stand not only spotlights America's stark hypocrisy in championing human rights, it threatens to compromise its founding moral fabric.

Said Arikat is the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem-based Palestinian al-Quds newspaper.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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