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A year after 'Pillar of Defense,' the nightmare continues

A year after 165 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed, political leaders have yet to conduct independent, impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations. If neither side demonstrates the political will to protect all civilians, the cycle of violations will become a recurring nightmare.

By Yonatan Gher

Palestinian women mourn the death of Mahmoud Raed Saddllah, a 4-year-old child, killed in a bombing attack on Jabalia, Gaza Strip, November 16, 2012.

On 21 November 2012, 13-year-old Mahmoud Abu Khousa was killed when he was struck by a missile fired by an Israeli drone as he walked to a shop down the road from his home in the al-Manara area of Gaza City.

Delegates from Amnesty International’s International Secretariat examined the site of the missile strike a few days later. The missile struck Mahmoud on a wide road with good visibility from above. Israeli aerial surveillance should have been able to see that he was a child. Witnesses said there were no evident military targets in the vicinity at the time.

Mahmoud was killed on the last day of an eight-day conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces had launched Operation Pillar of Defense on 14 November 2012 by killing the leader of the military wing of Hamas, following unlawful attacks by both sides in the preceding days.

Click here for +972′s full coverage of Operation Pillar of Defense

Within just over a week, more than 165 Palestinians, including more than 30 children and some 70 other civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities, and six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed. A ceasefire was reached on the evening of 21 November.

The Israeli military has not commented on the killing of Mahmoud in any of 18 strikes documented by Amnesty International, in which civilians were killed by Israeli drone-fired missiles during that tragic week.

Tens of thousands of Gazans fled their homes during the conflict. While the majority of these families were able to return to their homes after the ceasefire, they still struggle with the trauma of having had to flee, often under fire. Hundreds of families in Gaza remain displaced because their homes were destroyed in the conflict. A year on, most have been unable to rebuild because of the continuing Israeli restrictions on the import of construction materials into Gaza.

In Israel, too, civilians bore the brunt of the conflict. Palestinian armed groups fired more than 1,500 rockets and mortars during the eight days. The vast majority of these weapons were indiscriminate, meaning that they were not capable of being directed at military targets and therefore their use violated international humanitarian law.

David Amsalem and his family will never forget the morning of 15 November 2012. His wife phoned him at work at 8 a.m. to assure him that things were calm. But 15 minutes later, everything changed when a rocket fired from Gaza struck his apartment block in Kiryat Malachi, killing his 24-year-old son, Itzik.

Israeli civilians run to take cover during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on November 15, 2012 in the south city of kiryat malachi, Israel. (photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

“As soon as the alarm warning rang, our youngest son pushed my wife out of the apartment, but Itzik got delayed. My wife shouted ‘Itzik, Itzik!’ Our neighbor entered to get him out and he was also killed,” he told Amnesty International.

The neighbor was Aharon Smadja, 49, father of three. Mirah Scharf, 25, and mother of three, was also killed in the same attack.

One year after the fighting, neither side has conducted independent and impartial investigations into allegations of violations.

Israel’s Military Advocate General has received scores of complaints from Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, including cases of civilians who were killed in attacks which may well have been war crimes, but has yet to open a single criminal investigation to Amnesty International’s knowledge.

The Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip has not conducted investigations of any kind into violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict. In addition to the four Israeli civilians unlawfully killed by indiscriminate rockets, there is evidence that several Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed by Palestinian rockets.

The lack of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, is systemic and goes well beyond the November 2012 conflict.

Israeli violations in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continue on a daily basis, including regular use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians posing no threat to Israeli forces. Since late February, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have sporadically fired rockets and mortars towards civilian communities in Israel.

The fear of more bloodshed hangs like a dark cloud over men, women and children who feel trapped in a cycle of violations fueled by a climate of impunity. And if the fear of more deadly attacks wasn’t bad enough, those living in Gaza have to contend with the disastrous effects of Israel’s continuing land, sea and air blockade of the territory, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt. Gazans lack safe drinking water, face 12-hour power outages on a daily basis, and many struggle to access basic necessities such as adequate food and medicines.

Citrus farmer Yusuf Jilal Arafat stands in front of his home, in which his 5-year-old daughter Runan was killed when 10 Israeli missiles struck this mostly agricultural area in the Al Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, December 2, 2012. Arafat’s wife, four months pregnant, and 8-year-old son Jilal (black shirt) were found alive in the rubble. His children now suffer from frequent panic attacks at night. Arafat does not know why his home was targeted, as no rockets were launched from the area. (photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

These hardships were compounded on November 1 of this year when Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down due to lack of fuel, further jeopardizing vital health and sanitation services.

“The world has forgotten Gaza, its women and children. The blockade is as bad as the war; it’s like a slow death for everyone in Gaza. We are paying the price for disputes between different powers. Isn’t that shameful? The world has lost its humanity,” ‘Attiyeh Abu Khousa, Mahmoud’s father, told Amnesty International last week.

The world continues to look the other way when it comes to the blockade on Gaza, which collectively punishes 1.7 million civilians. This stark violation of international law has been allowed to continue for more than six years. Unless Israeli and Palestinian leaders demonstrate political will to protect civilians –on both sides – the cycle of violations will become a recurring nightmare. And unless the international community ensures that ending human rights abuses and impunity for crimes under international law are prioritized, a just and enduring resolution of the conflict will remain elusive.

Yonatan Gher is the Director of Amnesty International Israel.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. mt noise

      They sowed the wind when then install Hamas so now they reap the whirlwind.

      Reply to Comment
      • shmuel

        The wind, Mt Noise, was sowed a few dacades before; ask to the inhabitants of al-jura and al-majdal for clarifications.

        Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      What I really like in our neighbors is the lack of even basic honesty.

      “We are paying the price for disputes between different powers. Isn’t that shameful?”

      This guy makes it sound like there is a conflict between Israel and some 3rd party, and Gazans are just caught in crossfire.

      The fact that they had elected and now are being ruled by one of parties is being totally ignored. Isn’t it shameful?

      “The world has lost its humanity”

      The world should not have any humanity towards those who chose to be ruled by a terrorist organization.

      Reply to Comment
    3. andrew r

      “The world should not have any humanity towards those who chose to be ruled by a terrorist organization.”

      While you advocate indiscriminate murder of civilians, it might be a good idea to read the judgement against Julius Streicher at Nuremberg: “Typical of his teachings was a leading article in September 1938 which termed the Jew a germ and a pest, not a human being, but ‘a parasite, an enemy, an evil-doer, a disseminator of diseases who must be destroyed in the interest of mankind.’ (…) Streicher’s incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with War Crimes, as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a Crime against Humanity.”

      Streicher was found guilty of Crimes against Humanity even though he was found not guilty of Crimes against Peace, since it couldn’t be established he had a responsible position under Hitler. This probably won’t happen to you, but it’s worth thinking about, eh?

      http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/10-01-46.asp

      Reply to Comment
      • mt noise

        “indiscriminate murder of civilians”? If you’re talking about the military operations then standard military conventions cover Israel. The death of civilians in the crossfire of war is tragic but not unlawful. You drop 5 bombs on a military target. 4 hit that target and the 5th goes astray and levels an apartment building next door. Did you target that building? No? Then its tragic but lawful. Example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copenhagen_raid

        As to the ‘blockade’… Why does Israel have to supply power, materials, etc? Why can’t the Palestinian’s ‘brothers & sisters’ take up the slack? Could it be that no one likes the Palestinians in the Arab world? They’ll use them but like them or trust them? No…

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          On your first point you’re correct. The laws of war are generous in their permissiveness of the killing of civilians and the destruction of their property. Hence, the effort by AI to bring them in line with human rights laws, which are different.

          Your second point leads me to believe you learned about the first point from some hasbarist. Being the expert on the laws of war (aka Geneva Conventions) and human rights laws then you should know that Israel as the occupying military power over Gaza (that is to say the sovereign state that is jurisdictionally responsible for the Gaza Strip) is reauired to fulfill its humanitarian obligations to the Palestinian people living there. Also, given that Israel is “blockading” (the act of blocking all movement of people and things out of an area) Gaza how do you propose that Palestinians and their Arab “brothers and sisters” get materials and fuels into Gaza? Subterranean tunneling? By sea in some kind of blockade busting flotilla?

          Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            1. Israel does not occupy Gaza.
            2. Gaza borders Egypt as well
            3. I don’t know what humanitarian obligations Israel has towards Hamas and the people it controls, I do know that if Hamas was remotely interested in the well-being of their people – the situations would have looked differently. Guess it’s not on their agenda.

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            1. Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza? Please point me to the Gaza Ambassador please or to the state jurisdictionally responsible for the territory of the Gaza Strip. Oh, is that Israel? Why, sir, indeed it is!

            2. This is connected to number 1. Israel controls Gaza’s border with Egypt so I am not sure what your point is. Furthermore, like I pointed out before, how does Gaza bordering Egypt help them when they are blockaded. You know, the blockade you support? The one that is supposed to stop the “terror infrastructure” and blah de blah blah

            3. This is quite a cryptic statement. I know it seems blindingly obvious to a seasoned hasbarist but it’s very difficult to piece together the logic of it. But, and I may be on thin ice here, if I understand correctly: Israel has no humanitarian obligations to Gaza and is not responsible for what happens there, however, if Hamas had not been elected to the PNA then this wouldn’t have been an issue because then there would have been no cause for Israel to abrogate its humanitarian obligations to the Gaza Strip by imposing the blockade. Is that about right, Vadim?

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            1. Israel has no presence in the Gaza strip (=Jews were ethnically cleansed). We do not intervene in their internal matters. Hamas is jurisdictionally responsible for the territory of the Gaza strip and they can declare themselves a state tomorrow if they desire. They don’t. Your definition of occupation is too broad.

            2. Israel controls the Rafah crossing? The one manned by Egyptians? The one Egypt closes whenever it pleases without anyone giving a damn (it’s now closed for 11 consecutive days…)? The one with a huge Egyptian flag stuck on top of it? You sure?

            How does a border and a crossing with an Arab state help a terrorist organization blockaded by Israel? Gee, I don’t know.

            3. Nothing cryptic. A) Israel has no obligations towards the citizens of an area which we are at war with. B) Even though we have no obligations – the blockade allows more than enough goods to enter C) Hamas is responsible for the population there. If it wishes their well-being it should make peace with Israel.

            I know C may seem shocking to you, with Arabs having responsibility for their fate, but give it a thought.

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            Vadim,I suggest attending a few sessions of “Stand With Us” to improve on your hasbara skills. Right now they are very poor.

            For example, a real hasbarist knows that “my” definition of occupation is the one used in international law. As a trained hasbarist you wouldn’t tell me that the definition is wrong; you would make a series of factually incorrect statements to show that the internationally accepted definition does not apply to the Gaza Strip. As a trained hasbarist you’d also learn not to bring up “citizen” in any sentence associated with the Palestinians unless it is prefixed with “Jordanian.” You see Palestinians are stateless, they are not citizens of any state and Israel as the occupying power has the frowned upon ability to rescind the resident papers of any Palestinian, including Gazans, and permanetly deport them out of any of the land between the sea and the river. Good hasbarists know not to go there. Good luck!

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Philos, you failed to mention Apartheid and Fascism in your response, please add it for completeness.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            A) The only reason the Gaza Palestinians are not citizens of Israel and can not live where they were pre-1948 is that they’re not Jews.

            B) The blockade does not allow Gaza to export; of course Gaza is still considered occupied because Israel effectively controls what goes in and out of the territory by land, air and sea (Egypt only has jurisdiction over Rafah). Not to mention there’s a 300M buffer zone in the strip itself, so it’s not even accurate to say the IDF completely withdrew from Gaza.

            http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0525/Gaza-exports-have-plummeted-under-Israeli-blockade

            Another point that needs to be considered: Since 2005 Palestinians from the West Bank like Hana Shalabi have been deported to Gaza. So evidently Israel is actively using Gaza as a ghetto.

            C) If Hamas made a peace agreement satisfactory to Israel, it would almost certainly involve disarming. Nobody wants to be unarmed in the face of a state army that persecutes your people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            A) That and the insignificant part in which they tried to destroy Israel in 1948. And the rockets. And suicide bombings. And the small issue that don’t accept Israel’s right to exist. (This is of course an oversimplification of the issue, just like your point)

            B) Gaza may be considered occupied because this is Israel we’re dealing with and common sense does not apply. There’s this thing about blockades – they attempt to control import and export, go figure. A blockade does not imply an occupation.

            But you say yourself – Israel does not control Rafah, so what’s the problem to go through there?

            The reference to the Ghetto is very important for this discussion, it is also very accurate. Thanks for bringing that up. You should also post pictures of poor Gazans with no electricity. Here, I’ll do that for you –

            http://elderofziyon.blogspot.co.il/2013/11/amnesty-falsely-blames-israel-for-gaza.html

            C) BS.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Common sense doesn’t apply here; there aren’t too many case studies where a state military occupies an area for 38 years, redeploys its soldiers outside the armistice line yet continues to monitor inside the territory and has remote-controlled gun turrets fixed on the other side. Technology has advanced to the point where Gaza can be occupied without physically deploying a soldier, in the same way the US military is waging a war on Pakistan and Yemen without a ground invasion.

            Another good indication that the independence of Gaza (and the PA-enclaves of the West Bank) is a fiction: Israel has the last word on the PA drilling for offshore natural gas.

            http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/13474ef2-3027-11e3-80a4-00144feab7de.html#axzz2l59zbvOE

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Of course common sense doesn’t apply here, this is Israel. When we protect our borders with a hostile state\region\terror-base it’s called occupation. This is the same logic that says IDF soldiers don’t rape because they are racist.

            Israel has the last word about someone drilling in its territorial waters?! That’s horrible. Definitely occupation. Or Ghetto.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            No, Israel has the last word on drilling in Gaza’s territorial waters. You know, the territorial waters of the hostile state/region/terror-base. Maybe posting in a huff like that isn’t a good idea.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            A) The only reason the Gaza Palestinians are not citizens of Israel and can not live where they were pre-1948 is that they’re not Jews.

            No. The ONLY reason Gazan Arabs are not citizens of Israel and can not live where they used to is that their ancestors were too racists and too primitive to accept Jews as their equals.

            B) The blockade does not allow Gaza to export;

            Rubbish.

            1) Gaza can export through Egypt.

            2) Obviously, an entity can not declare a war at another entity and at the same time demand passage for freights.

            3) As it seems from here, Gazans are only capable to export home-made rockets and suicide bombers. Could not say that on any world market there is a steady demand on these, leave alone Syria maybe.

            >of course Gaza is still considered occupied because Israel effectively controls what goes in and out of the territory by land, air and sea (Egypt only has jurisdiction over Rafah).

            Rubbish. You don’t even know what Rafah is, leave alone showing it on a map.

            >Not to mention there’s a 300M buffer zone in the strip itself, so it’s not even accurate to say the IDF completely withdrew from Gaza.

            More rubbish. As long as there is no occupation forces inside Gaza, it can not be considered “belligerently occupied”, no matter how hard your ilk tries.

            >Another point that needs to be considered: Since 2005 Palestinians from the West Bank like Hana Shalabi have been deported to Gaza. So evidently Israel is actively using Gaza as a ghetto.

            You are right on this one. Israel should not send anyone to Gaza – capital punishment is the only effective measure in the region.

            C) If Hamas made a peace agreement satisfactory to Israel, it would almost certainly involve disarming. Nobody wants to be unarmed in the face of a state army that persecutes your people.

            Total bullshit. Too low even for your level. No one had ever asked Hamas to disarm – merely to accept the fact that the Jewish State is here to state. But for Arab fascists it is too much.

            >Common sense doesn’t apply here;

            Of course not. People who chose to be ruled by a terrorist organization obviously have no sense at all, basically deem themselves as a murderous terrorists, and should be dealt with as such.

            >there aren’t too many case studies where a state military occupies an area for 38 years, redeploys its soldiers outside the armistice line yet continues to monitor inside the territory and has remote-controlled gun turrets fixed on the other side.

            Also, there are no case studies where people who are granted independence elect a terrorist organization on the very first democratic elections.

            >Technology has advanced to the point where Gaza can be occupied without physically deploying a soldier, in the same way the US military is waging a war on Pakistan and Yemen without a ground invasion.

            More rubbish. Dude, despite what many Arabs are used to think, head is not only good to wear kufiye on it.

            1) By the letter of your beloved international law, Gaza strip is not occupied.
            2) Japan waged war on USA, but there never was Japanese soldiers on American soil.

            >Another good indication that the independence of Gaza (and the PA-enclaves of the West Bank) is a fiction: Israel has the last word on the PA drilling for offshore natural gas.

            Obviously. You don’t think that a terrorist entity and its subjects could or should enjoy any rights and protection, do you?

            Reply to Comment
      • This is one of the best replies I have seen to T’s kind of logic.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          If this is one of best replies than your situation is really dim. Congratz.

          Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        What I like about “Lefties” is that they don’t really mind that only regional organizations which advocate indiscriminate murder of civilians are those founded and run by Arabs.

        Obviously, Arabs, being savages, have a right to behave like savages.

        Keep up the good work, fellas.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      Building mile long tunnels under Israel does not endear Hamas nor help to alleviate the blockade.

      Reply to Comment
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