'Israel committed war crimes in Gaza'

Amnesty's annual report focuses on Cast Lead, also accuses Hamas.

gaza border APC 311 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza border APC 311
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel was sharply rebuked and accused of war crimes and serious breaches of international law in Amnesty International’s annual report, published on Wednesday.
The 430-page report provides an overview of the state of human rights worldwide and lists each country’s alleged human rights abuses during the previous year.
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The chapter dedicated to Israel focused on Israel’s human rights violations during and in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, as well as its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank.
“Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in the Gaza Strip during a 22-day military offensive code-named Operation ‘Cast Lead’ that ended on 18 January.
“Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as ‘human shields’ and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas,” stated the report.
The report also blamed Israel for creating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza by enforcing what Amnesty describes as an “illegal blockade.”
“The restrictions included a military blockade of the Gaza Strip, which effectively imprisoned the 1.5 million residents and resulted in a humanitarian crisis.
“Despite this, Israel often stopped international aid and humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza. Permission to leave Gaza to receive medical treatment was denied or delayed for hundreds of seriously ill Palestinians and at least 28 individuals died while waiting for permission to travel,” read the report.
The report also stated that Israeli forces committed acts of torture, held prisoners without trial, forcibly evicted Palestinians, demolished their homes and expropriated their land in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The section of the report detailing human rights abuses in the Palestinian Authority noted Palestinian liberation organizations’ attacks on Israeli civilians and criticized Hamas’s campaign of abductions, deliberate and unlawful killings, torture and death threats against people accused of collaborating with Israel.
“More than 30 individuals were summarily killed. Scores of others were shot in the legs, kneecapped or otherwise injured in ways intended to cause permanent disability, or they were severely beaten or otherwise tortured or ill-treated. These abuses were committed with impunity, with the apparent approval of the Hamas leadership,” read the report.
Hamas’s continual refusal to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit is also mentioned, as is the Israeli fatalities and injuries sustained from Gaza-based rocket attacks.
The Amnesty report also highlighted violence between Fatah and Hamas forces, accusing both factions of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention without charges or trial, excessive force and torture, causing civilian deaths and clampdowns on freedom of expression.
Amnesty International’s Israel director, Itai Epstein, backed the findings of the Goldstone report, calling it “well balanced,” and said that if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct an independent investigation on human rights abuses during Operation Cast Lead, as the United Nations Security Council demanded of them, there would be little choice but to refer them to the International Criminal Court.
“Both Israel and Hamas owe a responsibility to the victims of the conflict,” said Epstein.
He also spoke about Israel’s mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers entering the country. Epstein lamented the government’s decision to promote the Infiltration Protection Bill, which he said would see innocent refugees escaping from war zones in places like Sudan and Eritrea imprisoned for long periods of time for attempting to reach freedom.
“Israel has failed to protect the rights of asylum seekers. There are currently 20,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, 85% of them from Sudan and Eritrea. Israel has repeatedly sent asylum seekers back to Egypt, a country that is known to ship refugees to their countries of origin, where they face torture and death,” said Oded Diner, Amnesty Israel’s public action director.
Diner said that Israel was deliberately not processing the refugee status of 95% of the asylum seekers because officials prefer not to designate them as refugees and provide them with the rights they are entitled to under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Epstein said that since Operation Cast Lead he has identified a deterioration in the state’s treatment of human rights groups.
“We in Amnesty International, as well as Israeli human rights organizations, have been coming under severe criticism and attack by government officials. We are worried about a public atmosphere that opposes human rights driven by the state’s leaders,” he said.
Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor said that Amnesty International’s accusations are made with no credible evidence and are based on an “ideological bias” inherent in Amnesty’s work on Israel.
“Amnesty’s annual report repeats the discredited allegations anddistorted human rights rhetoric used to target Israel,” said Prof.Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “Accusations of ‘warcrimes,’ ’indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks againstcivilians’ and ‘target[ing] and kill[ing] medical staff’ are madewithout any credible evidence and reflect the ideological bias thatdetermines the content of Amnesty publications on Israel.”
Steinberg said Amnesty exploits human rights principles to demonize Israel.
“During the Gaza war, the entire population of Gaza was used by Hamasas a massive human shield, but since Amnesty ‘researchers’ did not hearthis from frightened Palestinians, Hamas has been absolved. Similarly,Amnesty has erased all evidence that Gaza hospitals became shelters forHamas leaders, that mosques were used for storing missiles and thattunnels are used to smuggle weapons. This systematic bias and lack ofcredibility forms the basis for the Goldstone report, and highlightsAmnesty’s immoral exploitation of human rights principles in order todemonize Israel.”