Israeli human rights organizations present the Goldstone team with a grave report

Israeli human rights organizations present the Goldstone team with a grave report:
"It is crucial to investigate alleged violations of law of war”


Tue.,  June 30, 2009 – This week, seven Israeli human rights organizations presented their report to the UN team investigating allegations of war crimes during operation Cast Lead in Gaza, led by Richard Goldstone. The signatories of the report – The Association for Civil Rights, Gisha, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, The Center for the Defense of the Individual, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – believe the Goldstone Committee’s mission of seeking the truth is of critical importance, partly due to Israel’s attorney general refusal of the signatories’ request to order a local, independent, and impartial inquiry into the Gaza events.

The report presents the Goldstone Committee with detailed findings concerning violations of laws of war that the Israel military allegedly committed during its attack on the Gaza Strip, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, which should be investigated, referring mainly to policies of collective punishment used against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The report mentions comprehensive Israeli assault strategies that failed to discriminate between combatants and civilians, wrongful damages caused to civilian government buildings to promote political goals, attacks on medical rescue teams, damage to infrastructures, holding detainees under conditions that conflict with Israeli and international laws, and collective punishment. The authors stressed that, acting as Israeli human rights organizations, it is their duty to report on issues under Israel’s responsibility. At the same time, they demanded that suspicions that Hamas also violated the laws of war be investigated.

In the introduction of the report, the organizations stated that conducting a reliable, thorough, and impartial investigation is an essential tool for the protection of human rights and for extending maximal protection to civilian populations in wartime. In view of this, the organizations also asked the Israeli Government to cooperate with the inquiry team. The organizations pointed out that the events of Operation Cast Lead cannot be viewed independently of the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip for almost two years before and since, and thus asked the team to additionally review the policy of closing the Gaza border passages before, during, and after the military operation.

Main Points of the Document:

Background: Even before the military offensive started, the prolonged closure policy that the State of Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip led to a grave humanitarian crisis there. Ever since 1967, and as part of the established policy, Gaza Strip’s civilian Palestinian systems – including medical infrastructures and power plants – became totally dependent on the State of Israel.

The Offensive Strategy: Public remarks made and the manner in which the offensive was carried out give rise to suspicions that Israel adopted a disproportionate assault strategy that mainly aimed at hurting civilians and causing deliberate destruction, for the purpose of deterrence and punishment, and not at specific military targets. If this is the case, a heavy cloud of suspicion hangs over the legality of the entire operation.

Protecting Civilians: The fact that initiated attacks hit targets located within a civilian population, coupled with data concerning the large number of civilian fatalities and casualties, gives rise to serious suspicions of gross violations of international and humanitarian laws by Israel. Many of the Gaza offensive casualties had their limbs amputated and maimed (some 12-15% of the total wounds), some of whom were injured by previously unknown weapon types.

Bombing Civilian Buildings and Institutions: Israel systematically and methodically attacked civilian institutions, deviating from the principle that bans attacks against civilian targets in an attempt to attain political achievements: 68 government buildings were destroyed, more than 4,000 residential houses were totally demolished, and some 17,000 were partly ruined, leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Damaging Health and Rescue Services: The Gaza health system nearly collapsed. During the week’s fighting, local hospitals had to perform while coping with erratic power supply, and with the fact that 16 medical crew members were killed and 25 were wounded while evacuating casualties; in addition, 34 medical institutions and 29 ambulances were damaged. The Israeli Army avoided – in advance, knowingly, and deliberately – extending direct aid to the Palestinian casualties and even prevented Palestinian rescue services from doing that.

Detainees: Palestinians who were captured in the Gaza Strip and placed under detention there were kept under cruel conditions, as soldiers and interrogators used violence against them. The detainees were held in 2- to 3-meters deep ditches, exposed to the cold weather, handcuffed, and often blindfolded. Some of those ditches were dug in what clearly were combat zones, each holding some 70 individuals on average. The army failed to carry out its duty to notify the detainees’ families of their detention and location, and even failed to report their whereabouts to external bodies.

Power, Water, and Sewage Infrastructures Crashed: Despite the fact that the IDF had had precise information as to the location of every water, power, and sewage facility in the Gaza Strip, Israel bombed them and left the strip without its vital infrastructures. The Gaza power plant was out of order for 12 out of the 21 days of fighting. The strip received merely 25% of its required power consumption for several days during the operation. Some 800,000 civilians were cut off the supply of running water, and the shortage of power and cooking gas seriously impaired on the supply of bread there.

The Crossings Issue and Rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip: Israel’s control over the Gaza Strip border crossings before and during the operation remains in effect, and the absolute closure imposed there almost totally prevents the individuals’ freedom of movement and the importation of goods. As long as Israel bans the introduction of concrete, cement, and other materials needed for the Gaza Strip rehabilitation, it would be impossible to make use of the billions of dollars that the international community raised for the Gaza Strip rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The Association for Civil Rights
Gisha
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Center for the Defense of the Individual
Yesh Din
Adalah
Physicians for Human Rights