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Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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June 25, 2015

UN report details massive Israeli war crimes in Gaza in 2014

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The UN Commission appointed to investigate the Israeli attack on Gaza in July-August 2014, has published its report which strongly condemns the Israeli attacks on civilian targets which may have been war crimes.  However, in a bid to 'balance' the findings of the Israeli atrocities, the report also holds Hamas committing war crimes during Israel’s aggression on Gaza last summer.

The UN commission determined that the death and destruction carried out by Israel in Gaza were not isolated events but followed in an ever more brutal fashion the war crimes and atrocities of previous wars on Gaza and Lebanon. It was “concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces.” It called on Israel to break with its “recent lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers responsible.”

The report pointed out: “During the ground operations, the Israel Defense Forces used explosive weapons extensively in densely populated areas of Gaza.” It adds that such use was “highly likely to constitute a violation of the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks. Such use may, depending on the circumstances, qualify as a direct attack against civilians, and may therefore amount to a war crime.

It also condemned the extrajudicial executions by Hamas of two dozen Palestinians accused of collaborating with the enemy as a war crime.

2,251 Palestinians were killed

In total, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians, among them 551 children, the report states. “The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report. More than 11,000 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured with almost 10 percent suffering permanent disabilities.

Six civilians died in Israel and more than 60 Israeli soldiers died in fighting with the Palestinian resistance.

Israel carried out more than 6,000 airstrikes on Gaza last summer, the report states, including “targeted attacks on residential and other buildings.”

But a key finding is that the mass destruction and killing inflicted by Israel, often amounting to war crimes, “may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.”

This finding provides an important basis for Palestinians to pursue Israeli leaders, not just their uniformed subordinates, and bring them to justice in international courts.

On the issue of the targeting of residential homes with precision weapons, the report examined 15 specific cases in which 216 people were killed, including 115 children and 50 women.

Palestinian  rockets

Addressing Palestinian tactics, the report said the “indiscriminate” use of rockets and mortars by armed Palestinian groups against civilians constituted violations of international humanitarian law. “The intent of some Palestinian armed groups to direct attacks against civilians is demonstrated by statements indicating that their intended targets were civilians or large population centers in Israel,” the report said.

The Palestinians’ “primary purpose of the rocket attacks was to spread terror among the civilian population, in violation of international humanitarian law,” the report said.

The report also notes that the “majority of projectiles fired by Palestinian armed groups consisted of rockets that at best were equipped with only rudimentary guidance systems and in the vast majority of cases had none at all.”

Pro-Israeli US jurist Mary McGowan Davis

Tellingly, in February 2015, pro-Israeli US jurist Mary McGowan Davis replaced the Canadian academic William Schabas whom Israel accused of bias against Israel as he had carried out consultancy work for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

McGowan-Davis was head of the HRC's committee that implemented the findings of the Goldstone fact-finding mission into Israel's brutal military operation in Gaza in 2009. Israel cooperated with her at the time and provided her with substantial documentation regarding Israel's own inquiries into the operation. In her report, she criticized Israel for the extended duration of its inquiries, but found that "Israel devoted substantial resources to investigating more than 400 complaints of improper behavior in Gaza" and that the Israeli investigations were conducted appropriately.

Israel refused to cooperate with the McGowan-Davis commission and barred the investigators from traveling to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip or to Israel. The Egyptian military regime also colluded with Israel by blocking investigators entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

Notwithstanding the switch of its chairperson, the report demonstrated the brutal nature of the war carried out by the Israeli forces. It found that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was disproportionate and could amount to a war crime, warranting a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The timing of the report is significant, as it coincides with the Palestinian Authority’s first submission to the ICC, which is conducting its own preliminary inquiry into allegations against Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This includes an examination of Israel's conduct during the 2014 Gaza war. An ICC team will travel to Israel later this month to investigate.

To borrow Jerome Slater, University Research Scholar at New York State University at Buffalo, The report is inappropriately “balanced.”  He writes on his blog:

To begin with, it is more or less equally critical of Israeli and Hamas actions, without regard to the differences between the vast and horrific extent of civilian destruction caused by Israel and the far lesser civilian deaths and destruction  that resulted from the largely ineffective Hamas attacks. But far more importantly, the report does not note the radical moral and political difference between  the war crimes committed by Israel in order to maintain its repression of the Palestinians and those committed by Hamas in order to end that repression.  In this respect, the report parallels the deficiencies of the Goldstone Report on “Cast Lead,” the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza, which harshly criticized the Israeli methods but accepted the Israeli contention that it acted only in “self defense.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is likely to block any discussion of the report in the U.N. Security Council, as it did with a U.N. report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, when his panel similarly reported on possible war crimes by both sides in the Gaza conflict of 2009.

The stakes are higher this time because the Palestinians formally joined the International Criminal Court in April, and soon after the court’s prosecutor began an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza conflict, the WSJ said adding  the ICC prosecutor, who hasn’t commented on the report, is expected to draw on the U.N.’s findings.

The report called on Israel to join the ICC, and said both Israel and the Palestinians should cooperate with the ICC’s preliminary examination and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)