[News] US lawyers report on Israeli crimes in Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 10 11:35:45 EST 2009


US lawyers report on Israeli crimes in Gaza
http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10292.shtml

Report, National Lawyers Guild, 10 February 2009

We are a delegation of eight American lawyers, members of the 
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in the United States, who have come here 
to the Gaza Strip to assess the effects of the recent attacks on the 
people, and to determine what, if any, violations of international 
law occurred and whether United States domestic law has been violated 
as a consequence. We spent five days interviewing communities 
particularly impacted by the recent Israeli offensive, including 
medical personnel, humanitarian aid workers and United Nations 
representatives. In particular, the delegation examined three issues: 
1) targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure; 2) illegal use 
of weapons and 3) blocking of medical and humanitarian assistance to civilians.

Targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure

Much of the debate surrounding Israel's aerial and ground offensive 
against Gaza has centered on whether or not Israel observed 
principles of proportionality and distinction. The debate suggests 
that Israel targeted Hamas, i.e., its military installations, its 
leaders and its militants, and in the process of its discrete 
military exercise it inadvertently killed Palestinian civilians. 
While we have found evidence that Palestinian civilians were victims 
of excessive force and collateral damage, we have also found 
troubling instances of Palestinian civilians being targets themselves.

The delegation recorded numerous accounts of Israeli soldiers 
shooting civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, in 
the head, chest and stomach. Another common narrative described 
Israeli forces rounding civilians into a single location, i.e., homes 
and schools which Israeli tanks or warplanes then shelled. Israeli 
forces continued to shoot at civilians fleeing the targeted structures.

We spoke to Khaled Abed Rabu, who witnessed an Israeli soldier 
execute his two-year-old and seven-year-old daughters, and critically 
injure a third daughter, Samar, four years old, on a sunny afternoon 
outside his home. Two other Israeli soldiers were standing nearby 
eating chips and chocolates at the time on 7 January 2009. Abed Rabu 
recounts standing in front of the Israeli soldiers with his mother, 
wife and daughters for five to seven minutes before one of the 
soldiers opened fire on his family.

We spoke to Ibtisam al-Samouni, 31, and a resident of al-Zeitoun 
neighborhood in Gaza City. On 4 January, the Israeli army forced 
approximately 110 of al-Zeitoun's residents into Ibtisam's home. At 
approximately 7am on 5 January, the Israeli military launched two 
tank shells at the house without warning, killing two of Ibtisam's 
children: Rizka, 14 and Faris, 12. When the survivors attempted to 
flee, Israeli forces shot at them. Her son Abdullah, seven, was 
injured in the shelling and remained in the home among his deceased 
siblings for four days before Israeli forces permitted medical 
personnel into al-Zeitoun to rescue them. After medical personnel 
removed the injured persons, an Israeli war plane destroyed the house 
and it crumbled over the lifeless bodies. The dead remained beneath 
the rubble for 17 days before the Israeli army permitted medical 
personnel to remove their bodies for burial.

We spoke to the family of Rouhiya al-Najjar, 47, who lived in Khozaa, 
Khan Younis. Israeli forces ordered her neighborhood's residents to 
march to the city center. Rouhiya led 20 women out of her home and 
into the alley. They all carried white scarves. Upon entering the 
alley, an Israeli sniper shot Rouhiya in her left temple, killing her 
instantly. Israeli forces prevented medical personnel from reaching 
her body for 12 hours. These are only some of the accounts that we've 
collected.

Israeli forces also destroyed numerous buildings throughout the Gaza 
Strip during the recent incursion. Guild delegates viewed the remains 
of hundreds of demolished homes and businesses -- in addition to the 
remains of the American School in Gaza, damaged medical centers, and 
the charred innards of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) 
warehouses. While in situations of armed conflict, collateral damage 
and mistakes can occur, the circumstances surrounding the cases that 
the delegation investigated indicate deliberate targeting rather than 
collateral damage or mistake. Specifically:

The American School at Gaza, which was hit with two F-16 missiles on 
3 January 2009, killing the watch guard on duty. According to Ribhi 
Salem, the school's director, the Israelis gave no warnings. Salem 
stated that the school had come to an agreement with resistance 
groups not to use school grounds and there had never been resistance 
activity on the property.

UNRWA

John Ging, the Director of Gaza Operations for UNRWA, reported that 
Israeli forces fired missiles at UNRWA schools in Gaza City, Jabalyia 
and Beit Lahiya. The United Nations compound in Gaza City was also 
hit with white phosphorous shells and missiles. Ging noted that all 
UN buildings and vehicles fly UN flags, are marked in blue paint from 
the top, and that during hostilities the UN personnel remained in 
constant contact with Israeli authorities.

Misuse of weapons

Our delegation has heard allegations of the use of DIME (Dense Inert 
Metal Explosive) weaponry, white phosphorus and other possible 
weapons whose use in civilian areas is prohibited. We have also heard 
of the use of prohibited weapons, such as flachettes. We have found 
our own evidence of the use of flachette shells, which we will 
combine with evidence collected by Amnesty International to push for 
further investigation. We have not found any conclusive evidence of 
the use of DIME, though we believe that this warrants further 
investigation and disclosure by the Israeli military.

Our findings overwhelmingly point to the use of conventional weapons 
in a prohibited manner, specifically, the use of battlefield weaponry 
in densely populated civilian areas. Customary international law 
forbids the use of weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. 
We found evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in extensively 
throughout its three-week offensive in a manner that led to numerous 
deaths and injuries. For example, Sabah Abu Halima, 45, lived in Beit 
Lahiya with her husband, seven boys, and one girl. It was midday and 
she and her entire family were at home. Within minutes she felt her 
home shaking and missiles fell through the rooftop. She fell to the 
ground upon impact. When she looked up she saw her children burning.

Preventing access to medical and humanitarian aid

Under customary international humanitarian law, the wounded are 
protected persons and must receive the medical care and attention 
required by their conditions, to the fullest extent practicable and 
with the least possible delay. Parties to a conflict are required to 
ensure the unhindered movement of medical personnel and ambulances to 
carry out their duties and of wounded persons to access medical care. 
Speaking to medical workers and the family of victims, NLG delegates 
documented serious violations of this provision. Among the stories 
documented include:

Al-Zeitoun neighborhood, which came under attack and invasion by 
ground forces on 3 January 2009. The Palestine Red Crescent Society 
received 145 calls from al-Zeitoun for help, but were denied entry by 
Israel. Bashar Ahmed Murad, Director of Emergency Medical Services 
for the Palestine Red Crescent Society told us that "a lot of people 
could have been saved, but hey weren't given medical care by the 
Israelis, nor did the Israeli army allow Palestinian medical services 
in." When paramedics were finally allowed to enter on 7 January, 
Israeli forces only gave them a three hour "lull" to work and 
prohibited ambulances into the area. Instead they forced paramedics 
park the ambulances two kilometers away and enter the area on foot. 
Murad told delegation members how they had to pile the wounded on 
donkey carts and have the medical workers pull the carts in order to 
help the most people possible in the short time they were given. 
After the three hours were over, the Israeli army started shooting 
toward the ambulances. The Red Crescent was not able to reach that 
area again to evacuate the dead until 17 January 2009 when the 
Israeli army pulled out.

Shurrab family

On 16 January, Israeli forces shot at the jeep of Mohammed Shurrab, 
64 years old, and two of his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, aged 28 and 
18, as they were returning from their fields. Mohammed was shot in 
the left arm and Ibrahim was shot in the leg. The elder son, Kassab, 
sustained a fatal bullet wound to the chest, being shot multiple 
times after he was ordered out of the car. Mohammed, bleeding from 
his wound, contacted the media, the International Committee of the 
Red Cross, and a number of non-governmental organizations via mobile 
phone in order to acquire medical assistance. Israeli forces denied 
medical relief agencies clearance to reach them until almost 24 hours 
after Mohammed, Ibrahim and Kassab had been shot. Earlier that 
morning, Ibrahim had succumbed to his wound and died. Mohammad 
Shurrab and his sons were shot during a so-called "lull" in Israeli 
ground operations, which Israeli forces had agreed to in order to 
allow humanitarian relief to enter and be distributed in the Gaza 
Strip. As such NLG delegates fail to see how this denial of medical 
access to the wounded Shurrab family could have been absolutely 
necessary and not simply arbitrary.

International humanitarian law also prohibits attacks on medical 
personnel, medical units and medical transports exclusively assigned 
to carry out medical functions. Delegate members saw ambulances 
seriously damaged and destroyed, some apparently deliberately crushed 
by Israeli tanks. The Palestine Red Crescent Society and the 
Palestinian Ministry of Health informed delegates that 15 Palestinian 
medics were killed and 21 injured in the course of Israel's assault.

Conclusions

This delegation is seriously concerned by our initial findings. We 
have found strong indications of violations of the laws of war and 
possible war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip. We are 
particularly concerned that most of the weapons that were found used 
in the 27 December assault on Gaza are US-made and supplied. We 
believe that Israel's use of these weapons may constitute a violation 
of US law, and particularly the Foreign Assistance Act and the US 
Arms Export Control Act.

A report of our initial findings will be compiled and submitted to, 
among others, members of the United States Congress. We intend to 
push for an investigation by the United States government into 
possible violations by Israel of US law. We also hope to contribute 
our finding and efforts to other efforts by local and international 
lawyers to push for accountability against those found responsible 
for the egregious crimes that we have documented.

Members of the legal delegation: Huwaida Arraf (New York, Washington 
DC), Noura Erekat (Washington DC), James Marc Leas (Vermont), Linda 
Mansour (Ohio), Rose Mishaan (California), Thomas Nelson (Oregon), 
Radhika Sainath (California) and Reem Salahi (California).



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