Israel faces mounting war crimes accusations


HUMAN RIGHTS:ISRAEL IS facing growing demands from senior United Nations officials and human rights groups for an international war crimes investigation in Gaza over allegations such as the “reckless and indiscriminate” shelling of residential areas and the use of Palestinian families as human shields by soldiers.

With the death toll above 900, pressure is increasing for an independent inquiry into specific incidents, such as the shelling of a UN school turned refugee centre where about 40 people died, as well as the question of whether the military tactics used by Israel systematically breached humanitarian law.

The UN’s senior human rights body approved a resolution yesterday condemning the Israeli offensive for “massive violations of human rights”. A senior UN source said UN humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the “highest levels”.

Some human rights activists allege that the Israeli leadership gave an order to keep military casualties low no matter what cost to civilians. That strategy has directly contributed to one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults on the Palestinian territories, they say.

John Ging, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said: “It’s about accountability [over] the issue of the appropriateness of the force used, the proportionality of the force used and the whole issue of duty of care of civilians. We don’t want to join any chorus of passing judgment but there should be an investigation of any and every incident where there are concerns there might have been violations in international law.” The Israeli military are accused of:

  • Using powerful shells in civilian areas that the army knew would cause large numbers of innocent casualties;
  • Using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs;
  • Holding Palestinian families as human shields;
  • Attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men; and
  • Killing large numbers of policeman who had no military role.

Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Security Council to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes. Two leading Israeli human rights organisations have separately written to the country’s attorney general demanding he investigate the allegations. But critics remain sceptical that any such inquiry will take place, given that Israel has previously blocked similar attempts with the backing of the US.

Amnesty International says the dropping of powerful shells on residential streets that send blast and shrapnel over a wide area constitutes “prima facie evidence of war crimes”.

“There has been reckless and disproportionate and in some cases indiscriminate use of force,” said Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty investigator in Israel. “There has been the use of weaponry that shouldn’t be used in densely populated areas because it’s known that it will cause civilian fatalities and casualties.”

“They have extremely sophisticated missiles that can be guided to a moving car and they choose to use other weapons or decide to drop a bomb on a house knowing that there were women and children inside. These are very, very clear breaches of international law.”

Israel’s most prominent human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has written to the attorney general in Jerusalem, Meni Mazuz, to press him to investigate a number of suspected crimes including how the military selects its targets and the killing of scores of policemen at a passing out parade. “Many of the targets seem not to have been legitimate military targets as specified by international humanitarian law,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem. – ( Guardian service)