B'tselem: Gaza air strike a 'war crime'

Rights group describes June 28 bombing of power plant as act of revenge.

September 27, 2006 09:24
3 minute read.
B'tselem: Gaza air strike a 'war crime'

iaf jet strike 298 88ap. (photo credit: AP)


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The human rights organization B'tselem charged in a report released Wednesday that Israel committed a war crime by bombing the Gaza power plant three months ago and depriving the civilian population of almost half its electricity supply. "An attack aimed at civilian objects, as defined in Article 52 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, is classified as a war crime, where it causes serious injury to body or health and excessive damage to civilian objects and where the perpetrators knew that would be the result," the authors of the report wrote. "Furthermore, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 2002, such an attack is classified a war crime, regardless of the resultant damage." In response to the report, the IDF Spokesman's Office told The Jerusalem Post "it is examining the matter." The Israel Air Force bombed the Palestine Electric Company (PEC) power plant between June 28 and July 7 in response to an attack by terrorists who kidnapped Gilad Shalit and killed several soldiers. The bombing attacks destroyed the plant's six turbines, which produced 100 of the 220 megawatts of electricity consumed until then by Gaza's population of 1.4 million. So far, none of the loss has been made up, although the PEC is close to signing a contract for a supply of Egyptian transformers, which have a 30-40 percent lower capacity than the original ones. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) estimated the damage caused by the bombings at $792,000. In the meantime, GEDCO has been forced to distribute the 120 megawatts of power supplied by the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to the entire population by providing power to consumers for six to eight hours at a time and then shifting it elsewhere. There are many power shortages even when electricity is being supplied. This situation has created enormous problems for the civilian population in terms of health services, households, small businesses, the water supply and sewage treatment. "Since Israel's decision to bomb the only operating power plant in the Gaza Strip on June 28, 1.4 million people have been suffering from power shortages half the time," B'tselem wrote. "The effects are felt in all aspects of life: Without refrigeration, families cannot keep food fresh in their homes, increasing their expenses and decreasing the quality of the food; persons with limited mobility who live in high-rise apartment buildings find it difficult to leave their homes because the elevators are not functioning; residents receive water only two to three hours a day as a result of the disruption in operation of the water infrastructure; the sewage purification system has been impaired, placing many areas at risk of sewage backing-up and flooding; the quality of medical care at the hospitals has been affected, and is expected to affect the health of many patients; many medical clinics, those without generators, have closed down some of their activities; and the list goes on." Not only was Israel barred from attacking a civilian target according to international law, but even if the attack had met the legal condition of providing a "definite military advantage," it still would have failed to meet the test of proportionality because it had another, less destructive option, charged B'tselem - it could have cut off the electricity supplied by the IEC. Such a step would have deprived Gaza of electricity without destroying the turbines. Israel did not choose this option because of the IEC's contractual obligations to the Palestinians. Had it done so, it could have been sued. Thus, charged the report, the government chose to violate the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population for many months and destroy Palestinian property rather than be liable for damages. The B'tselem report maintained that even though Israel is not a party to the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the ban on attacking civilian targets was part of customary law, by which all countries are bound. It also pointed out that Israel did not sign the Rome Statute of the ICC and therefore cannot be tried in that court. B'tselem called on Israel to pay full compensation to the Palestinians to restore the power plant to its full capacity. It also called on the government to repeal the amendment to the Civil Wrongs Law preventing Palestinians from suing the state for damages sustained in the fight against terrorism, so that Palestinians who suffered as a result of the loss of electricity could sue Israel.

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