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The Legalities of Gaza

January 22, 2009 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

January 5th–Israeli Gaza border–    Israel has announced a ceasefire in Gaza has left it precipitously, in time for the retirement of the disgraced President George Bush.

Essentially, Tel Aviv has strategically lost the battle, for its objectives were not achieved in this David versus Goliath battle in reverse (curiously, Gaza City was the ancient capital of the Philistines from which the name Palestine derives):  “David” did not destroy the Hamas “army” as a fighting force.  In fact, at no time during this struggle were the Muslim rockets into Southern Israel halted, and (as of this writing) they are still being shot, nor were the tunnels under the Egyptian crossing ever completely destroyed.  (An Israeli general even admitted that the Gazans were unbroken.) Now, what will become more evident by the time my audience reads these words, is the immensity of the dire humanitarian crisis.  (40% of the dead and wounded slaughtered were women and children.)  So far it is apparent that at least 4,000 buildings were destroyed, leaving 50,000 homeless.  Further, most of these structures were constructed under international aid. 

I was part of a conference – through cyber technology — with Amnesty International’s Rapporteur on the Israeli-Gazan border, Donatella Rover.  (Israel refused entrance to human rights, humanitarian, and news workers during the fight.)  Of the few outside groups let in, the U.N.R.W.A. [the United Nations Relief and works Agency’s] was hit by an IDF (Israel Defense Force) tank shells with an unacceptable loss of life and limb and the destruction of an edifice that contained most of the food and medicine available in the combat zone!  As I file this story the U.N. (the United Nations) has requested an investigation into Israeli war crimes. 

Amnesty has taken a terribly legalistic stance on what is a very human crisis (although later in the day as the meeting discussed, I was asked by their New York office to sign on to their condemnation of West Jerusalem as the humanitarian aggressor), Donatella began in the Philistine evening that Amnesty International (AI) had called for an arms embargo on both sides.  She stated that there have been rocket attacks by each faction to the conflict.  Trying to maintain a “balance” acceptable for American audiences, “Both Israel and Hamas justify their own human rights [record] by arguing that their attacks are in response to abuses from the other side.”  Thus, they are applying pressure on both parties.  Yet, in defense of Gaza City, she affirmed that a proportionate attack would not strike civilians!

“The Palestinian civilians cannot be punished for that which they have no responsibility!”  The international family must insist that both sides respect the right of the individual to life.  Here is where the American government has fallen short:  the United States must be an honest broker!  (Finally, Obama has broken his silence, and has called for an end to the violence, and has expressed a profound sympathy for the Palestinian inmates of the sliver of a land along the Mediterranean Sea sandwiched between a hostile Tel Aviv and Alexandra.  Hopefully, the American President’s assertion is a positive glimmer for the possibility for the future of a larger Arab-Israeli settlement.)  

Replying to a question, Rover responded that the U.N. relief team had not totally pulled out from Gaza (and they and others are currently moving in force), but the blockade, in and of itself, has been disproportionate for years that had made the humane situation dismal even before the recent aggression.   Israel has blocked humanitarian aid from entering the territory unlawfully!  Some of Samaria’s abuses, she said, “…constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity…” 

As I am filing this piece New York (i.e., the U.N.) has accused Israel of war crimes and has requested an independent investigation, for, as Donatella phrases it, They are “…among the gravest…under International Law.”  AI had not felt Israel has committed genocide, nor does she place the blame squarely on Tel Aviv.  In working in another benighted country, I found the same lack of moral fortitude with Amnesty.  She feels that the Hamas organization had (questionably) broken the prior truce (actually the prior truce was broken on November 4th 2008 when the IDF made an incursion into Gazan sovereign terrain), but, even from her perspective, this does not give Israel the prerogative to apply collective punishment to the essentially unprotected population of Gaza.  This very principle that was enforced by the IDF was unquestionably a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.  Amnesty works on a legalistic framework, as was intimated above, that is why “…we are using the standards of International Law to judge the conduct of all parties…Pressure must be exerted… to not hurt civilians…[Diplomatic] force has to be applied upon the Israel [and to Cairo, also] to grant unfettered access to the Strip…”

To a question, Donatella Rover responded that (high) government officials can be held for war and human rights violations if it is proven that they created the policy that permitted the offenses.   She, also, declared that London had confirmed that White Phosphorous was being used by the Israeli military even though it has been banned by Convention, but they had not confirmed the use of DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosion) although, since, a team of investigative reporters from RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) confirmed a like substance was being applied upon the citizens of Gaza.   

Your author concludes that whereas Israel has degenerated into a rogue State, Hamas glorifies martyrdom and victimhood.  This is not a positive situation for either populace to resolve their mutual antagonisms.  Tel Aviv has lost any remaining stature in the world due to their naked cruel conduct of this conflict.  

Although Cairo pulled itself out of the mire of collaboration with the Israelis through its negotiation of the truce, it is quite clear that the Arab world had abandoned Gaza.  Hence, a new “Cold War’ may be smoldering within the Middle East led by the more conservative Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and the more radical Iran and possibly Syria on the other.  Also, this episode has deepened the alienation of the citizens from many of their nation states that could lead to instability and even revolt throughout the region.   On the West Bank, where Fatah has dominated, it is clear through the tenor of the demonstrations during the emergency, Hamas is gaining influence within the electorate there. 

This clash has changed the balance of political power and influence in West Asia and North Africa.  For one thing, Palestine has become even more urgent.  President Obama has already prioritized achieving a resolution to this conundrum.  This has put a huge pressure on the new Administration in D.C.  Surely the events over these two months have demonstrated the need for engagement with Damascus and Tehran to which our recently sworn-in president has already declared he is amenable.

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