This week, seven human rights organizations based in Israel presented a report to the UN Fact-Finding team investigating allegations of war crimes during “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza, led by Justice Richard Goldstone. The authors of the report - The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, HaMoked: The Center for the Defence of the Individual, Yesh Din, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel - believe that the Goldstone Committee’s mission of seeking the truth is of critical importance, in particular due to the refusal by Israel’s Attorney General of the organizations' request to order a domestic, independent, and impartial inquiry into the Gaza events.
The report presents the Goldstone Committee with detailed findings concerning violations of the 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 details Israeli military offensives that failed to discriminate between combatants and civilians, damage to civilian government buildings for political objectives, attacks on medical rescue teams, damage to public infrastructure, holding detainees in conditions that violate Israeli and international law, and collective punishment. The authors stressed that, as human rights organizations based in Israel, it is their duty to report on issues under Israel’s control and responsibility. They also demanded that suspicions that Hamas violated the laws of war be investigated.
In the introduction of the report , the organizations stated that reliable, thorough, and impartial investigations are an essential tool for the protection of human rights and for extending maximal protection to civilian populations in wartime. Thus, 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 on the Gaza Strip, which was imposed almost two years before the attack and has continued ever since. They therefore additionally asked the team to 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 has imposed on the Gaza Strip has led to a grave humanitarian crisis there. Since 1967, and as part of established Israeli policy, Gaza’s basic civilian infrastructure including its medical infrastructure and power plants has become totally dependent on the State of Israel.
The Offensive Strategy: Public remarks made by Israel’s political and military leadership and the manner in which the offensive was carried out give rise to suspicions that Israel adopted a disproportionate military assault strategy that mainly aimed at harming civilians and causing deliberate destruction to civilian targets, for purposes of deterrence and collective 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 attacks by the Israeli military 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 human rights and humanitarian law by Israel. Many casualties of the Gaza offensive had their limbs amputated and maimed (12-15% of the total number of wounded), 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 pursuit of political objectives: 68 government buildings were destroyed, more than 4,000 residential houses were totally demolished, and some 17,000 were partly destroyed, leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Damaging Health and Rescue Services: The Gaza health system nearly collapsed. During the fighting, local hospitals had to operate while coping with an erratic power supply, and with the fact that 16 medical crew members were killed and 25 wounded while attempting to 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 intentionally prevented Palestinian rescue services from doing so.
Detainees: Palestinians who were captured in the Gaza Strip and placed in Israeli detention were held in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions, and Israeli soldiers and interrogators used violence against them in some cases. The detainees were held in 2-3 meter-deep ditches, exposed to the cold weather, handcuffed, and often blindfolded. Some of those ditches were dug in what were clearly combat zones, each holding an average of 70 individuals. 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 Infrastructure Failed: Despite the fact that the Israeli army had precise information about the location of every water, power, and sewage facility in the Gaza Strip, it bombed them and left Gaza without vital infrastructure systems. The Gaza power plant was non-operational for 12 of the 21 days of fighting. Gaza received merely 25% of its required power supply for several days during the assault. In addition, some 800,000 civilians were cut off the supply of running water, and the shortage of power and cooking gas seriously impaired the supply of bread.
The Crossings and the Rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip: Israel’s absolute control over the Gaza’s border crossings before and during the operation remains in effect, and the closure prevents Gaza’s Palestinian population from exercising freedom of movement, as well as the import of many goods and raw materials. As long as Israel bans the import of concrete, cement, and other materials essential for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, it will remain impossible to make use of the billions of dollars committed the international community for Gaza’s reconstruction.