Committee of Independent Experts on Gaza War – by Stephen Lendman
On September 21, the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact finding Committee issued its report titled, “No Safe Place,” assessing “investigat(ions) and report(s) on violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law during” Operation Cast Lead. Its members included:
— Professor John Dugard, Chairman, former UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine;
— Norwegian Judge Finn Lynghjem;
— Chilean attorney Gonzalo Boye;
— Professor Corte-Real, a forensic body damage evaluator; and
— solicitor Ms. Raelene Sharp.
On February 21, it held an initial meeting with the Arab League’s Secretary-General in Cairo, then entered Gaza the next day through the Rafah crossing. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights organized its six day visit with a wide range of persons, including Cast Lead victims, witnesses, doctors, lawyers, journalists, business people, and members of NGOs, UN agencies and Hamas.
Sites visited included hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, businesses, police stations, government buildings, UN facilities, private homes, and agricultural lands – all devastated by destruction or damage.
Three times the Committee requested Israeli cooperation, getting no response. “The Committee regrets the decision of the Government of Israel to withhold cooperation.” It also stonewalled the Goldstone Commission, as it always does to prevent independent investigations from exposing its crimes.
“Operating under internationally recognized standards, the report documents the injuries suffered and their alleged causes.” The Committee obtained firsthand evidence of great loss of life and injuries in Gaza, as well as the vast amount of destruction, mostly affecting civilians, their homes, neighborhoods, and other non-military facilities – a clear violation of international law, documented clearly in earlier articles.
Palestinian losses were immense, also documented earlier. Israel’s were minor – four civilians and ten soldiers killed (three by friendly fire), and 148 wounded. Palestinians had only “unsophisticated weapons” against the world’s fourth most powerful military, using everything (except its nuclear capability), including illegal weapons like white phosphorous.
“It was clear to the Committee that the IDF had not distinguished between civilians and civilian objects and military targets. Both the loss of life and the damage to property were disproportionate to the harm suffered by Israel or any threatened harm.” Israel was the clear aggressor in violation of international law, waging premeditated war largely against civilians. The Goldstone Commission highlighted the crime, saying:
“The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential housing was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.”
Israel willfully killed hundreds of civilians as a result of “disproportionate attacks,” including on hospitals, homes, and other civilian structures. “Repeatedly, the Israeli Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require….Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law.” Failure to do so “will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy. As a service to the hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account.”
So far, they have not. Gaza remains under siege, and world leaders are doing nothing to end it and demand justice for Israeli war crimes. Instead they support a bogus “peace process,” that’s neither a process or a way to peace. It’s the same shameless on and off 35 year charade going nowhere, unless the PA agrees to unconditional surrender, the only outcome Israel will accept.
On September 22, Haaretz report its latest wrinkle, headlined “US won’t comment on reports of (Jonathan) Pollard release deal,” saying:
Citing unnamed sources, Israeli Radio said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet might propose extending the (September 26 expiring) construction “freeze” in exchange for releasing the convicted spy. Why not when no freeze exists. Construction continues unabated. PA President Mahmoud Abbas accepts the charade as well as the Obama administration and Western media. The reported pressure on Netanyahu is bogus. He loses nothing by agreeing or perhaps negotiating an illusion of compromise.
“Pollard is regarded as a hero in Israel, but a traitor by the US government. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for passing classified documents to the Israeli government in the 1980s while working in the US Navy’s intelligence unit.”
For years, Israel asked US presidents for clemency, so far without results. If Netanyahu succeeds, he’ll gain political prestige and more popularity at home. However, On June 20, 2009, Haaretz writer Amir Oren explained that US intelligence officials “unequivocally oppose” the release, saying doing so “will undermine US security practices and complicate counterintelligence.” Then, and likely now, “The US intelligence community hasn’t altered its position. It’s unknown whether Obama will go along, given how much he yields to Israel on most everything requested.
Conclusions from the Committee’s Report
It explained that:
— as an occupying power, “Israel is obligated to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention” and other related international laws;
— “aggression” isn’t clearly defined, so it couldn’t conclude whether “Israel’s offensive constituted” it;
— “Israel’s actions could not be justified as self-defense;”
— it urged the principles of proportionality be applied to assess criminal responsibility; and
— it “could not examine” whether Israel or Hamas committed international terrorism “as (its) meaning (is) too uncertain; consequently, criminal responsibility was best measured in accordance with the rules of international humanitarian law.”
Nonetheless, the Committee found “serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Also, Fourth Geneva and its Additional Protocols were violated, especially on the issue of collective punishment, specifically prohibited at all times under all circumstances.
On issues of crimes of war and against humanity, “The Committee found that the IDF was responsible for the crime of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians….It rejected Israel’s determination of who is a civilian.” Members of Hamas’ civil government are not combatants “as claimed by Israel.” Nor are police.
“The Committee found that the IDF was responsible for the crime of killing, wounding and terrorizing civilians,” based on the numbers of dead and wounded as well as Israel’s use of banned weapons and intense bombardment for over three weeks.
“The Committee rejected Israel’s claim that it warned civilians in advance to leave.” Use of leaflets and phone calls “only served to cause confusion and panic. Incessant bombing and misleading warnings of this kind served to terrorize the population.” Where could they go with Gaza under siege, its borders closed?
The Committee called the IDF “responsible for the wanton destruction of property and that such destruction could not be justified on grounds of military necessity.” The harm done was disproportionate and illegal.
Israel committed grievous crimes of war and against humanity, whitewashing them through internal investigations and obstruction of independent ones by refusing to cooperate.
The Committee called Cast Lead so grave, “it was compelled to consider whether (genocide) had been committed. Without question in the context of 62 years of displacement and persecution and 43 years of brutal military occupation, punctuated by regular attacks, killings, targeted assassinations, arrests, torture, and other types of abuses daily.
The Committee thus concluded that Israel “committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and, possibly genocide in the course of Operation Cast Lead” alone. Responsible military and civilian officials are culpable, yet so far unpunished.
The Committee also said “there is no indication that Israel has opened an investigation into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered, and oversaw ‘Operation Cast Lead.’ “
It also found Hamas guilty of firing rockets into Israel, a defensive action in response to Israel’s attack, and minor by comparison.
Some Final Comments
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said Israel proved itself “genuinely unwilling to comply with its international legal obligation to conduct effective investigations, and appropriate prosecutions into the systematic violations of international law committed” during its offensive.
So far, only one prosecution occurred – for credit card theft, while serious war crimes have been whitewashed and ignored. As a result, responsible officials keep persecuting millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They’re no match against the world fourth most powerful military allied with collaborationist PA officials, principally Mahmoud Abbas and his appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, self-serving imperial tools.
On September 27, the Committee will present its report to the UN Human Rights Council. It will highlight Cast Lead’s seriousness. Hopefully, it will also demand those responsible be held accountable, perhaps at the International Criminal Court (ICC). That’s why it was established, though it fails to fulfill its mandate.
What better time than now to do it, then take on America for destroying Iraq and Afghanistan, and bankrolling Israeli belligerency, supplying money, weapons and munitions, both countries committing mass murder with impunity. It’s high time their day of reckoning arrived. It can’t come a moment too soon.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.