“No justice for war crimes victims” 2 years after Gaza war, Amnesty International says
Ben Norton, Salon, Jul 12 2016
Photo: Adel Hana/AP
Two years after Israel’s 51-day military assault “brought unprecedented death and destruction to the Gaza Strip,” Amnesty International says no one has been held accountable. Jul 8 was the second anniversary of the launch of Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, code-named Operation Protective Edge. Israel killed more than 2,250 Palestinians in the war. According to the UN, two-thirds of the Palestinians killed were civilians: 1,462 people, including more than 550 children. Amnesty echoed these findings in a new report, titled “Time to Address Impunity: Two Years After the 2014 Gaza/Israel war.” Numerous human rights organizations, including HWR, have joined AI in accusing the IOF of committing war crimes in Operation Protective Edge. In interviews with the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, veterans in the IOF “described reducing Gaza neighbourhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored.” Despite the thorough documentation of Israel’s war crimes, in the past two years, just three Israeli soldiers have been charged with criminal offenses, and not for crimes against Palestinian civilians, but rather for looting and for obstructing an investigation. Amnesty wrote:
Against the backdrop of hundreds of serious violations, including war crimes, documented by human rights groups, these charges are negligible and go nowhere near the heart of the problem.
In the war, the IOF bombed schools, medical facilities, water systems, sanitation networks, farms, businesses and the only power plant in Gaza, the rights organization noted. More than 18,000 Gazan homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, leaving approximately 100,000 Palestinians homeless. After two years, most of those who lost their homes remain homeless. Israel’s nearly decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip restricts imports of construction materials. Moreover, international donors, particularly the Gulf monarchies, have failed to live up to their pledges to fund reconstruction efforts. Amnesty continued:
Palestinian and Israeli NGOs have striven tirelessly for accountability, and rights groups have filed hundreds of complaints calling for criminal investigations. But Israel’s investigatory system is not prompt, transparent or effective.
Amnesty condemned the “fundamental conflict of interest” in the Israeli government’s ostensible investigation into the war crimes that were committed. Israel’s Military Advocate General, which oversaw legal advice to the IDF during the war, is now the key decision-maker overseeing the investigation of the IDF’s war crimes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, some criminal investigations into Israeli violation have already been closed without any charges or disciplinary proceedings. And when it does actually conducts investigations, the Israeli government frequently closes cases without providing explanatory information. Amnesty stressed in the report:
Israel’s system of military investigations lacks independence and impartiality. Effectively, it serves to shield perpetrators from prosecution and entrench impunity.
Moreover, there seems to have been little progress in this compromised investigation since the war. The last public update Israel’s Military Advocate General issued on the status of investigation was on Jun 11 2015. As an example of the “dim prospects for justice from Israeli mechanisms,” Amnesty noted that the Israeli government absolved the military of responsibility for intentionally killing Gazan boys on a beach. In one of the most highly publicized atrocities in Israel’s 51-day war, the IDF fired three missiles at four Palestinian boys from the Bakr family as they played hide-and-seek on the Gaza City beach. After the first missile was fired, the boys who survived began to run away in panic. Approximately 30 seconds later, the IOF fired another missile at the boys as they fled, hoping to kill the survivors. Israel claimed it was justified in gunning down four children because it claimed there were Palestinian armed groups nearby. International journalists staying in a nearby hotel witnessed the attack first-hand. They said it was obvious that the people on the beach were children. None of the journalists said there were Palestinian military operatives in the area. Sobhi Bakr, a relative of the boys, told Amnesty:
I cannot understand how a crime that took place in view of cameras, where the whole world saw how boys playing on the beach were massacred mercilessly, can pass like that without any criminals held to account.
In its report, Amnesty International accused both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes and other violations of international law, writing:
Neither side has held anyone to account, nor conducted genuine, independent criminal investigations.
But the destruction on the two sides is incomparable. While the IDF killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 18,000 homes, on the other side, just six Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian armed groups. Another 66 Israeli soldiers were killed. Roughly 66% of Palestinians killed by Israelis were civilians, whereas just 8% of Israelis killed by Palestinians were civilians. In other words, nearly 24,400 percent more Palestinian civilians were killed in the war. Moreover, according to the UN, at least 11,200 Palestinians were injured, including more than 3,400 children and more than 3,500 women. In opposition to these thousands of victims, just 87 Israeli civilians were injured. Another 469 Israeli soldiers were wounded. That is to say, less than 16 percent of the Israelis who were injured were civilians. Amnesty said Hamas authorities in Gaza have also failed to investigate violations of international law, including the indiscriminate firing of unguided rockets and mortars. Israel’s supporters and the Pindosi government have frequently fearmongered about rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups. Yet Palestinian militants only have access to very primitive weapon technology. In fact, MIT researcher and former Pindo government official Subrata Ghoshroy pointed out in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that just 3% of Hamas rockets actually reached populated areas in Israel, and even then they caused little damage. Amnesty also condemned Hamas authorities for failing to investigate abductions, torture and killings of Palestinians in Gaza accused of collaborating with Israel. According to the rights group, Hamas extra-judicially executed at least 23 people and tortured dozens more, accusing them of being collaborators. Former Israeli spies came out in 2014 with a statement revealing how Israel systematically blackmails Palestinians and pressures them to become informants, threatening to expose that they are homosexual or are cheating on their wife, or offering them needed medical treatment. The former spies wrote:
All kinds of personal data was stored, such that could be used to extort/blackmail the person and turn them into a collaborator.
Even if they were collaborators, Amnesty stressed that torture and extra-judicial executions are banned in armed conflict and are war crimes. In its report, AI highlighted numerous other large-scale war crimes committed by Israel. On Aug 1 2014, a day now known as Black Friday, Israel launched what Amnesty called “an unrelenting onslaught against civilians” in the southern Gazan city of Rafah. From Aug 1 to 4, the IOF massacred at least 135 civilians, including 75 children.The rights group recalled that “the hospital and nearby streets came under relentless Israeli fire throughout the day,” leading to the deaths of doctors and patients. Israeli drones also bombed Palestinian ambulances. Amnesty says of the IOF:
There is strong evidence they committed war crimes.
The rights group noted that the IOF bombarded the heavily populated Palestinian area “in attacks which were indiscriminate and disproportionate.” The Israeli government has refused to say whether it will even open criminal investigations into its Black Friday attacks on Rafah. Saleh Abu Mohsen, the father of a 17-year-old girl killed by IOF in the massacre, told Amnesty on Aug 1 2014:
Having no justice until now shows that the world works according to the logic of power. It proves that Israel is above the law. We were bombarded in our house and ran away. There was no military activity around us. It was a ceasefire. We need you to force Israel to obey the law. We need you to help us achieve justice. Nothing more.
At least 89 entire families were wiped out by the Israeli military in the 2014 war, their surnames removed from government records. The Amnesty report draws attention to another atrocity: an attack of Jul 20 2014 on the house of the Abu Jame’ family, killing 25 extended family members, all civilians. When father Tawfiq Abu Jame’ later woke up in the hospital, he learned “that virtually the entire family was dead,” including his pregnant wife, seven of his children and his mother. Only one of his children survived. Israel’s Military Advocate General announced an investigation into the attack in Dec 2014, but has provided no information about it since. Ahmad Abu Jame’, a relative and neighbour, told Amnesty:
The memory is still alive in us every day, we want to forget but we cannot, I think we are all mentally and emotionally drained now. We just want to understand why our whole family was massacred like that. We need your help so that the law can take its course and Israel is held to account for the war crimes it committed.