By Yasir Ali Mirza

Israeli onslaught on Gaza qualifies for war crimes

June 1, 2021 - 22:14

As the guns fell silent in the besieged Gaza Strip after 11 days of Israeli aggression, people scrambled to extract injured people and collect remains of their belongings amid rubbles of the flattened buildings.

The recent Israeli attack codenamed ‘Operation Guardians of the Wall’ on the Palestinian people is another instance of sheer violation of international law that qualifies to war crimes. As an occupying force, Israel has been flouting the international regulations by forcefully evacuating the legitimate Arab owners from their homes in the Shiekh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The eviction triggered the hostilities as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and again Gaza Strip became a flashpoint which has been an ‘open-air prison’ since the imposition of Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007.

When people around the world have been grappling with the biggest public health emergency in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Zionist regime of Israel was busy pounding tons of bombs on besieged people of Palestine in Gaza. These attacks were carried out in retaliation of rocket fires coming from Palestinian resistance movement Hamas’ and PIJ’s installations triggered by repression being done in the al-Aqsa compound on peaceful protesters during the holy month of Ramadan. The Israeli blitzkrieg offensive on the ghetto civilian population has claimed, according to Palestinian Health Ministry data, more than 250 lives, including 66 children and wounded more than 1900 people. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has said that more than 52,000 people displaced sought shelter elsewhere. The death toll adds to many woes where around 3,500 people have died in the pandemic so far.

Tensions are running high in the occupied Palestinian territories since the Israeli court, which has no legal adjudication for restitution laws in the occupied territories, ordered the eviction of 58 Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. This move added much fuel to the fire in the protracted conflict. However, this episode considers being an immediate starting point of recent flare-ups, but it should be understood as Israel’s larger premeditated design to take over Palestinian lands and arrogate to themselves in a piecemeal manner since the Day of Nakba (The Catastrophe) in 1948 when Israel was proclaimed.

For Palestinians, the recent move is a part of a larger project to erase the memory related to the Arabs in order to impose Israeli sovereignty in the holy lands. Since 1948, when Zionist-Jewish settlers became strong enough to found a Jewish state on occupied land, it has been a modus operandi of ethnic cleansing of the local population. The history is crystal clear and very much evident that how Palestinian territories have been shrinking from a prosperous Arab country to two confined enclaves--- the West Bank and Gaza.

The forced expulsion of families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is an explicit pattern of Israel’s settler colonialism and systematic ethnic cleansing being carried out in the occupied lands. This action clearly violates the multiple UN resolutions that Israel cannot annex lands that it had occupied in the 1967 Six-day War and considers it as ‘disputed territories.’ UN General Assembly Resolution 2253 dated 4 July 1967 clearly states that “these measures (occupying lands) are invalid” and “calls upon Israel to rescind all measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem.”

When it comes to the Israeli offensive against the non-state actors like Hamas and PIJ, it employs punitive actions and the entire civilian population has to bear the brunt of collective punishment. The incessant bombing on the neighborhoods in Gaza unleashed terror among civilians. It has taken a heavy toll on mental health; even children are more prone to the illness. It cannot be justified as an act of self-defense nor as a spontaneous reaction to “terror”. Drawing false equivalence between non-state actors Hamas/PIJ and Israel for the death and destruction is pretty illogical when it comes to asymmetric warfare.

Successive Israeli governments have a history of blatant use of firepower when it comes to crushing the resisting factions or belligerent states. In recent times, the 34-day Israeli invasion of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah in 2006 is such a classic example of Israel’s ruthless attacking capabilities. This is called Dahiya Doctrine. This nomenclature derived from the Israeli military strategy after the 34-day war on Hezbollah, where it followed the blitzkrieg offensive in the densely populated civilian area in south Beirut, considered a stronghold of the resistance movement. This strategy has a unique trait that deliberately attempts to instill trepidation among the civilian population as well as the opponent combative entities. A similar strategy had been tried in following military operations--- Cast Lead in 2009, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Protective Edge in 2014.

The recent 2001 raw video clipping of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged in the mainstream media suffices the argument where he was saying “Israel uses to strike Palestinians not once but several times” and “so painfully that the price they pay is unbearable.” He disdainfully went on to say that he was not afraid of U.S. and UN objections.

There is a plethora of instances where Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) can be indicted for committing acts of war crimes. I have identified violations where it can be started on three counts, i.e., plundering of property, the killing of non-combative civilians including children, and destruction of hospitals. In Article 33, the Geneva Conventions by-laws clearly prohibit the destruction of property in the form of collective punishment. It clearly states: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited.” The targeted demolition of high-rise residential buildings, including media offices of Al Jazeera, Associated Press, and Middle East Eye, shows that the Israeli leadership has thrown down the gauntlet to the international community.

Children are the most affected victims in the conflict zones. Around 66 kids have been killed as Israel started to rain down the lethal weapons on the cramped enclaves in the city. Chilling videos emerged on social media platforms showing children so frightened that they were not able to sleep all night. Killing children in war, the Convention had the provision which states: “Willful killing” or “willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health” for no clear military justifications are “grave breach” of Article 17. It qualifies for war crimes under the statutes of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Criticizing the minor deaths, even the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper published the photos of Palestinian children captioned “This is the price of war.”

The attack on al-Rimal Clinic, the only hospital which had the Corona testing laboratory in Gaza, is another instance of violation of international law. In addition to it, two medical doctors and a dental student were also killed in the ‘collateral damage.’ On protection of hospitals, conventions state in its Article 18: “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.” Understandably, it does qualify for war crimes for terrorizing the civilian population and the international community must hold the Israeli occupation accountable for its heinous crimes against the oppressed Palestinian people.

Even UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief Michelle Bachelet, an ex-Chilean President and herself a daughter of an army officer who was killed resisting the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allende, voiced particular concern for the ‘disproportionate use of force’ and saying it may constitute war crimes including the Palestinian factions. The international community, especially UNHRC, showed the spine in admonishing Israel’s act by passing the resolution and calling for the institution of the “Commission of Inquiry.” As the previous antecedents show the non-compliance or procrastinating of any UN resolutions, the Israeli regime under the beleaguered Likud government has condemned and accused the UN body of having anti-Israel bias. Neither the U.S. nor other major European powers would take any steps beyond the limit against Netanyahu & Co. as the Zionist-Jewish lobby has a strong presence in the corridors of power in the respective countries for nixing any anti-Israeli moves. American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) are some of the few influential lobbying organizations that work as an overseas arm of the Zionist state. On the contrary, the Joe Biden administration’s approval of arms sale worth $735 million in the middle of war has sent a strong signal that the U.S. is standing behind Israel. Despite the proactive international response, the ideals of international law might go for a toss, but this military adventure had revealed new realities and pressed Israel for recalibrating its geopolitical strategy in the region.

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