Israel’s invasion of Gaza represents a massive violation of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war and combat.
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NLG Gaza Legal Leaflet – Front Page
Illegal Occupation Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories since the Six- Day War of 1967. Despite Israel’s military pullout from Gaza in August 2005, it remains an occupying power in the Gaza Strip with control over borders, sea and airspace, public utilities, the public registry, and Gaza’s internal economy. Gaza’s airport and crossing point to Egypt have been closed and borders completely sealed, making movement in or out of Gaza virtually impossible. Fishermen have been denied the ability to fish Gaza’s territorial waters. Israel’s near total closure of Gaza has devastated an already crippled economy and created severe food shortages. Israel has consistently ignored UN resolutions and agreements to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority to establish a just and durable peace. (UNSCR 338; UNSCR 1397; Oslo Accords Art. V, XIV).
As an occupying power, Israel is obligated to uphold basic protections of the population and territory under its control, pursuant to the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Conventions. It has ignored its obligations under international law to protect, feed, and care for the subjects of its occupation. People are trapped and unable to flee to areas of safety. Gaza is suffering a full-blown humanitarian crisis, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, and Oxfam. Gazans are dying because ambulances cannot reach them in time and hospitals are unable to adequately respond to the wounded – in part because the Israeli blockade has led to severe shortages of medicine and hospitals and ambulance drivers have been targets in raids. The Israeli navy has prevented ships with doctors and medical supplies from entering Gazan waters and has refused to allow international journalists in to report on its operations. Disproportionate Military Response Even if Israel could justify aggression on the basis of self-defense, its level of aggression is grossly disproportionate to the scale of action needed to repel the original rocket attacks. As of 18 January 2009, 1,e00 Palestinians have been killed, including over 700 civilians. Over 5,000 have been injured. Gazan hospitals are full of civilians, not Hamas fighters, according to a New York Times report. This invasion is hardly proportionate to the threat posed by rockets fired from Gaza, which had not killed a single Israeli in the year before the upsurge of Israeli violence. According to one Israeli military commander, “When we suspect that a Palestinian fighter is hiding in a house, we shoot it with a missile and then with two tank shells, and then a bulldozer hits the wall. It causes damages but it prevents the loss of life among soldiers.” While the minimization of military casualties may be politically desirable for Israeli leaders, by any measure of international law, such tactics are disproportionate and illegal by any measure of international law. Destruction of Civilian Infrastructure Violates International Law To justify aggression as self-defense against the launching of Kassam and Grad missiles, Israel would be limited to strikes at military targets under international law. Rather, there is ample evidence that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 25 of the Hague Convention outlaws “the attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended.” There have been direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure, such as the education ministry, homes, hospitals, schools, refugee centers, police stations, mosques, universities and power supplies. Attacks are aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, destroying not only every police and security office of Gaza’s elected government, but also killing hundreds of civilians. One strike destroyed a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 40 Palestinians. Several other UN schools have been bombed. On 15 January 2009, Israel shelled the UN Headquarters in the Gaza Strip, setting a food warehouse ablaze, just one week after American lawmakers praised Israel for having delivered aid to Gaza. Israel had been given the precise coordinates of all UN institutions in Gaza prior to Operation Cast Lead.
Israel is also firing on medical facilities and medical workers. Two Red Crescent medics wearing fluorescent jackets were killed; the al-Dura and al-Quds hospitals were bombed, and three mobile clinics emblazoned with red crosses provided by a Danish non-governmental agency were destroyed. Several mosques have also been bombed. Article 27 of the Hague Convention of 1907 provides that in sieges and bombardments, “all necessary steps must be taken to spare…buildings dedicated to religion, art, science…hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected.” Collective Punishment Approximately 1.5 million Palestinians reside in Gaza in a narrow strip just 50 sq km bigger than the island of Manhattan. This entire population is being punished for the actions of a few militants. Collective punishment is outlawed by the Article 50 of the Hague Convention of 1907, which states, “No general penalty shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.” Articles 33 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1948) similarly forbid collective punishment: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.”
The alleged use of civilians as “human shields” does not excuse collateral damage or collective punishment, unless civilians are actively involved in military hostilities (in which case they are not considered civilians). There is no obligation on the part of civilians to take action to dissociate themselves from militias. Entrapping a civilian population in a war zone and depriving them of the option to flee the bombardment constitutes a war crime.
Illegal Incendiary Weapons
White phosphorous artillery shells are being deployed over Gaza in direct violation of Protocol III on the Use of Incendiary Weapons annexed to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Under Protocol III, phosphorous shells are legal to use as a battlefield obscurant, but are banned from use when civilians may be harmed. Phosphorous sticks to human skin and burns through to the bone, and its toxicity has long-lasting health impacts. United States Complicit The United States is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law. This complicity includes knowingly providing the military equipment, including warplanes, missiles ammunition and white phosphorous used in these illegal attacks. The F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters Israel is using on Gaza were bought with U.S. taxpayers’ money. The United States annually provides Israel with over $3 billion in taxpayers’ money each year, making Israel the 4th largest military power in the world and the largest recipient of U.S. aid.
The U.S. recently abstained from an otherwise unanimous UN Security Council vote calling for an immediate ceasefire and U.S. officials have repeatedly provided public support for the Israeli operations. All UN Member States are obligated to protect civilian populations from attack.
The war on Gaza also violates U.S. domestic law. The Human Rights and Security Assistance Act mandates that the U.S. cease all military aid to countries that have engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. The Arms Export Control Act prohibits U.S. weapons from being used for any purpose other than inside the borders of a country for self-defense. Targeting schools, police stations, and television broadcast centers is not self-defense.
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