Summary of Events: January 19 – 25, 2009

Beit Lahya's UNRWA elementary boys school being attacked using phosphorous bombs during the Israeli aggression (photo by Muhammad Al-Baba)

Beit Lahya's UNRWA elementary boys school being attacked using phosphorous bombs during the Israeli aggression (photo by Muhammad Al-Baba)

Death and Destruction

The death toll of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza now stands at more than 1,330, including 437 children. Additionally, there are an estimated 5,450 injured Palestinians. Al Jazeera reports that about 65 percent of the casualties are civilian. The Al Mazen Center for Human Rights estimates civilian deaths account for 86 percent of the total death toll, while the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights puts it at 85 percent. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were also killed. The Times (UK) reports that “According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 22,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and the total repair bill will cost at least $1.9 billion. A UN report, meanwhile, said that more than 50,000 displaced people have been left crowded into 50 emergency shelters – mostly in unused schools.” Moreover, “A UN official says 500,000 people have been without water since the bombardment began on December 27 and huge numbers are without power.” Amnesty International’s respected military expert also noted that “Gazans have had their houses looted, vandalized and desecrated. As well, the Israeli soldiers have left behind not only mounds of litter and excrement but ammunition and other military equipment.  It’s not the behaviour one would expect from a professional army.” On the wall of a home badly damaged by the IDF, soldiers drew a Star of David and wrote: “we came to annihilate you” in Hebrew, another reads “Next time it will hurt more.” Amnesty International’s investigative team in Gaza reports that “previously busy neighbourhoods have been flattened into moonscapes,” and “how there is no camera lens wide enough to embrace the sheer dimensions of the devastation.” Nevertheless, the tunnels which Israel sought to destroy as part of its war aims are up and running again, allowing Palestinians to receive limited relief from Israel’s blockade.
War Crimes

Jonathan Miller reports that certain villages in Gaza, such as one in Al Najar which had 85 houses demolished and 20 people killed, including a women waving a white flag, have been completely wiped off the map. Each home housed about three families according to local residents. The al-Samouni family suffered 29 casualties, including six children (the youngest a 9 month old infant, the oldest a five year old) and an 82 year old man. This story, unfortunately, is not unique as the evidence of more child casualties grows. The Independent recently reported the story of a Palestinian father who was ordered to evacuate his home by Israeli soldiers only to have his two children (aged two and seven) shot and killed right in front of him. His home was also destroyed. A delegation of representatives from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel entered Gaza for the first time since Israel’s operation and reported that “Many families in the Strip were simply wiped out.” The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories reported that there is evidence of “systematic war crimes”. Amnesty International echoes the UN, noting that they have “seen prima facie evidence of war crimes”, including video of a white phosphorus attack on a school sheltering children. The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency has called for investigations of Israel’s use of war munitions, including depleted uranium. Amnesty International investigators concluded that there was “undeniable” evidence that Israel used white phosphorus. Mounting evidence of use of the substance forced Israel to reverse course and admit that the IDF had used white phosphorus but claimed that it had done so in a lawful manner. Human Rights Watch promptly retorted: “The IDF’s credibility probably took the biggest hit on the issue of its use of white phosphorous. A typical artillery shell of white phosphorous releases 116 phosphorus-soaked wedges which, upon contact with oxygen, burn intensely, releasing a distinctive plume of smoke. That smoke can be used legitimately to obscure troop movements, but white phosphorous can be devastating when used in urban areas, igniting civilian structures and causing people horrific burns. Its use by the IDF in densely populated sections of Gaza violated the legal requirement to take all feasible precautions during military operations to avoid harming civilians. It never should have been deployed.”

Politics and Diplomacy

A group of international lawyers, jurists, and human rights organizations have said that they would ask the International Criminal Court to probe war crimes committed by Israel. In response, Israel has created a criminal defense team both for its political leaders and soldiers who fought in Gaza. A senior Israeli minister jokingly said “I will not be taking my holidays in Amsterdam” once the extent of Israel’s destruction of Gaza becomes known — alluding to the possibility of Pinochet-like arrests for war crimes.  Israel’s massive bombardment campaign, carried out by what Washington and Israel consider “doves” or “centrists” has nevertheless done little to improve their standing in the polls for Israel’s upcoming February 10 elections. In fact, Israel’s opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who argues that Israel didn’t do enough in Operation Cast Lead, has increased his lead according to most polls. The Israeli Supreme Court reversed the Parliament’s decision to ban Arab parties from the upcoming elections upon the filing of a complaint by Arab politicians. In Palestinian politics, the Wall Street Journal reports that Palestinians are rallying behind Hamas and the Los Angeles Times notes that the Fatah-led Palestinian “Authority” has been weakened, due, in part, to Palestinians seeing them, correctly, as collaborators. In turn, Barack Obama laid out his Israel-Palestine policy on Wednesday, showing full support for Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whose Presidential term expired  incidentally during Israel’s assault on Gaza. Obama offered selective support for the Saudi Peace Initiative, noting that Arab states should offer normalized relations to Israel, but he conspicuously left out the fact that proposal also calls for an end of Israel’s occupation of the land it conquered in the war of 1967. In fact, Obama failed to mention illegal Israeli settlements at all. Obama did, however, call for the end of the blockade on gaza, but Israel announced that Gaza’s borders will remain closed. Predictably, Obama has since said nothing to challenge Israel’s stance on the blockade. Obama also announced George Mitchell as his choice for Middle East envoy. Former AIPAC lobbyist and US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk found little irony in proclaiming himself to be a good judge of neutrality on the Israel-Palestine conflict, claiming that Mitchell is neither pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League — which specializes in the defamation of anyone who is critical of Israel — claimed that Mitchell was a poor choice because he is too even-handed, stating that historically the US has strongly favored Israel. (There are no reports of Foxman’s comments on how splendidly that has worked out.) In fact, Mitchell has little on record stating his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. There is one report in which he criticizes both Palestinian violence and Israel’s settlement expansion. Though this may be seen as a sign of “even-handedness”, it maintains the facade of equivalency of conditions — conveniently ignoring the far grosser violence perpetrated against Palestinians and the decades long occupation and exile of Palestinian refugees.

— Joel Suarez*

The content of this summary are my views only and do not represent an official view of the PSC.

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