Amnesty urges arms embargo on Israel

Human rights group also calls for halt in weapons sales to Palestinians; Israel: Report unprofessional.

sajaiya school weapons cache 248.88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
sajaiya school weapons cache 248.88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The human rights group Amnesty International called on the United States to stop weapons sales to Israel and on all countries to impose an arms embargo on both Israel and the Palestinians. "As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights. The Obama administration should immediately suspend US military aid to Israel," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East director. He also called on the "UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups." The London-based group, which operates in 150 countries, targeted both Israel and Hamas in the 38-page report it issued late Sunday night. But the bulk of the text detailed Israeli actions against Palestinians in Gaza and US culpability for Israel's 22-day military operation in the Gaza Strip. Amnesty has been highly critical of Israel in past reports. In this report, Amnesty focused on the issue of arms sales, and explained that due to a 10-year agreement lasting until 2017, the US was due to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the US and paid for with US taxpayers' money," said Smart. Its use in Gaza was in violation of US and international law, the report charged. "Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the US to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians, and massive destruction of homes and infrastructure," said Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International's fact-finding mission to southern Israel and Gaza. Amnesty researchers found fragments and components of munitions used by the IDF - including many made in the US - littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people's homes, according to the report. They also found remnants of a new type of missile, seemingly launched from unmanned drones, which releases large numbers of tiny sharp-edged metal cubes, each between 2 and 4 square millimeters in size. Rovera also charged that Hamas and the Palestinians had committed war crimes against Israel by firing rockets at Israeli civilians along the southern border. Israel initially denied using white phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead but has since stopped denying it and is investigating the matter. The Foreign Ministry issued a sharp attack on the report prior to its publication and said it was a "tendentious description of reality that doesn't rest on objective and professional criteria." The statement stressed that the weapons Israel had used during Operation Cast Lead were compatible with international law. The statement said Israel had never intentionally targeted civilians, and testimony to the contrary in the report had come from "interested parties, under Hamas influence." The ministry took Amnesty to task for its comparison of the supplying of arms to Israel to the supplying of arms to Hamas. "Israel is a sovereign state obligated to use force to protect its citizens, while Hamas is a terrorist organization. Is it possible to compare the arms in al-Qaida's hands to the weapons in the hands of the NATO forces?" the statement read. According to the Foreign Ministry, the report ignores the basic fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization that is so recognized by the US, the European Union and other countries. "The organization systematically refuses to recognize Israel and any possibility of reaching peace with it, and publicly declares its yearning for its destruction," the ministry said. The statement also took Amnesty to task for not mentioning Hamas's uses of civilian shields, something it knew would lead to civilian casualties during combat. "Hamas openly and in an organized fashion uses women and children to protect military targets, and booby-traps homes and public buildings," the statement read. While mentioning the rocket fire on Israel, the ministry said the Amnesty report ignored its scope - the fact that some 10,000 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israel over the last eight years. In advance of the report, Gerald Steinberg, the executive director of NGO Monitor, said, "This report is clearly part of a campaign to deprive Israel of the means to defend itself. This is another example of Amnesty's double standards and anti-Israel bias exploiting the language of international law." "Amnesty's reports on Israel are often based on inaccuracies, half-truths and unverifiable allegations from so-called eyewitnesses, and reflect a lack of serious credible research capabilities," Steinberg said. "In 2002, an Amnesty 'expert' first confirmed the nonexistent Jenin 'massacre,' and in the 2006 conflict with Hizbullah, many of Amnesty's claims were later shown to be unsubstantiated. The factual errors are amplified by inaccurate statements using the rhetoric of international law, using terms such as 'disproportionate' and 'war crimes,' which they apply far more to Israel than to groups such as Hamas. This ideologically biased pattern was repeated in the recent Gaza conflict." Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.