Day 17 of IDF operation against Gaza – and questions mount

As the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead proceeds in its 17th day, with continuing attacks, there are increasing questions raised about the purpose and the method of prosecution of this war.

Haaretz today carries a report on the opinion of Prof. Yuval Shany, an expert in international law from Hebrew University’s law faculty, about possible violations during the current IDF operation: “The relevant question, he said, is ‘whether the operation is proportionate to the provocation that led to it. When a single Qassam [rocket] is fired, the state cannot invade and conquer an entire country. There must be a measure of proportion between the action and the reaction. But here, we are not talking about a single Qassam, but about years of Qassams’. Israel, he continued, ‘is permitted to use force to the degree necessary to end the attacks against it. Therefore, it [the operation] is legal as long as it is meant to prevent the attacks’ … However, Shany stressed, by law, Israel would not have the right to use force to effect regime change in the Gaza Strip. Israel would also have no right to deliberately target Palestinian civilians, even though Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians: One side’s illegal actions do not entitle the other side to violate the law as well. ‘In wartime, it is permissible to attack military targets only’, Shany explained. ‘This means targets that make a significant contribution to the other side’s war effort: Qassam launchers, Hamas fighting forces, weapons storehouses and [smuggling] tunnels’. Military targets can be struck even if civilians will very likely be hurt, as long as the harm to civilians is proportionate, he explained. This depends on factors such as the military value of the target, the extent of the harm suffered by civilians and the measures taken to minimize this harm. Thus, with regard to two specific dilemmas faced by Israel – whether to attack mosques being used as weapons storehouses, and also hospitals where senior Hamas commanders are holed up – Shany said: ‘A mosque is a more acceptable target than a hospital, because with a hospital, the assumption is that the harm to civilians will be far greater’. And in fact, Israel has chosen to strike mosques, but not hospitals. However, the professor added, even a hospital does not have total immunity: Firing missiles at it would be unacceptable, but a commando force could be sent in to capture wanted Hamas men. Regarding claims that Israel has deprived Gaza of fuel and electricity, and prevented the evacuation of the wounded, Shany said that once Israel has taken control of the Strip, it must enable the population’s humanitarian needs to be met. This includes an obligation to treat the wounded and to supply food, water and electricity. ‘The longer the army remains in an area, the greater its obligation to supply the local population’s needs becomes’, he added. Similarly, when Israel warns civilians to leave a house before an attack, it must ensure that they have somewhere to go and access to basic necessities such as food and water. Nevertheless, Shany noted, when United Nations agencies examined Israel’s conduct during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, they praised its practice of dropping leaflets to warn civilians to leave before bombing, saying this reduced civilian casualties…” This report can be read in full here.

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives and works in the West Bank wrote today on the TPM blog that: “I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never-ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel, or any society for that matter, could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state-sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—including one person who self-identifies as a ‘leftist’—are speaking of accepting the killing of 100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be”.

In his post, Bahour said there were actually plenty of other options, and he named a few, including: accepting that there is an Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory; accepting an international presence in the occupied territory; accepting lawful non-violent resistance to the occupation; and opting not to interfere in internal Palestinian politics. But, he wrote, “The fact of the matter is that you had a long list of options open to you! So many, indeed, that it boggles the mind that your government has apparently been able to blind you to all of them…so that today, as the bombs shriek over Gaza, you can say, and evidently sincerely mean it: ‘We had no other option’. Nevertheless, even with all these options effectively invisible to you, there is nothing on this earth—not law, not politics, not even a desperate and lengthy campaign of rockets creating widespread fear and even some civilian deaths on your side of the border—there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing!” This post can be read in full here.

What is wrong with this photo?

The caption reads: “An Israeli soldier delivers blindfolded Palestinian prisoners to a military base near the northern Gaza Strip”.

FIrst of all, we need to know where these Palestinians were taken prisoner:  Was it in Gaza?  Was it in the West Bank? Or, was it in Israel itself?

Then, we need to know where is the military base?

To detain Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and take them outside of that territory — as in this case, to Israel — would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Israeli soldiers deliver Palestinian prisoners to military base near the northern Gaza Strip - AFP photo - David Buimovitch

The caption also says: “An Israeli negotiator was due to travel to Egypt on Thursday in a bid to speed up indirect negotiations with the Hamas movement for the release of a soldier the Islamists have held for two years”

Apparently, either the photographer and/or the caption writer were aware of the irony of Israel continuing to “detain” Palestinians while the Israelis themselves are utterly preoccupied with the return of one IDF soldier (Gilad Shalit) who was captured at Kerem Shalom and held captive for the past two years inside Gaza, and with the issue of the return of two soldiers (or their bodies) who were captured by Hizballah in a disputed area along Israel’s northern border just after Shalit was seized near Gaza.

The Hizballah action, which triggered a massive Israeli military response — now known as the Second Lebanon War — was aimed at taking the pressure off Gaza and increasing the pressure on Israel, both to change its policies, and to negotiate for the release of its captured men.

This photo taken apparently today for AFP by David Buimovitch

Jerusalem put on high terror alert before Annapolis conference

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported Sunday that “Israeli sources stated that the Israeli authorities will intensify security measures across the West Bank from Monday until the Annapolis conference is over. Israel radio announced that thousands of Israeli troops will be deployed across the West Bank, specifically in the densely populated areas. Border guards will also be deployed in force along the borders with the Palestinian Territories. Israeli police sources told Israeli radio that the Israeli authorities are worried that bombing operations may take place inside Israel in an attempt to derail the US-sponsored conference due to begin on Tuesday. However, the sources said there was no specific intelligence that such attacks were being planned”.   The Ma’an news agency report is here.

A few short hours later, there was apparently “specific intelligence”. Haaretz reported that “Jerusalem police are on high alert Sunday afternoon after receiving a tip according to which two terrorists were en route to Jerusalem in order to carry out an attack in the city ahead of Tuesday’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis. Authorities suggest the terrorists may be passing through Jerusalem to attack a target in the center of the country, as suicide bombers have done in the past. It remains unclear whether the suspected terrorists have already managed to enter the city. In response to the latest developments, Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin announced that the alert level in Jerusalem is now at ‘Gimmel’, or stage three, while the alert level in the Dan, Yarkon, and Ayalon districts in the center of the country have been raised to ‘Bet’, or level two. Security forces have erected checkpoints in northern Jerusalem and on Highway 1, the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There has been significant movement of ambulances and rescue services on the city’s streets and police helicopters have also been spotted over the capital. Authorities have also deployed the Police Special Anti-Terror Unit in northern Jerusalem.  The Narkiss Bridge, which stretches over the French Hill junction and which leads to Jewish neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, including Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Ya’akov, has been closed to traffic in both directions”.  The Haaretz reports that Israeli intelligence believes two terrorists are going to carry out a pre-Annapolis attack is posted here.

A photo is worth 1000 words

The caption of this AFP photo reads: “Israeli soldiers of the Golani infantry unit guard a blindfolded Palestinian detainee near the Israeli kibbutz of Kisufim, who was arrested after a day-long operation in the Gaza Strip”. In other words, this blindfolded person was seized inside the Gaza Strip, which almost the entire world regards as occupied territory, and taken inside Israel.


AFP photo by Menahem Kahana

Here are some of the Israel soldiers, leaving Gaza.

AP Photo by Tsafrir Abayov