Tag Archives: international human rights law

Accountability for war crimes? ICC

When and how will Israel be held accountable for war crimes committed during its 51-day Operation Protective Edge in 2014?  The operation killed 2,251 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, including 299 women and 551 children. The operation also caused massive destruction to 18,000 homes and other civilian property, including hospitals and vital infrastructure.

Most of the destruction and damage has not been repaired in the past three years. Neither has any serious investigation been conducted.

Two legal NGOs in Israel — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Adalah — have been absolute bull dogs, pushing the Israeli authorities to comply with their responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL). For the past three years, they have submitted petitions, complaints, claims and every manner of documentation to press for justice for the victims of Operation Protective Edge. To no avail.

IHL and IHRL require Israel to investigate allegations of suspected violations committed during Operation Protective Edge, with independence, impartiality, effectiveness, promptness and transparency and to prosecute those allegedly responsible.

But as with its inquiries into past military operations, Israel has delayed, denied, deflected and dismissed every attempt by the United Nations and others to come clean with its actions in Operation Protective Edge.

That hasn’t stopped Israeli soldiers from talking about their experience in Operation Protective Edge.

On August 28, 2017, Al-Mezan and Adalah published their 9-page report documenting their attempts to hold Israel accountable — Gaza 3 Years On: Impunity over accountability Israel’s unwillingness to investigate violations of international law
in the Gaza Strip. No surprises here.

The cases concerned severe events that resulted in the killing and serious injury of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and the massive destruction of civilian objects. The evidence in these cases suggested that the attacks were carried out in violation of the principles of distinction and proportionality, which could amount to grave breaches of IHL. These cases mostly concerned incidents of:
 Direct attacks on homes causing many civilian deaths and injuries;
 Direct attacks on children (e.g. the four Bakr children playing on the beach and the Shuheibar children feeding pigeons on a house rooftop);
 Direct attacks on five UNRWA schools that were sheltering civilians;
 The bombing of mosques, hospitals and a shelter for people with severe disabilities;
 Attacks on civilian infrastructure and the municipality workers fixing them.

After Operation Protective Edge, Israel cynically created the Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) to improve its investigative abilities but after three years, 46.4% of the complaints filed by Adalah and Al Mezan were referred to the FFAM for examination and then closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved. 43% of the complaints remain under examination by the FFAM or received no response.

The Military Advocate General’s responses to such cases:
 Secret evidence: The materials collected by the FFAM and other intelligence materials cannot be revealed because they are classified;
 Military necessity: Certain incidents in question were undertaken based on military necessity (these arguments were written vaguely and did not include any supporting evidence);
 No non-military witnesses: The FFAM did not find any need or use in taking testimonies from non-military witnesses.

This whole exercise may seem pointless because when has Israel ever been held accountable for its violations of international law?

This time things might be different.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

The Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary investigation. (pp. 25-32) But the ICC can’t assume jurisdiction in this case if the State of Israel has an effective mechanism for investigating and prosecuting these claims. In November 2016, the Prosecutor said she would “assess information on potentially relevant national proceedings, as necessary and appropriate.”

That’s why this report from Al-Mezan and Adalah is so very important. It clearly shows that Israel is incapable and unwilling to investigate and hold itself accountable. If the Prosecutor agrees, she can recommend that the ICC take the case.

Israel needs to be held accountable, sooner rather than later. This report provides the ammunition to open the courthouse doors. Bravo Al-Mezan and Adalah!

The case of the Abu Dahrouj family provides another illustration of Israel’s unwillingness to investigate. On the night of 22 August 2014, an Israeli warplane fired two missiles at a home belonging to the Abu Dahrouj family in central Gaza. The Israeli missile strike killed five members of the Abu Dahrouj family, including two children, and wounded multiple civilians and caused extensive damage to neighboring homes. Although [Israel] acknowledged that the missile attack was carried out directly on a civilian home and did not target any combatant or military object, no investigation was opened and the case was closed without any action against those involved.

 

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, United Nations

UN Commission Finds Possible War Crimes – Next Step ICC

Rumor has it that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will have an opportunity to vote tomorrow (July 3, 2015) on a Resolution supporting the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. The United States is an HRC member, and I’m making calls to the White House and State Department today urging our support. The Administration has already signaled its opinion that nothing further should be done with the UN report.

One year following the brutal 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and people in Gaza are still waiting for reconstruction to begin, for some healing, if possible. They certainly don’t want to be forgotten.

Palestinian child's drawing in Gaza

Palestinian child’s drawing in Gaza

The U.N. Report generated considerable criticism, although most readers only look for facts to support their predetermined ideas or bias, with objectivity in short supply. Instead, we find confirmation bias operating like a software program quietly beneath the surface, behind our active thought processes, so we don’t even recognize it’s there.

“What is my bias?” I ask myself.

I must have been wearing my super-duper law professor goggles when I read the U.N. Report because I kept thinking “this would make a wonderful syllabus for a law school class focused on international humanitarian and human rights law.”  The summary of the applicable laws, the presentation of the facts, the description of the “reasonable person standard” and how the law is applied to the facts —- it was all there.

A reasonable and ordinarily prudent person would have reason to believe that such an incident or pattern of conduct had occurred. (A lower standard than is required in criminal trials.) (para. 19)

With methodological detail, the Commissioners even “schooled” Israel’s Military Advocate General on using proper investigative techniques (para. 630-633) and corrected the drafter of the IDF Code of Ethics that the new term “enemy civilian” does not exist in international law.

“One of the most elementary principles of international humanitarian law is the obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians; however it never establishes different categories of civilians. The commission reiterates that a civilian is a civilian regardless of nationality, race or the place where he or she lives.” (para. 395)

Commissioners Davis and Diene, each highly qualified for the difficult task assigned to them, stuck to the facts without hyperbole or exaggeration.

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Many advocates on both sides (Israel & Palestine) were not pleased with the UN Report, as I posted earlier.  Perhaps they were expecting something different or didn’t understand the role and responsibilities of this Commission. Davis and Diene were not appointed to be judge and jury, and were certainly not going to render a verdict or deliver justice. They were appointed as an investigative team to ferret out the facts, and to ensure that the voices of all victims were heard. (para.6) 

Although Israel denied them access to Gaza, and refused to cooperate with the investigation, the Commission conducted more than 280 confidential interviews on both sides, reviewed more than 500 written submissions, including satellite imagery, expert weapons analyses, video file & photos. (para. 14)

What follows are some snippets from the U.N. Report that I wish had been highlighted in the mainstream media, but were not.

  • The Commission found that Israel has “effective control” over Gaza. (para. 30) Despite Israel’s assertions that it evacuated Gaza in 2005, and thus the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied territory, the Commission disagreed.
  • Israel claims that the international human rights (IHR) laws and international humanitarian laws (laws of war) are mutually exclusive and so the IHR do not apply to Gaza, but the Commission didn’t buy that notion for a second. (para. 39-40)
  • In a breath of fresh air, the Commission noted that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has observed that the “existence of a ‘Palestinian people’ is no longer in issue.  The right of self-determination is part of the ‘legitimate rights’ of the Palestinian people.” (para. 42)
  • Some commentators have criticised the U.N. Report for not establishing the proper “context” and for equating the State of Israel with its nemesis and archrival Hamas. The Commission, however, placed the hostilities in the context of the prolonged occupation, an increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel and no “political prospects for reaching a solution to the conflict that would achieve peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis and realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” The Commission also noted Israel’s blockade since 2007 is strangling the people in Gaza (para. 53-54) and that the impact of the 2014 war cannot be assessed separately from the blockade. (para. 598). The Commission asserted that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism established in September 2014 is not a substitute for lifting the blockade. (para. 599).
  • Some commentators have objected to the Report’s perceived “balance” and “evenhandedness” as if both sides experienced equal levels of trauma and loss, and both sides were equally to blame. The facts are duly catalogued and speak for themselves — the number of casualties on either side, the number of buildings and neighborhoods destroyed, the numbers of whole families killed, and the types of weapons used by the IDF and militants — and no one can set this Report down believing there was any equivalency between Israel and Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. (paras. 59 – 215) More than 1,500 Palestinian children were orphaned. (para. 594). Almost 800 women were widowed last summer. (para. 596). 18,000 homes were destroyed, and an estimated 80,000 homes and properties need to be rehabilitated. (para. 576) One hospital and 5 clinics were destroyed in Gaza. Fifteen hospitals and 51 clinics were damaged. (para. 591). 209 schools in Gaza were damaged or destroyed, 3 universities were directly hit by Israeli strikes, while eight sustained collateral damage, 274 kindergartens were damaged and 11 were destroyed. (para. 585)  During the hostilities, approximately 1/2 million Palestinians were displaced (28% of the population in Gaza) (para.577) and more than 300,000 Palestinians took shelter in 85 UNRWA schools thinking they were safe havens, only to find that Israel attacked these shelters 7 times, killing between 44 and 47 people, including 14 children and 4 women. (para. 421) 63 water facilities were damaged and 23 were completely destroyed. 60% of the sewage treatment plants, along with 27% of the pumping stations were destroyed. (para. 584) Contrary to one critical headline, the UN Report was not attempting to hide massive Israeli war crimes behind ‘balance’ smokescreen.
  • Regarding the notorious tunnels between Gaza and Israel that Americans heard so much about on TV last summer, the Commission said it doesn’t know what the purpose of the tunnels might have been but noted that during the time period under investigation, they were only used to attack military targets. (para. 108) The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels. (para.562)
  • The IDF launched more than 6,000 airstrikes on Gaza, 142 families had 3 or more family members killed in the same incident because of the destruction of residential buildings. (para. 111) The testimony of many families was provided in their own words. (para. 117). “A significant % of civilians in Gaza killed during the conflict died inside their home as a direct result of air-strikes or artillery shelling of their neighborhoods, making attacks on houses a key feature of the conflict. These strikes may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decisionmakers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.” (para. 243)
  • Israel demolished several neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip beginning with Beit Hanoun on July 18-19 and  Shuja’iya on July 19-20. (para. 251 – 299) and Khuza’a from July 20 – August 1. (para. 300  et seq) The Commission concluded that razing entire areas in Khuza’a indicates that the IDF carried out destruction that were not required by military necessity, and was carried out unlawfully and wantonly, possibly a war crime. (para. 340)  “The vast scale of destruction may have been adopted as tactics of war.” (para.418)

In Shuja’iya, at about 3.30 p.m., Salem Shamaly, a local resident who had joined a group of international volunteers while searching for his missing cousin, was killed. As the volunteers were crossing a small alley, they heard a shot. The group immediately divided into two and took cover at opposite ends of the alley. Shortly afterwards, Salem Shamaly moved out of the area where he was taking cover and was shot. As he lay injured on the ground, he was shot twice again and killed. This incident was recorded on video. (para. 280)

  • Netanyahu has made Israel’s case for the morality of the Gaza campaign, but “morality” flew the coop when the IDF refused to allow Red Cross ambulances access to help victims, or in the case when the ambulance was permitted to enter but not allowed to leave and so rescue workers had to carry the injured victims out on their shoulders. (para. 332)  The IDF was clearly targeting ambulances (para. 459) and eyewitness testimony described the death of one ambulance driver. (para. 458)  In Khuza’a, a family was forced to leave Ghalia Abu Reda, a 70-year-old woman in a wheelchair, behind as they fled their home. Before shooting her in the head at close range, an IDF soldier posted a photo on Twitter showing the soldiers offering this old woman water. Family members later saw her picture on Twitter. (para. 333)
  • The IDF said that 5000 tons of munitions were supplied last summer.(para. 408) The Commission shared its concern about the explosive power of the weapons and the amount of ordnance used, and noted that it represented a 533% increase over the ordnance used during Operation Cast Lead in (2008-2009) on Gaza. (para. 409). At least 7,000 explosives wait to be recovered in Gaza. (para.575)
  • The U.N. Commission also examined events in the West Bank last summer, noting the murder of 3 Israeli teens (para.503) and the vicious murder of the Palestinian teen, Mohammad Abu Khdeir, (para.505). Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper included mass arrests, (para. 509) administrative detentions doubled last summer, (para. 513) approximately 1,400 houses were raided, (para. 519), punitive home demolitions (para.526) and there were serious restrictions on movement. (para.524). Between June 12 and August 26, 2014 — 27 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, including 5 kids, with over 3,100 injured. (para.533)  A well-known civil society activist was killed by a sniper in the Hebron area with IDF snipers stationed on rooftops. (para.536)

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The take-away message — accountability is the key.

The track record for holding anyone accountable is dismal. Following Operation Cast Lead (2008-09), 52 investigations were opened, 3 were prosecuted, resulting in 4 convictions, not against the most serious violations. Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) did not result in any criminal investigations. (para.650) 

A year following Operation Protective Edge, the only indictment has been for a relatively minor offense of theft while Israel has closed its criminal investigation into killing the 4 Bakr boys on the Gaza beach. (para.633)

Left to its own devices, Israel hasn’t shown itself capable of conducting credible investigations in the past, and prefers to obfuscate, discredit the U.N., find generals from other countries to bless its conduct of Operation Protective Edge, and weave its Orwellian tale about “enemy civilians” and being the “most moral army in the world.”

The Commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed by the IDF, whether it be in the context of active hostilities in Gaza, or the killings, torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. (para.644)

Among the recommendations that jump out at me:

  • The U.N. Commission asks “both sides to refrain from making statements that dehumanize the other side, incite hatred and only serve to perpetuate a culture of violence.” (para.678)
  • Israel should implement the Turkel recommendations, an initiative of the State of Israel two years ago following the Mavi Marmara killings. I want to learn more about the Turkel recommendations. (para.662)
  • The State of Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute January 1, 2015 which gives the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute potential war crimes. Palestine also acceded to 7 of 9 core human rights treaties and one substantive protocol. The State of Israel has not acceded to the Rome Statute — it should. (para. 658, 659, 660, 681) Although Israel’s position is that its own internal investigation precludes an ICC investigation, I don’t agree. (para.661) The subject of another blog post.

Rumor has it that the next stop in securing justice for the victims is the ICC. The U.N. Commission’s Report will undoubtedly be an important part of the ICC’s deliberations.

Dahlia Scheindlin’s and Natasha Roth’s commentary “The oddity of finding hope while investigating war crimes” (July 1, 2015) is one of the best I’ve read about the U.N. Report. In it, Commissioner Diène summed up the investigation: “We have heard testimonies from people who have lost relatives, yet have expressed a very deep feeling for the suffering of the other side.” He went on: “The father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir told me that many Israelis came to his house to express their solidarity [after the murder of his son]. …On the other side, the [Israeli] mother of a 4-year-old child that was killed [by a Palestinian rocket] expressed very emotionally her deep thoughts for mothers on the Palestinian side. There was a human side to this war that was not really perceived by the outside world.”

…And that is what international human rights law and

humanitarian law is all about … the people!

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Occupation, People, Politics, United Nations, Video

The U.N. Report on 2014 Gaza War – What do you see?

We see what we want to see.

(Those 7 small words explain everything.)

Whether it’s the Pope’s Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision about Same-Sex Marriage, or the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, we read them with our own biases and expectations, finding exactly what we thought we would find in each.

The psychologists call it confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.

Pope Francis is either meddling in politics, or he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Justice Kennedy and four of his breathren on the bench who ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, have either dealt a blow to our Constitution or they’ve advanced liberty and equality in our country.

And how was the U.N. Independent Commission’s Report received?

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If people read all 217 pages (I did), they will find alot of substance (summarized in a follow-up blog post). However, the swift reactions to the report were nearly as telling as the evidence gathered by the U.N. Commission. There were those who condemned it, others praised it, and a few wished to ignore it. But everyone found what they were looking for.

  • Israeli officials tried to preempt the U.N. Commission’s Report by releasing their own report a few days earlier. “Israel predicts the new report from the United Nations will be a hatchet job. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that anyone who wants to read ‘the truth’ should download the Israeli report. ‘Whoever wants to automatically — and without foundation — blame Israel, let them waste their time with the U.N. Human Rights Council report,’ he said.” Netanyahu probably didn’t appreciate the irony in his words — automatically jumping to conclusions, as he was, without seeing the U.N. Report. (Israel says war in Gaza was moral and deaths are the fault of Hamas, Washington Post, June 14, 2015, William Booth).
  • When the U.N. Report was released, Israeli officials appeared “particularly stung by its lumping together of the Israeli army with its arch enemy, Hamas.” … “Any fair inquiry into armed conflict must always draw a distinction between the aggressor and the side asserting its right to self-defense,” Dore Gold, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview. “The fact that the United Nations report fails to distinguish between Israel and Hamas is one of its most central flaws.” (U.N. report on Gaza: Israel, Hamas may both have committed war crimes, The Washington Post, June 22, 2015, William Booth and Ruth Eglash)
  • The Washington Post summarized the “United Nations’ rather even-handed approach,” including links to other reports and opinions, but ended with a cautionary note that the U.N. Report would likely be added to the “growing case file at the International Criminal Court” which could place Israeli leaders alongside heinous fugitive war criminals such as Uganda guerrilla Joseph Kony, further deepening Israel’s growing international isolation. (The U.N. report on Israel’s Gaza War: What you need to know, Washington Post, June 22, 2015, Ishaan Tharoor)
  • What was the official U.S. government position?  Predictably, we echoed our good friend, Israel, and concluded the U.N. Report was biased from the start. Asked during a press conference if the State Department is reading the report, John Kirby, the State Dept. spokesperson responded: “Certainly we’re reading it. But as I also said yesterday, we challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all UN reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.” (John Kirby, Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, June 23, 2015)
  • An opinion piece in The Guardian castigated the U.N. Commission’s Report for failure to establish the context of the conflict. Naturally, the context the author wanted to see was his own version of history. (The U.N. is preserving the Israeli occupation, The Guardian, June 26, 2015, Ari Shavit opinion)
  • The New York Times published an opinion piece by a retired British Army colonel who warned that the U.N. Report is “flawed and dangerous” and will “provoke further violence and loss of life.” (The U.N.’s Gaza Report is Flawed and Dangerous, The New York Times, June 25, 2015, Richard Kemp opinion). The author had earlier testified before the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry. Just to be even-handed, let’s see if The New York Times publishes an opinion piece by the parents of the four Bakr boys killed on the beach in Gaza.

Boys at beach

  • Norman Finkelstein, a controversial scholar and critic of the Israeli occupation, also found much to criticise in the U.N. Report. In an online Q&A, Finkelstein wrote: “A huge gap existed between the descriptions compiled in the report and the concomitant legal analysis in each section. The descriptions were graphic and compelling, but the legal analysis seemed to minimize Israel’s accountability. The reader senses that the person writing the legal analysis (probably [Judge Mary McGowan] Davis) was straining to be “fair,” to the point that it became unserious.” (UN report on Gaza war is ‘tepid,’ ‘unserious,’ and exhibits ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’. Mondoweiss, June 27, 2015)
  • The New York Times Editorial Board concluded that “It’s unrealistic to expect Hamas to follow international law but Israel has a duty, and should have a desire, to adjust its military policies to avoid civilian casualties and hold those who failed to do so accountable.” (War Crimes and the Gaza War, The New York Times, June 23, 2015, The Editorial Board)

In the report released on Monday by the UN commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza war, one passage stands out. “Palestinian and Israeli children were savagely affected by the events. Children on both sides suffered from bed-wetting, shaking at night, clinging to parents, nightmares and increased levels of aggressiveness.” Those words are a reminder that, in all the positioning and spinning that follows a report of this kind, the heart of the matter is the human cost, usually paid by the most vulnerable.

The death toll of last summer’s violence was lopsided – with more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis killed – but the UN report strains to understand the Israeli as well as Palestinian narrative behind those numbers.

Both sides like to claim the moral advantage, even while locked in a vicious conflict. If they really believe that, then they must bring those accused of grave crimes to justice.

Some found the U.N. Report provocative, inciteful or perhaps insightful, destructive, courageous, newsworthy, or a waste of time —- but each found the truth he/she was looking for.

A summary of the U.N. Report and “my” conclusions

follow in the next blog post.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Media, People, United Nations