Over the last half year the United Nations and a number of NGOs have been conducting investigations into the Israeli "Operation Cast Lead" a.k.a. the Gaza War, which lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. Several reports have been published and at least one more is forthcoming, from the UN investigation committee headed by Richard Goldstone.
The focus of these reports is basically whether Israel in the course of its military operation in the Gaza Strip has committed war crimes. Though most reports also criticize Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza to some extend, the blame is mostly put on Israel for using disproportionate force and for targeting Palestinian civilians as well as fighters.
On 2 July Amnesty International published the most comprehensive report to date, titled "Israel/Gaza - Operation 'Cast Lead': 22 Days of Death and Destruction
". It suffers from a number of flaws, like neglecting the context of the war and the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza, an uncritical approach to Palestinian witnesses and sources, selective use of Israeli sources and disregard for sources which contradict the opinions of the investigators, and a disputable view of ambiguous international laws and conventions. The most obvious of its flaws will be briefly discussed here. A more extensive review of the report by us can be found at: "Gaza War: A Review of Amnesty International's Report on Operation Cast Lead
".Neglecting the context of the war and the nature of the Hamas regime
The report ignores the causes and the context of Operation Cast Lead, making Israel look as if it attacked and devastated the Gaza Strip without warning or reason. In the years before Operation Cast Lead nearly ten thousand rockets and mortar shells were fired on Israel for this purpose, all potentially lethal and aimed at civilian targets. Hamas did not extend the cease-fire and had broken it many times in the previous month. It had used the time to smuggle vast amounts of weapons into Gaza, including Katyusha rockets with a range of over 40 kilometers. It was gaining the capacity to target major Israeli population areas and has repeatedly shown the willingness to do so. Amnesty should have provided this context.
No attention is paid to the nature and the goals of the Hamas. You cannot understand the conflict if you are unaware of Hamas's goal to liberate 'all of Palestine' by force and found an Islamic state there. Article 7 of the Hamas charter
cites a Hadith calling for the killing of the Jews before the Day of Judgment will come. Hamas leader Nizar Rayan, who was killed by an Israeli air strike on January 1, called Jews a 'cursed people' who were transformed by Allah into apes and pigs and who are continually punished by Allah for their sins. Suicide terrorists and others who kill innocent Israeli civilians are hailed as martyrs by Hamas, and Palestinians are being incited against Jews and Israel. Young children are being taught that killing Jews and becoming martyrs is the highest achievable goal. Hamas celebrates the killing of Israeli civilians and aims at killing as many Jews as possible, as it openly proclaims. Hamas wants to scare all Jews away with rockets and terror attacks, and make all towns within Israel's borders ('settlements' in Hamas terminology) unlivable, as it has said repeatedly.
The report also neglects the role of Iran and the international setting. Hamas is being financed and trained by Iran and coordinates important decisions with Iran. Syria too supports Hamas and harbors its headquarters in Damascus. Israel was not merely fighting a small local movement but also a client of enemy states.Uncritical approach to Palestinian sources, selective use of Israeli sources and disregard for sources which contradict the opinions of the investigators
The report is mainly based on testimonies by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which are sometimes heart-rending. The researchers conclude from this series of incidents that Israel deliberately and consciously brought death and destruction upon the population, as a deterrent or collective punishment. Palestinian and some Israeli sources are selectively used and others ignored, even when freely available in the media and on the internet. Tragic stories of Palestinian victims are contrasted with selective quotes from Israeli soldiers and sources which put them in a malicious light. Soldiers are quoted who said they were ordered to fight aggressively and shoot first, ask questions later, and some disgusting graffiti which soldiers left behind in Palestinian homes are repeatedly cited. Many other stories and quotes from Israeli soldiers can be found on the Internet, which paint a much more diverse picture, telling about doing everything possible to avoid harming innocents. In fact 120 IDF officers had been given the task of coordinating humanitarian aid and helping Gazan civilians in need.
The Amnesty report however leaves no room for nuance and seems to put the blame on Israel beforehand. Cited official Israeli statements are immediately contradicted in harsh terms and dismissed as unreliable. On the other hand, statements made by Gazans the investigators spoke with and reports from Palestinian human rights groups are believed almost without question. However, Amnesty ignores Palestinian eye-witness accounts from the media, footage and photos on the Internet about how Hamas used the population as human shields, misused ambulances, hid weapons and explosives in houses, mosques and public buildings, and enrolled children in its struggle. It also ignores statements by Hamas fighters and leaders about its goals and strategy, for instance bragging about crushing the 'Zionist enemy' or boasting about using human shields. The report selects only those sources which support its main thesis that Israel is to blame for a large scale destruction and killing of innocents which serves no justifiable military goal. Meanwhile Amnesty seems mild in its judgment of the Hamas. While condemning Palestinian rockets because they are indiscriminate, it claims lack of evidence for Hamas deliberately using civilians as human shields.
The report shows little understanding for the difficulties in fighting a guerrilla army that is hardly visible and can be everywhere and nowhere. War in a densely populated area is characterized as a challenge for both parties, and Israel is basically blamed for starting it and picking this dangerous battlefield.
According to Amnesty International, aside from 5,000 people wounded, a total of 1,400 Palestinians were killed during Israel's operation, 900 of whom were civilians. Amnesty based its numbers mostly on Palestinian sources. In addition to about 300 children, Amnesty regards all 115 women, all 85 Palestinians over the age of 50, most of the 240 Hamas police officers killed and another 200 unarmed civilians as civilian casualties, adding up to about 900 civilian deaths. Amnesty's definition of a civilian is rather broad. For instance, police officers are part of the Hamas control apparatus in the Gaza Strip and its military infrastructure, and many were also involved in armed groups like the Al Qassam Brigades. The entire armed branch of Hamas, including the diverse security and guerrilla forces, should be considered a legitimate target in a war, as are its political control apparatus, propaganda institutions and infrastructure.
As a matter of fact Hamas censured the media for reporting about the death of Hamas fighters, so the number of reported deaths from Hamas' side may be lower than the real number of their casualties.Disputable view of ambiguous international laws and conventions
Amnesty International states that Israel neglected the rules of proportionality and distinction in international humanitarian law, and that the goals of military actions were not in proportion to the expected damage or risks of civilian deaths. Israel is also being accused of making little distinction between military and civilian targets. The first accusation is almost impossible to check in retrospect, certainly not without knowing the Israeli strategy and military considerations, which could only be determined by consulting Israeli military leaders.
By ignoring the causes of the war, the fact that Hamas is steadily building its military capacity and becoming a growing threat to Israeli civilians, and that Hamas is supported and sponsored by Iran, Amnesty showed that it disregards the Israeli position and military interests, and did not consider them in its judgment of the way the military campaign was conducted. The charge that Israel did not make a distinction between military and civilian targets is contradicted by the diverse Israeli efforts to spare civilian lives. Many more civilians would have been killed in the densely populated Gaza Strip if Israel had not made these efforts to warn civilians, to use expensive high precision weapons, to gather intelligence on Hamas targets months ahead of operation Cast Lead, and to initiate daily ceasefires.
Israel knows full well that a high number of civilian casualties rapidly increases international - and internal - pressure to prematurely end its campaign, and that its maneuver space is very limited. Israel has no choice but to weigh international opinion and support because of the constant international and media focus on its actions. The obvious military goal for Cast Lead was to strike a major blow to the Hamas, not to the civilian population of Gaza.
According to Amnesty International Israel is still occupying the Gaza Strip, because it controls the borders, airspace and territorial waters. Earlier Israeli incursions into Gaza are also cited as evidence that Israel can still be considered the occupying power. Nevertheless Amnesty in its report quotes the definition of occupied territory in the Hague Regulations, as being territory "actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised." How can Israel keep order and provide for enough food for the population, when Hamas de facto controls the area, runs its government facilities and distributes the goods?
Israel's control of most of the borders and the airspace above Gaza constitutes a (partial) siege or blockade, not an occupation. Defining the Gaza Strip as occupied by Israel enables Amnesty to condemn Israel for failing to take care for the well being of the population in the Gaza Strip, while the Strip is in fact governed by Hamas, Israel's sworn enemy.
The actual status of the Gaza Strip is unclear and is assessed variously by experts in international law. The absurd situation exists that Israel is delivering water, energy and humanitarian aid to an area governed by a hostile entity. The inhabitants of Gaza are caught in between the Hamas regime and Israel's measures to weaken and undermine it. A regime that, as a matter of fact, was chosen by the population in fairly democratic elections. Amnesty reduces this complex situation to a simple story in which Israel carries all responsibilities.Recommendations and conclusions
Among the recommendations in the report is an arms embargo against both parties until they abide by international law as perceived by Amnesty. Israel should adjust its military rules and combat instructions so that incidents like the ones described in the report can no longer happen, and both parties and the international community should put perpetrators of war crimes on trail. While Israeli military policies and practices should be evaluated carefully and criminal conduct needs to be punished, it is not the place of the international community to pass such judgment where a legitimate, sovereign and democratic state is concerned.
Amnesty International proposes requirements for Israeli battle conduct which make it close to impossible to win a war against Hamas, demanding from Israel a rigid interpretation of international law which disqualifies most Hamas targets as legitimate targets. Meanwhile recommendations regarding Hamas are not likely to have any impact, as Hamas and its sponsors already refuse to meet the international demands placed on it, such as recognizing Israel and ending terrorism, and it receives its weaponry through illegal smuggling and self fabrication.
Israel on the other hand could face diplomatic, political, economic and security repercussions from a proposed arms embargo, as its military is dependant on trade and imports, and it has other enemies in the region it needs to defend itself against, like Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
It is unfortunate that an organization as renowned as Amnesty International, which engages in defending human rights worldwide, publishes a report as biased and unfair as the one discussed here. Evidently awful things happened in Gaza, and Israeli forces did not always observe the internationally established rules of combat. The scale on which this occurred, the question of Israel's motives, and the role of Hamas are issues that have not been properly addressed by Amnesty International.Ratna Pelle and Wouter Brassť, the Netherlands
August 15, 2009
As a response to allegations made against the IDF, the Israeli government has published a paper dealing with a number of issues. See: "The Operation in Gaza - Factual and Legal Aspects
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Replies: 4 Comments
Can a war be fair and human friendly?
By David Verveer
I am rather mystified by the Goldstone UN report dealing with the latest Gaza war, not so much because the report is tainted and one sided and most certainly not impartial, as data processed in the report came from Hamas terrorists and Palestinian people who are currently under the rule by the same Hamas gang, and would endanger their lives if they would supply objective statements about Israeli actions in the Gaza territory, and also because the Israeli refused to supply their version of the happenings during the war, by claiming that the conclusions of the report were pre meditated even before Mr. Goldstone started to investigate.
My mystification deals with something totally different, namely the conclusion that Israel did not fight a fair war, and my question is, what in heavens name is a fair war, when war and warring through the ages is based on the principle of hurting, killing and destroying the enemy, in such an extend, that he will surrender and the ruling power goes to the winners.
There exist no fair war, not in Gaza, not in Afghanistan, not in Somali and Iraq or any other place on this globe, the weapons used are designed to make as many as possible victims on the enemies side, preferable killing soldiers from the other side, with impersonal weapons, who can not differentiate who is in the target area, enemies forces, innocent civilians or mistaken identification of their own forces.
Terrorist fighting, hit and run tactics specialize in fighting behind the backs of the civilian population causes victims and damage the innocents, but that is not only in Gaza, but in any battle, anywhere in the world which is based on a struggle between terrorists and regular army.
Nobody will claim that the Israeli forces never made any mistakes in judgment, were un-necessarily cruel, involved non involved civilians, as it is very hard to be objective in the middle of life endangering actions, not all boys aged 18 to 23 have sufficient will power to fight the primitive instincts for saving your self before anything else.
We all want to live, and soldiers are not anything different.
I agree with Goldstone that all wars are inhuman, especially the modern wars with mass killing computer directed weapons are crimes to humanity, but selecting the Israeli response to 8 years of bombardment of their civilian population is unfair and certainly not balanced judgment. And people who will claim the fact that Goldstone is a Jew himself, should remember that this does not make him right or wrong, his religion and tribal origin are totally irrelevant.
The people who should be judged by the Hague tribunal are the Islam powers such as Iran, Syria, Sudan and Venezuela who finance the Palestinian cause and try to create havoc in Israel but also Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Golf states. Those war mongers believe in power by causing panic and chaos, currently in the Middle East but soon all over Europe.
David Verveer, Thursday, September 17th
Why do you defend Israel in its bloody war against Palestinians in Gaza?? Yes, Hamas has launched rockets that were more political than actually military and they hardly hit anything. Israel response was disproportionate and aimed at punishing the Palestinian People. Something always concerns me.. Why do Jewish Organisations thinks that critisizing Israel is an anti-Semitic act?? Why they can never admit the crimes that the so-called The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commits against innocent civilians?? You have to have some objectivity in order to have some credibility when you defend these brutal acts.
Anthoney Hyden, Thursday, September 17th
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Jason, Tuesday, August 25th
Amnesty International has lost all credibility with decent people. It's likely they would have condemned the allies for their efforts to defeat Hitler and Imperial Japan, had they been around at the time to vomit their swill.
Howard Wolf, Sunday, August 16th
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