Israel committed war crimes in Gaza: Human Rights Watch
“Unlawful attacks carried out willfully – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes.”
Human Rights Watch says Israel committed war crimes during “Operation Protective Edge,” the recent 50-day Gaza conflict.
The New York-based human rights group reached its conclusion after investing the Israeli military’s “unlawful attacks” on three Gaza schools sheltering displaced Palestinians. In a statement issued earlier today, the group said all three attacks, which killed 45 people, including 17 children, were “in violation of the laws of war.”
The statement said the two of the three attacks – in Beit Hanoun and Jabalya – “did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate.” The third attack, which took place in Rafah, was “unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate.”
“Unlawful attacks carried out willfully – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes,” said the statement.
Palestinian health officials estimate that more than 2,130 people, most of them civilians, were killed during the conflict. That includes 501 children. According the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, 70 per cent of the children killed were under 12. Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians.
Speaking on Democracy Now! in July, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, described the deaths in Gaza as “a slaughter of innocents.”
“The Israeli military carried out attacks on or near three well-marked schools where it knew hundreds of people were taking shelter, killing and wounding scores of civilians,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “Israel has offered no convincing explanation for these attacks on schools where people had gone for protection and the resulting carnage.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that it had established a “Fact-Finding Assessments Committee” to investigate “Exceptional Incidents that occurred during Operation ‘Protective Edge’.” It also announced five criminal investigations relating to the Israel Defence Forces conduct.
The investigations will target the Israeli strike on United Nations-run schools and the killing of four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach. The incidents received prominent global media coverage and widespread condemnation.
The New York Times called the Israeli officials’ announcement “an implicit acknowledgment of sensitivity to the widespread criticism, even among allies like the United States, that Israeli forces had used excessive firepower in a number of highly publicized assaults in the Palestinian territory.”
The Times reported:
The announcement, conveyed at a briefing by the Israeli military, came only two weeks after a cease-fire in the conflict, an unusually speedy response. But critics, including human rights advocates in Israel, said it remained to be seen whether the investigations would yield significant criminal indictments and punishments.
Some said the timing of the inquiries appeared to be an attempt by the Israeli government to pre-empt the impact of international investigations into allegations of possible Israeli war crimes committed in Gaza. They also pointed out that the cases, opened by Israel’s Military Advocate General Corps, included obvious episodes that had already drawn condemnation.
One such critic is B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights group that declined an invitation to be part of the investigations. On Wednesday, the organization declared that, “based on past experience,” there’s no guarantee that the military investigations “will lead to results other than a whitewash.”
In a press release issued Wednesday, B’Tselem added:
B’Tselem announced this week that it will not assist the current military investigation mechanism, which currently amounts is nothing more than a masquerade. The organization called for the establishment of an effective, transparent and impartial mechanism…
This week, B’Tselem and Yesh Din announced their joint conclusion that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to investigate harm caused to Palestinians. The two leading Israeli human rights organizations in monitoring the investigations of offenses committed by security forces against Palestinians, find that after results of hundreds of investigations lead to the inevitable conclusion that the existing investigation mechanism is marred by severe structural flaws that render it incapable of conducting professional investigations. The existing apparatus is incapable of investigating policy issues or breaches of law by senior ranking military officials, and fails to promote accountability among those responsible. The figures show that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to investigate human rights violations committed by security forces against Palestinians.
Human Rights Watch has urged the Commission of Inquiry recently appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the allegations of war crimes in Gaza, and “make recommendations for follow-up by the Security Council.” The group also urged Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to ask the International Criminal Court to extend its jurisdiction to the West Bank and Gaza to allow prosecution of serious international crimes by both the Israeli military and Hamas.