The humanitarian crisis in Gaza also demands this body’s attention. Israel has kept Gaza mostly closed for the last decade—its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza affect nearly every aspect of everyday life, separating families, restricting access to medical care, electricity, water and educational and economic opportunities and perpetuating unemployment and poverty. As of last year, Gaza’s GDP per capita was 23 percent lower than in 1994. Seventy percent of Gaza’s 1.9 million population rely on humanitarian assistance. The international community should insist that Israel permit the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza, subject to, at most, individualized security screenings and physical inspection.
Source: Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/19/urgent-need-action-settlements-gaza
In June 2007, following an internal conflict between Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip that lasted for several weeks, Hamas took control of the security apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority in the area. Following this, Israel closed its border crossings with the Gaza Strip and tightened its control over the area, making movement in and out of Gaza, whether of people or of goods, virtually impossible. On 19 September 2007, the Israeli security cabinet classified the Gaza Strip as a “hostile entity.” Israel maintains that this decision enables it to take various punitive measures against residents of Gaza in response to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel, including restricting the supply of electricity and fuel to Gaza. The siege affects not only the land crossings, but also access to the sea, which is under total Israeli control. It has destroyed Gaza’s economy and has increased the severe poverty there, as will be described below.
On 20 June 2010, after international pressure was placed on Israel in the wake of its action in taking control of the Turkish flotilla to Gaza, the security cabinet decided to ease the siege by enlarging the list of goods allowed into Gaza, by expanding operations at the crossings, by permitting the import of building materials for public projects and for residential construction under international supervision, and by making its policy on entry and exit of persons for humanitarian and medical purposes more efficient.
The new policy included replacing the list of products permitted into Gaza at the time with “a limited list of prohibited articles, intended to prevent only the entry of weapons and items that might aid Hamas’ terrorist regime in harming Israeli civilians.” On 6 July 2010, Israel published two lists. One list details items whose import into Gaza is forbidden without a specific permit, such as weapons and chemical materials that might be used to make weapons, along with dual-use materials, i.e. items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. The second list contains items necessary for construction work, “whose entry is permitted only for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority and carried out by the international community.” This ended Israel’s three-year-old prohibition on the import of many consumables. The government’s decision does not mention allowing exports from the Gaza Strip.
On 8 December 2010, the government announced a further easing of the siege by allowing agricultural, furniture, and textile exports.
On 2 June 2010, Egypt opened Rafah crossing, on its border with Gaza. At present, it permits the crossing of persons in humanitarian and medical cases, as well as students, foreign residents, and Palestinians wanting to visit relatives abroad.
The three years of the siege caused a grave economic crisis in Gaza, and the extensive damage caused to houses and infrastructure in the course of Operation Cast Lead aggravated the situation. The repercussions include lack of food security among much of the population, high unemployment rates, limited possibilities for earning a living in agriculture, fishing and industry, and harm to the entire fabric of life. According to a survey conducted by the International Red Cross, in May 2008, 70 percent of Gazans were living in poverty, with a monthly income for a 7-9 person family of less than $250 (one dollar a day per person), and 40 percent of urban dwellers were living in deep poverty (a monthly income of less than $120, a half a dollar a day per person). The Red Cross’s figures also showed that, in 2009, 75 percent of the residents, more than 1.1 million persons, lacked food security, compared with 56 percent in 2008, and that dependence of the entire population on external aid was 5 percent higher than before the siege, and stood at 26 percent. According to figures of the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, in the first quarter of 2010, 33.9 percent of the work force in the Gaza Strip were unemployed, and more than 50 percent of Gazans under age 30 were unemployed.
The decision to ease the siege is welcome, but it is only a small step in the right direction. The entry of more consumables eases the conditions of daily life in Gaza, but does not enable rebuilding of its economy. The severe restrictions on exports still in place leave Gaza isolated, making real economic development impossible.
In October 2007, Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, including B'Tselem, petitioned Israel’s High Court against the state’s cut in electricity and fuel supply to Gaza. The petitioners argued that the cut would cause extensive humanitarian harm, even to the point of endangering human life. In late 2008, the court denied the petition. The court accepted the state’s argument that some of the fuel supplied by Israel is used by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip for various purposes, and that reducing supply would therefore curb terrorist activity. The court also accepted the state’s argument that the basic humanitarian needs of Gazan residents would not be harmed by the cut.
Since then, Israel has allowed into Gaza only 63 percent or less of the amount of industrial fuel needed to operate the power plant there. For four months, as of November 2008, Israel allowed no such fuel to enter Gaza at all. The industrial fuel is intended solely for the power plant and is funded by the European Union. In addition, Israel has reduced the quantities of gasoline, diesel fuel, and cooking gas entering the Gaza Strip.
The fuel shortage directly reduces the generation of electricity in Gaza and impairs the water and sewage systems, which require fuel to operate the pumps. Israel’s continued prohibition on import of spare parts for the electricity system causes additional malfunctions and deficiencies.
Another factor limiting power supply in Gaza is the disagreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government over the responsibility for paying for the industrial fuel to operate the power station. The disagreement has further reduced the amount of fuel provided to Gaza: this summer (2010), less than one-third of the amount needed to operate the station on full capacity was supplied. As a result, the station closed down operations for five days in June and for two days in August. All residents of Gaza, except for those in Rafah, who receive their electricity directly from Egypt, suffered power outages of 8-12 hours a day. On 25 August, more than half a million liters of industrial fuel entered Gaza, enabling two turbines to operate. Consequently, the power outages dropped to 4-6 hours a day.
Almost 95 percent of the water pumped in the Gaza Strip is polluted and unfit for drinking. This warning was recently issued by the UN Environment Program, the Palestinian Water Authority, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, and international aid organizations. They estimate that it will take at least 20 years to rehabilitate Gaza’s underground water system, and that any delay will lead to further deterioration, prolonging the rehabilitation process for hundreds of years.
The water crisis in the Gaza Strip results from over-pumping of the underground water of the Coastal Aquifer, which causes salt water to enter the aquifer. The excessive pumping, which has been in practice for several decades, did not stop after Israel retreated from the Gaza Strip, continuing under the Palestinian Authority and now under the Hamas government. The underground water has further been polluted by the deterioration in maintenance of the wastewater-treatment facilities since the siege on Gaza began, exacerbated by the damage done to the wastewater-treatment facility in Gaza City during Operation Cast Lead.
Due to the poor quality of water, many Gazans have no choice but to buy water treated in facilities operated by local entrepreneurs or to use household water-treatment devices. No agency supervises the quality of water treated by these facilities or devices, and they cannot function consistently due to lack of spare parts and the frequent power shortages
Purifying water from pollutants such as nitrates and chlorides is very expensive. Consequently, a cubic meter of treated water can cost up to 50 shekels, ten times higher than the price of a cubic meter for households in Israel. Many Gazans cannot afford this expense.
According to UN figures, during the first two years of the siege, an average of 112 containers (a entered the Gaza Strip each day from Israel, compared with a daily average of 583 containers prior to the siege (a container is a truck hauling one freight compartment). In May 2010, one month before Israel declared an easing of the siege, the daily average was 90 trucks. Immediately after the decision, the number rose to 150. According to the official estimate, by mid-2011, the number will reach 400. Despite the improvement, this is still 30 percent lower than the daily number of trucks that entered Gaza prior to the siege and does not fully meet the population’s needs. Also, it appears that the improvement is not steady: B'Tselem’s investigation indicates that, whereas in October 2010, 139 trucks entered daily on average, the number dropped to 98 in November.
The siege policy has led in recent years to the development of a tunnel-based economy between the southern Gaza Strip and Egyptian Rafah. A variety of goods have been brought into Gaza through the tunnels. Their operation is controlled by Hamas, which collects taxes from the operators. In addition to consumer goods, Palestinians also smuggle weapons through the tunnels, including rockets. Following the expansion of tunnel activity, it was reported in 2008 that various products were once again available in Gazan markets, and that prices had fallen somewhat due to increased supply. Nevertheless, smuggling goods cannot replace a stable local economy. Following the decision to ease the siege, the activity in the tunnels dropped substantially.
In addition to the restrictions on imports, Israel has also prevented almost all exports from the Gaza Strip. Prior to the siege, more than 1,000 containers a month, on average, were exported, compared to a total of 259 containers during the entire three years of the siege. The government’s June 2010 decision easing the restrictions did not relate to exports. However, on 8 December 2010, the government announced a further easing of restrictions, following some exports of flowers and strawberries that it had enabled shortly before. The new rules allow up to 10 truckloads of exports a day. This number represents less than 30 percent of pre-2007 exports from Gaza. Also, only specific kinds of products may be exported.
The severe restrictions on exports have severely reduced the income of farmers, who previously exported their produce and now must sell at a loss in the local market, and workshops and factories have had to close because they are prevented from marketing their goods abroad.
The shortage in basic imports and the severe restrictions on exports have brought the Gazan economy to a state of collapse. Ninety percent of factories and industrial workshops have closed, and the rest have had to scale back operations. After Operation Cast Lead, the International Red Cross reported that 3,750 businesses had closed and that approximately 40,000 persons (some 94 percent of workers in these businesses) had lost their jobs.
The decision to ease the siege does not include wholesale entry of raw materials for manufacturing, and therefore does not enable rebuilding of the local industry in the strip. With the renewed flow of goods arriving from Israel, the industrial sector suffered another blow, as it cannot compete with the imported goods. Especially hit was the beverage industry: in addition to the shortage of raw materials, it now faces competition from juices and carbonated beverages imported from Israel.
Since the beginning of the siege, in 2007, Israel has prohibited the entry of many basic foodstuffs into the strip, according to a list that changes from time to time. The ease in restrictions announced in July 2010 applies mostly to household goods. Therefore, Gazan markets now offer a much greater variety of products, yet these are unattainable for many families due to the high poverty rate.
Israel permits Gazan fishermen to reach only up to a certain distance from the shoreline. As part of the siege, it has reduced this distance from twelve nautical miles to a mere three, denying fishermen access to the richest fishing areas. This restriction impairs the ability of thousands of persons who depend on the fishing industry to gain a livelihood, as well as denying Gazans a vital food source.
In addition, in May 2009, the army expanded the no-go zone along the Israel-Gaza border that Palestinians cannot enter. The zone was set at 150 meters after Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and is now more than 300 meters wide. This causes further harm to Gazan farmers, who comprise about a quarter of the strip’s population, as some 35 percent of the strip’s farming land is located in areas close to the border.
Gaza's history can be traced from ancient Egypt through to the Ottoman Empire. Beginning in 1920, it was part of the British-ruled Mandate of Palestine. In 1948, Egypt gained control of Gaza during the Arab-Israeli war -- the same war that ultimately led to Israel's independence as a nation. During the six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Israel took control of Gaza and the West Bank. In 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed agreements that led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of Gaza in 1994. Ten years later, following numerous failed peace efforts, [i] it was former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, a controversial move intended to reduce friction with Palestinians and stem international criticism of Israel for occupying the territory. [ii]
On September 11, 2005, the disengagement was complete. As CNN reported, "The Israeli flag has been lowered over Gaza, symbolizing the end of 38 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory two weeks ahead of schedule."But Palestinian leaders say that despite the symbolism, the disengagement did not end the occupation.
Israel has "besieged Gaza," Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Sunday. "They control the territorial waters, the airspace, the land crossing points and they gave themselves overriding security consideration or powers." [iii]
The following year, Hamas won parliamentary elections by a landslide. Then in 2007, after quarreling with its secular rivals in Fatah, Hamas violently ousted them, estranging Gaza from the West Bank. The Palestinian house remains divided today, as reconciliation efforts flounder. [iv]
Counter Punch, July 17, 2014
The Palestinians of Gaza are guilty of that new post-Cold War misdemeanor: voting while Muslim. The punishment for this crime has been eight years of economic hardship, international isolation, and periodic Israeli bombardments.
Like the Algerians in 1990 and the Egyptians in 2012, Gazans went to the polls in 2006 and voted for the wrong party. Rather than supporting the secular choice, they cast their ballots for Hamas. Not all Palestinians are Muslim (6 percent or so are Christian). But by opting for the Islamic Resistance Movement—Hamas, for short—Gazans had effectively nullified their own ballots.
It didn’t matter that the EU and other institutions declared the elections free and fair. The results were what mattered, and Israel’s judgment carried the day. Even though the newly elected government extended an olive branch to both Israel and the United States, the Israeli government didn’t consider Hamas a legitimate political actor.
“Israel stated that Hamas were terrorists and Western leaders did not challenge this line,” writes Cata Charrett in an excellent piece at Mondoweiss. “On the contrary, they refused to meet diplomatically with Hamas leaders, they cut off all possible financing to the newly elected government, and they supported Israel’s complete sanction and seizure of Gazan territory.” A direct peace overture to President George W. Bush offering a long-term truce went unanswered.
Voting while Christian or voting while Jewish has not led to similar results. Christian Democrats have won elections in Europe without generating boycotts or warnings about an imminent descent into clerical autocracy. The ultra-religious Shas party has participated in ruling coalitions in Israel without incurring the wrath of the international community.
But Hamas, its critics insist, is different because it is fundamentally anti-democratic. Ditto the Muslim Brotherhood. Even Turkey’s Justice and Development Party and Tunisia’s Ennahda are suspect, according to those who hold to the dictum that Islam and democracy are fundamentally incompatible.
The fear of Islamic fundamentalism taking over the Middle East through the ballot box began in 1990 when the Islamic Salvation Front won 55 percent of the vote in local elections in Algeria. The following year, with the Front poised to win the national elections, the Algerian government banned the party and jailed its leaders, precipitating a civil war that left more than 100,000 people dead. At the time, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Djerejian declared that the U.S. government opposed what it called “one person, one vote, one time.” Washington worried about the possibility that Islamist parties would use democratic means to rise to power and then kick away the democratic ladder beneath them.
This prospective outcome prompted the United States to continue supporting its traditionally authoritarian allies in the region. The Arab Spring offered some hope that the United States had changed this policy, with the Obama administration withdrawing its support, albeit reluctantly, from Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak just before he stepped down in early 2011. But the older preference for status-quo strongmen has reasserted itself, as Washington has looked the other way at Nouri al-Maliki’s obvious faults in Iraq, continued to support the royal elite in Bahrain, and quickly moved to embrace coup leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Egypt.
Let me be clear: I wouldn’t vote for Hamas. And I would rather that the party clearly recognized the right of Israel to exist (just as I would prefer the Republican Party to recognize the right of gay marriage to exist).
But my preferences are beside the point. Hamas represents a large constituency. Many Gazans voted for the party because they were disgusted with the corruption of the secular Fatah movement and were impressed with the social service system Hamas had created. Like other resistance movements—the African National Congress, the Irish Republican Army—Hamas was on its way toward becoming a political party. If such a party takes power only to behave undemocratically—as the Muslim Brotherhood arguably did in Egypt—that’s a different question. But if you claim to respect democracy, you must recognize the results of free and fair elections. And if you want a party to change its position—and it’s willing to talk—you have to sit down at the table and negotiate with it.
But Israel—and by extension the United States—didn’t choose this option. As a result, a border conflict has raged ever since, with two particularly severe flare-ups in 2008-9 and 2012.
Last month, Hamas and Fatah set aside their own substantial grievances and forged a unity agreement on administering both Gaza and the West Bank. Here was a perfect opportunity for Israel to move forward with a new deal. In reality, however, this was a signal for Israel to go on the offensive. It just needed an excuse. When Gazan militants linked to the Islamic State(formerly ISIS), but not Hamas, kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu had his excuse.
Israel’s latest bombing campaign has already left nearly 200 Palestinians dead. Roughly 70 percent are civilians; more than 30 of the victims are children. Israeli bombs have fallen on houses, apartment buildings, a disability center, a café. Foreigners have even volunteered to be human shields at a hospital that has already been struck twice. The Israeli Defense Forces maintain that they warn residents of a building beforehand of a strike, but this practice is inconsistent.
Some Israelis refer to their periodic shelling of the Palestinian territory as “mowing the lawn.” It is a disturbing metaphor because it is so indiscriminate. They don’t talk about “weeding the garden” or “pruning the trees.” A lawnmower cuts down everything in its path—grass, weeds, wildflowers. Also, a lawn needs constant mowing, suggesting that Israel plans to conduct bombing campaigns on a seasonal basis.
But Netanyahu may well see an opportunity to eliminate Hamas altogether. The organizationno longer can count on support from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Syria’s Assad. Ties with Iran were also strained by the support Hamas provided to rebels fighting in Syria. Nor can the territory rely on supplies coming in through tunnels from the Sinai. Those to the right of Netanyahu—unbelievably, the Israeli political spectrum has such ultraviolent frequencies—are reportedly pressing the government to launch a ground offensive. Mowing the lawn would then quickly become a scorched earth policy.
It’s not a fair fight. The casualty rates are grotesquely asymmetrical. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has reduced the number of casualties on the Israeli side to a single death so far. Gazans have fled by the thousands to the southern part of the territory while Israelis have set up plastic chairs on a mountain overlook to watch the bombs explode in Gaza as if they were fireworks.
In this way, Israel has entered the same murky moral territory that the United States entered during the conflicts in Kosovo and Libya. It is currently waging effectively risk-free warfare. Governments that don’t have to deal with public response to the deaths of either soldiers or civilians are freed of the conventional political calculus involved in prosecuting a war. Such a government may also be less willing to compromise, for there is no significant counterweight to military action, at least when it comes to aerial attacks.
So far, however, it’s been Hamas that has rejected the latest ceasefire, brokered by Egypt. Hamas has its reasons. It wants the release of its members who were rearrested in June after being set free in a deal in 2011. And it wants an end to the blockade that has turned Gaza into a virtual prison for its inhabitants. But Egypt’s deal didn’t reflect any of these concerns.
The major players continue to violate the most fundamental rule of conflict resolution: taking into consideration the underlying interests of all parties to the conflict. The problem goes back at least to 2006, when Hamas won an election that Israel and the United States failed to recognize.
Netanyahu still believes that he can bomb Gazans into changing their underlying interests. The real question is: how long will the Obama administration persist in supporting this delusion? [v]
The following lists the consecutive attacks on the Gaza strip:
“The education sector was already overstretched prior to the crisis, suffering from a shortage of almost 200 schools, with classes running in double shifts… When schools open, children will face even more acute over-crowding and under-resourcing as a result of the collateral damage suffered.
“Additionally, with hundreds of thousands of children in need of psychosocial support (PSS), teachers and educational staff (many of whom have also experienced acute trauma) will be stretched to provide the appropriate support required to ease children back in to school and to provide ongoing support throughout the school year.”
“Hostilities forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands, and resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza's 17,000 hectares [42,00 acres] of croplands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats. Access to the sea was also prohibited for most of the 50 days of hostilities; restrictions have been restored to the six nautical mile limit, but there have been reports of shooting at, and detaining, fishermen in recent days, reportedly for exceeding this limit.
“These losses come on top of an already fragile economy and livelihoods. Around 66 per cent of the population of Gaza was receiving food assistance prior to the crisis and the household food insecurity level or vulnerable to food insecure stood at 72 per cent of households.”
“In addition to shelter solutions, the main priority for humanitarian agencies continues to be the repair and reconstruction and the restoration of essential services to affected communities, which effectively means the entire population of the Gaza Strip. However, this will not be possible without a more permanent agreement that will allow for the entry of the materials needed to re-build homes, schools and hospitals, to repair roads, electricity lines and water and sanitation networks and bring about transformational change in Gaza."
Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented evidence of widespread violations of the laws of war committed by the Israeli military during “Operation Protective Edge,” including:
“It is inevitable that the repeated use of artillery in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods will lead to the unlawful killing and injury of civilians and destruction and damage to civilian buildings, regardless of the intended target. Israeli forces have used such reckless tactics before, including in Operation ‘Cast Lead’ in 2008/9, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians.”
“The targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law, unless the homes are being used for military purposes. Attacks against military objectives must offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances, and precautions must be taken to protect civilian lives… A number of incidents, along with the high number of civilian deaths, belie the claim that all necessary precautions are being taken. People – particularly the elderly, sick and those with disabilities – are not given sufficient time to scramble out of their homes. When they do manage to run out into the street, there is nowhere to hide and no way of knowing where the next shell or missile will land.”
On at least seven different occasions, the Israeli military attacked UN schools sheltering displaced civilians, killing approximately 43 people and wounding hundreds more in three of the incidents:
(See here for a more extensive list of attacks against medical facilities and workers.)
“An immediate investigation is needed into mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead.”
“‘The harrowing descriptions by ambulance drivers and other medics of the utterly impossible situation in which they have to work, with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues as they try to save lives, paint a grim reality of life in Gaza,’ said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. ‘Even more alarming is the mounting evidence that the Israeli army has targeted health facilities or professionals. Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes. They only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.’”
“Human rights organizations have expressed serious concerns regarding incidents where civilians or civilian objects have been directly hit by Israeli airstrikes, in circumstances where there was allegedly no rocket fire or armed group activity in the close vicinity. Such cases raise concerns about the targeting of civilians, in violation of the principle of distinction.”
On August 4, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled "Israeli Soldiers Shoot and Kill Fleeing Civilians,” which read in part:
“Human Rights Watch investigated eight Israeli airstrikes that were apparent violations of the laws of war before the ground offensive that began on July 17, 2014. The findings and reports of numerous new civilian casualties heightened concerns for the safety of civilians during the ground offensive.”
“The attacks Human Rights Watch investigated include a missile attack that killed four boys on a Gaza City pier and wounded three others, multiple strikes over several days on a hospital for paralyzed and elderly patients, attacks on an apparent civilian residence and media worker’s car, and four previously documented strikes. In many, if not all, of these cases, Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target. Israeli forces’ failure to direct attacks at a military target violates the laws of war. Israeli forces may also have knowingly or recklessly attacked people who were clearly civilians, such as young boys, and civilian structures, including a hospital – laws-of-war violations that are indicative of war crimes.”
“Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.”
“Damaging or destroying a power plant, even if it also served a military purpose, would be an unlawful disproportionate attack under the laws of war, causing far greater civilian harm than military gain.”
“The shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant has had an impact on the population far beyond power outages. It has drastically curtailed the pumping of water to households and the treatment of sewage, both of which require electric power. It also caused hospitals, already straining to handle the surge of war casualties, to increase their reliance on precarious generators. And it has affected the food supply because the lack of power has shut off refrigerators and forced bakeries to reduce their bread production.
“‘If there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it,’ said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. ‘Deliberately attacking the power plant would be a war crime.’”
Mounting evidence of deliberate attacks on Gaza health workers by Israeli army (August 7)
Stop US shipment of fuel to Israel's armed forces as evidence of Gaza war crimes mounts (August 4)
USA: Stop arms transfers to Israel amid growing evidence of war crimes in Gaza (July 31)
Attack on UN school in Gaza a potential war crime that must be investigated (July 30)
Israel/Gaza conflict: Questions and Answers (July 25)
Attacks on medical facilities and civilians add to war crime allegations (July 21)
Israeli authorities have proven they cannot investigate suspected violations of international humanitarian law by Israel in the Gaza Strip (September 5)
Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din: Israel is unwilling to investigate harm caused to Palestinians (September 4)
Death Foretold: The inevitable outcome of bombing homes and inhabited areas in Gaza (August 12)
Families bombed at home, Gaza, July-August 2014 (initial figures) (August 11) 10 Human Rights Organizations in an Urgent Letter to Attorney General: Concerns Regarding Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the IDF's Operations in Gaza (July 21)
Human Rights Watch Letter to US State Secretary: Suspend Providing Israel with Weapons Documented to Have Been Used to Commission War Crimes, Help UN Fact-Finding Mission into Gaza (August 11)
Gaza: Widespread Impact of Power Plant Attack Curtailed Sewage Treatment, Food and Water Supply, Hospital Operations (August 10)
Israeli Soldiers Shoot and Kill Fleeing Civilians (August 4)
Airstrike Deaths Raise Concerns on Ground Offensive: Unlawful Israeli Attacks Hit Hospital, Kill Children, Other Civilians (July 22)
Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians: Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy (July 16)
No safe place for children in Gaza (July 28)
B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories - Published: 1 Jan 2011; Updated: 18 Sep 2014
Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, the Israeli military carried out an attack on the Gaza Strip, which it called Operation Cast Lead. The magnitude of the harm to the local population was unprecedented: 1,391 Palestinians were killed, 759 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, 350 of them seriously. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was already on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.
During the operation, Palestinians fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel, with the declared purpose of striking Israeli civilians. These attacks killed three Israeli civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces, and wounded dozens. Nine soldiers were killed within the Gaza Strip, four by friendly fire. More than 100 soldiers were wounded, one critically and 20 moderately to seriously.
As an Israeli organization, B'Tselem focuses on Israel's acts and its responsibility for human rights violations. However, it should be noted that Hamas also committed serious violations of international humanitarian law during the operation. Hamas's practice of operating within Palestinian civilian communities undoubtedly affects the legality of Israel's attacks that caused civilian casualties. This, however, does not legitimize every military action during the operation, nor does it prove that Hamas bears sole responsibility for all the harm to civilians.
One and a half years after Operation Cast Lead, extensive areas in the Gaza Strip have yet to be rebuilt. In June 2010, Israel reduced somewhat the restrictions on entry of products, but construction materials are still subject to harsh restrictions and are only allowed for projects under international supervision. These restrictions prevent the rebuilding of houses that were destroyed and damaged, and more than 20,000 persons continue to live in overcrowded conditions in rented apartments, in tent camps, or with relatives. The restrictions also prevent rehabilitation of the infrastructure that was damaged: this summer, 90 percent of Gazans still suffered electricity blackouts of up to 12 hours a day. These blackouts, which result from the damage Israel caused to infrastructure when it bombed Gaza's power station in 2006 and during Operation Cast Lead, increased substantially recently following a dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority on who bears responsibility to cover the fuel costs. The transfer of half a million liters of fuel to the Gaza strip on August 25 2010 succeeded in reducing the duration of the electricity blackouts, that now last for 4-6 hours a day. The blackouts severely affect the quality of medical care provided in the Strip, due to the damage to medical devices and their limited availability. The health system is unable to function properly due to the lack of medical equipment, and seriously ill patients have difficulty receiving necessary medical treatment. The lack of infrastructure also impairs access to water and wastewater treatment: some 3,000 Palestinians in the northern section of the Gaza Strip have no access to running water, and 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage flow daily into open areas.
The extensive harm to the civilian population and the enormous damage to property do not indicate, in and of themselves, that the military breached international humanitarian law. However, investigations B'Tselem made during and after the operation, and information from many other sources, raise doubts regarding the declarations of Israeli officials that the military acted lawfully. The suspicions regarding breach of international humanitarian law relate not only to the conduct of one soldier or another, but primarily to policy. In some cases, there is a well-founded suspicion that the harm to civilians resulted from breach of the principles of distinction and proportionality, which are intended to ensure that civilians remain outside the cycle of the hostilities.
Armed Palestinian organizations breached international law by firing Qassam rockets at civilian population centers in Israel, by firing at Israel soldiers from inside residential areas, thereby endangering the lives of the residents, and by storing weapons in civilian buildings. In addition, Palestinian and international organizations documented at least 18 cases in which Hamas security forces or armed masked men apparently linked to Hamas executed without trial Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel. Thirteen of the persons executed were prisoners and detainees who escaped from the central prison, in Gaza City, after Israel bombed the prison during the operation.
Therefore, both sides are required to open an independent, credible investigation. Israel may not rely on internal operational debriefings or isolated investigations that focus on a limited number of incidents and the responsibility of relatively low-ranking commanders. Not only is an independent investigation required by law, it is necessary to meet the public's right to know what the state did in its name in the Gaza Strip.
The Military Police investigations ignore the policy that was implemented during the operation and the responsibility of the decision-makers in the political echelon. Even should indictments be filed as a result of these investigations, they will be against low-ranking soldiers or against officers involved in the actions on the ground. The persons who drew up the policy will not be held accountable for their acts.
To date, no independent investigation apparatus, empowered also to investigate the responsibility of the political and military decision-makers, has been established. According to a report by the United Nations Human Rights Council of March 2011, the Military Advocate General Corps ordered 52 Military Police investigations relating to Operation Cast Lead. B'Tselem is aware of 20 Military Police investigations of incidents in which a suspicion arose that soldiers in the field violated army regulations. Four soldiers have been prosecuted for three incidents that occurred during the operation. In the first case, a soldier was convicted of stealing a credit card and sentenced to seven and a half months' imprisonment, a conditional sentence of seven and a half months, and demotion from sergeant to private. In the second case, indictments were filed against two soldiers alleging they used a nine-year-old child as a human shield, ordering him to open suspected booby-trapped bags. The two soldiers were convicted and sentenced to a three-month suspended jail sentence and demotion in rank from staff sergeant to private. In the third case, an indictment was filed against a soldier for killing an anonymous person and conduct unbecoming a soldier. The soldier was convicted in a plea bargain of two lesser offenses: unlawful use of a weapon and inappropriate conduct. He was sentenced to 45 days in prison, a six-month suspended sentence valid for two years, and demotion to the rank of private.In three other cases, disciplinary proceedings were instituted against six officers. B'Tselem is aware of at least six cases in which the Attorney General decided not to indict the soldiers.
Therefore, to investigate the suspicions that the army acted unlawfully, Israel must conduct an independent and credible investigation outside the army framework. When the operation ended, human rights organizations, B'Tselem among them, wrote to the attorney general, demanding that he establish an independent investigatory framework for examining the military’s behavior during the operation. The attorney general refused.
The UN Human Rights Council appointed Judge Richard Goldstone to head a fact-finding mission regarding the hostilities in Gaza. The mission demanded that the sides investigate suspicions of war crimes committed during the operation and prosecute the perpetrators to the full extent of the law. Israel condemned the Goldstone commission's report, claiming it was misleading, tendentious, and biased. B'Tselem rejected these claims, though it criticized some of the report's statements and conclusions. Among other things, B'Tselem thought that the report's criticism did not reflect the severity of the breaches committed by Hamas combatants and that the claim as to Israel's primary goal in conducting the operation was not sufficiently investigated. However, B'Tselem accepted the main recommendation of the report: Israel, as well as Hamas, must investigate the suspicions that they acted in contravention of the law.
B'Tselem again demands that Israel carry out an independent and effective investigation of the army's conduct during Operation Cast Lead, and that the investigation be carried out by persons who were not involved in any way with the operation.
CHART: Chart: Palestinian Casualties by age and gender
Operation Pillar of Defense, in Hebrew it translates to Pillar of Cloud, was an eight-day Israel Defense Forces operation in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, which began on 14 November 2012 with the killing of Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Gaza military wing of Hamas.
B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, issued the following Press Release:
Published: 8 May 2013
Four times as many uninvolved Palestinian civilians were killed in the final four days of the operation as during the first four days
After several months of field research and crosschecking data, human rights organization B’Tselem published a report today (Thursday, 9 May 2013) reviewing harm to civilians in Operation Pillar of Defense. The report provides statistics on the numbers of Palestinians and Israelis killed over the course of the operation, which lasted from 14 to 21 November 2012. The report challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was “surgical” and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians. Furthermore, the report finds that there was a significant difference between the first and the final days of the operation: of the uninvolved Palestinian fatalities, 80% were killed in the last four days of the operation.
Palestinians killed in the operation (full lists of Palestinian and Israeli fatalities available here).
According to B’Tselem’s investigation, 167 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military during the operation. This number includes 62 Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and seven other who were targets of assassination. Of the remaining fatalities, 87 did not take part in the hostilities. With regard to 11 fatalities B’Tselem was unable to determine whether or not they had taken part in the hostilities.
One Palestinian woman was killed by a Palestinian rocket. A further five Palestinians were killed in two incidents under circumstances that suggest they were hit by Palestinian rockets, but B’Tselem has been unable to confirm this information.
Seven other Palestinians were shot to death on the street by Palestinians during the operation. Six of the men had been convicted by the Hamas government of collaboration with Israel. The seventh was still on trial for the same charges. All seven were incarcerated until just before they were killed.
Over the course of the operation, four Israeli civilians were killed by rockets or shells fired from the Gaza Strip. Three Israelis were killed on 15 November 2012 when a Grad rocket hit a home in the town of Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel. One was killed on 20 November 2012 by a mortar shell. In addition, two members of the Israeli security forces were killed by mortar shells – one, on 20 November 2012, and the other, who was hit on 21 November 2012, died of his wounds the following day.
Significant increase in number of fatalities in second half of operation:
A breakdown of the figures per day reveals a significant difference between the numbers of uninvolved Palestinian civilians killed in the first and second parts of the operation. Whereas 48 Palestinians were killed in the first four days of the operation, 119 Palestinians – nearly 2.5 times as many – were killed in its last four days. Moreover, during the last four days of the operation, 70 uninvolved Palestinian civilians were killed – more than four times as many as the 17 killed during the first four days.
Also significant is the difference between the number of fatalities among Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and those of Palestinians who did not. During the first four days, 1.5 as many Palestinians who took part in the hostilities (26) were killed as were Palestinians who did not. In contrast, over the last four days nearly twice as many Palestinians who did not take part in the hostilities (70) were killed as were Palestinians who did take part in the hostilities (36).
Israeli officials emphasized, both during the operation and subsequently, that the harm caused to civilians in the course of the campaign was much less extensive than that caused in Operation Cast Lead. Granted, in Operation Pillar of Defense the Israeli military adopted a stricter open-fire policy and firing was more restricted and focused, especially during the first four days. However, the unprecedented harm caused to Palestinian civilians in Operation Cast Lead cannot serve as a yardstick for determining the legality of the military’s actions during Pillar of Defense.
B’Tselem’s report raises suspicions that the military violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Breaches of two major aspects of IHL are of greatest concern: lack of effective advance notice of an impending attack and an unacceptably broad definition of what constitutes a “legitimate target”. The report analyzes nine cases in which Palestinian civilians were killed or injured by the military and which raise suspicions of IHL violations.
Israeli officials have argued that part of the harm to civilians was justified by the conduct of armed Palestinian groups, which included firing at Israel from locations adjacent to civilian homes and concealing explosives in civilian homes. Nevertheless, although the conduct of the Palestinian groups undeniably creates additional difficulties for the Israeli military, their violations of IHL cannot serve as justification for IHL violations by the Israeli military. Pronouncements made by military officials indicate that current technological capacities enable precise strikes and the gathering of reliable information as to the presence of uninvolved civilians at the target immediately prior to the attack. An explanation is in order, therefore, for the marked rise in the number of uninvolved Palestinians killed in the last four days of the operation – more than four times as many as in the first four days. Did the military change its policy and decide to carry out attacks despite the anticipated injury to uninvolved civilians? B’Tselem has received no answer to these queries.
Approximately four months ago, B’Tselem sent the IDF Spokesperson a list of 20 cases, detailing the date, time and location of each event, in which initial investigation raised suspicions of illegal conduct by the military. The military responded only regarding the nine cases detailed in the report, stating that it is aware of eight of them and noting which cases had been closed and which were still under review. No substantial information was provided regarding the allegations in each case.
Given the harsh results of the operation and the many questions that remain unanswered, the Israeli military must make the investigative process transparent, provide the rationale for each decision to close an investigation, and enable external and independent criticism of these decisions.
Death In Gaza (2004)
In the Spring of 2003, filmmaker James Miller and reporter Saira Shah, the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning duo behind the Afghanistan documentaries UNHOLY WAR and BENEATH THE VEIL, traveled to the Gaza Strip to look inside the lives of children growing up in a war-torn world of unremitting violence, death, and racial and religious hatred. During the filing, while waving a white flag of peace, James Miller was gunned down by Israeli tanks, dying instantly. - 1 hr 54 mins
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