Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Demands grow for Gaza war crimes investigation.

Nothing will ever come from this. The Americans will see to that. It is, nevertheless, unusual that the UN even consider the actions currently on the table.

Israel is facing growing demands from senior UN 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 use of Palestinian families as human shields by soldiers.

With the death toll from the 17-day Israeli assault on Gaza climbing 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 the body's humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the "highest levels" to be used as seen fit.

I don't think that one can even pretend that the case could be made that Israel have sought to avoid civilian casualties in her recent conflict with the Palestinians. Indeed, the Israelis have placed the blame for civilian casualties on Hamas - for hiding amongst the civilian population - so she exonerated herself in her own mind before the indiscriminate attacks even began.

Having decided that Hamas are to blame for every civilian death has left Israel free to bomb at will, even going as far as to bomb a school housing refugees, and then claiming that gun fire was emanating from the school; only to later retract that claim.

This has been a truly disgusting spectacle. Watching a state unleash the full power of it's military might against a civilian population without an army, navy or air force.

And the attempts to place the blame for civilian casualties away from the people dropping the bombs has been cynical in the extreme.

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 must never forget that this campaign is being fought by people seeking re-election, therefore they calculated that casualties amongst their own side were to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant an indiscriminate amount of Palestinian civilians were killed.

The Israeli military are accused of:

• Using powerful shells in civilian areas which 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 in marked vehicles;

• Killing large numbers of police who had no military role.

If Barack Obama wants to restore world confidence in American leadership he would do well to begin with ending the American practice of vetoing any UN resolution which condemns Israel's behaviour.

Israel's recent behaviour, even by her own standards, has been appalling. Just imagine reading this about any other army in the world:

Israeli military actions prompted an unusual public rebuke from the International Red Cross after the army moved a Palestinian family into a building and shelled it, killing 30. The surviving children clung to the bodies of their dead mothers for four days while the army blocked rescuers from reaching the wounded.

Substitute Saddam or Ahmadinejad for the Israeli army and imagine how the US would be reacting to these undeniable atrocities.

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 hitting residential streets with shells 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."

There have been "very clear breaches of international law", but only the most naive amongst us would ever believe that anything will ever be done about it.

The Israelis operate outside of international law, knowing that nothing will ever be done about it.

American subservience to Israel guarantees that. War crimes have been committed here and we all know that they will go unpunished.

Even within Israel itself there are calls for an examination of what has taken place here.

Israel's most prominent human rights organisation, B'Tselem, has written to the attorney general in Jerusalem, Meni Mazuz, asking him to investigate 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.

The most astonishing aspect of all of this for me is how we have all become inured to it. Israel kills Palestinian policemen at a passing out parade and no-one is outraged. Imagine what would happen were that to be replicated on the streets of New York. If someone were to kill hundreds of New York's finest as they stepped up to graduate.

There would, rightly, be outrage.

And yet, in this instance, there has been almost no reaction. Because one only has to attach the word "terrorist" to any enemy to make any action one takes admissible.

These are war crimes, and they have been committed because the Israelis know nothing will ever be done about them. And, make no mistake, they have been committed with American complicity. And that same complicity will ensure that they are never punished.

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